UPDATED: A NU Look at Obama and McCain

See our summary of their positions on issues near and dear to urbanists

Tags for this image:

With the Democratic and Republican nominations now all but official, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain are fully engaged in general electioneering. They’ve sparred so far on the Iraq war, foreign policy and diplomacy, domestic spending, health care and who is best suited to sate the public’s overwhelming appetite for change.

But where the Arizona Republican and Illinois Democrat stand regarding questions and concerns of new urbanists? We visited and re-visited each campaign’s website and other news sites to find what information and position papers we could about energy and the environment, land use and sustainability, transportation, and urban policy. Summaries are presented below.

Even so, we want to know more from the candidates. If there’s interest, we’ll draft a questionnaire for both campaigns. So if you have suggestions for questions we should ask, please e-mail them to Jon Davis at jdavis@cnu.org. We plan to post the results before Election Day at cnu.org. And if either or both campaigns don’t respond, we’ll post that fact, too.

Barack Obama (Democrat)
Obama's Issues page includes tabs for “Energy & Environment” and “Urban Policy.” Transportation is relegated to the “Additional Issues” tab.

The Urban Policy page includes a section titled “Strengthen Livability of Cities” and makes the following points:

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: “As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the federal transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.”

A link from this section includes statements that an Obama administration would require Metropolitan Planning Organizations to create incentives for bicyclists and pedestrians, and that “…he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country.”

Further, Obama supports changing the tax code to “…make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.”

Use Innovative Measures to Dramatically Improve Efficiency of Buildings: Noting that structures account for almost 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions this section says Obama “will work with cities so that we make our new and existing buildings more efficient consumers of electricity.”

Building efficiency shows up under Energy & Environment, too. Obama supports a national goal of making all new buildings carbon neutral, or zero emission, by 2030. This includes improving new building efficiency by 50 percent, and existing building efficiency by 25 percent “over the next decade” to meet that 2030 goal.

Obama also supports a market-based carbon cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050; and a 100 percent auction of emission credits.

These positions are part of an overall plan that includes support for a “National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank” to be seeded with $60 billion in federal funds over 10 years, and increased funding for the Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program, which helps lower-income urban residents reach jobs in the suburbs. Obama also supports investing $150 billion over 10 years – $15 billion annually – to support bio-fuels and build clean energy infrastructure.

Under Transportation, Obama’s policies include support for Amtrak and development of high-speed passenger and freight rail, even while citing support continued subsidies for air travel to smaller cities: “Obama will work to improve the effectiveness of these programs and increase the availability of rail transportation options for residents of rural communities.” (Emphasis added.)

NEW: The Obama campaign has added "Present your ideas" links to each issues page, and on some pages there is also now a discussion forum or thread for those ideas. And the Energy & Environment page now features a "compare and contrast" chart of Obama's and McCain's positions.

John McCain (Republican)
NEW:McCain's Issues page now includes an energy plan, called The Lexington Project, along with “Climate Change” and “Natural Heritage.” It still makes no mention of urban policy, transportation or transit.

NEW:McCain's Energy page touts The Lexington Project as a plan to assert the country's energy independence. In it, McCain favors:

Expanding domestic oil and natural gas production and allocating $2 billion annually to develop clean coal technology.

A "Clean Car Challenge" encouraging auto makers to develop clean cars and reap the sales by offering a $5,000 tax credit for consumers who buy a zero-carbon emission car, and a graduated tax credit for other vehicles, based on the amount of carbon emissions.

A $300 million prize for a new battery package that jumps ahead of current hybrid and plug-in battery technology and delivers power at 30 percent of current costs; and to encourage energy research and development, a permanent tax credit that equals 10 percent of wages devoted to R&D.

Expanding nuclear power by building 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 (with the ultimate goal of building a total of 100 new nuclear power plants).

On Climate Change, McCain says policy “should be built on scientifically-sound, mandatory emission reduction targets and timetables,” use a market-based cap-and-trade system, spur development/deployment of advanced technology, and “facilitate international efforts to solve the problem.”

McCain calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 on the following timetable:
• Return to 2005 levels by 2012.
• Return to 1990 levels by 2020.
• Get to 22 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
• Get to 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Under McCain’s cap-and-trade plan, emission permits “will eventually be auctioned to support the development of advanced technologies.” But it also allows for “early allocation of some emission permits on sound principles,” and says a commission will be convened “to provide recommendations on the percentage of allowances to be provided for free and the percentage of allowances to be auctioned, and develop a schedule for transition from allocated to maximum auctioned allowances.”

On Natural Heritage, the McCain campaign makes a general statement without specifics. The page touts his “proud record of common sense stewardship,” admiration for Theodore Roosevelt and belief that ensuring a clean environment and open space “is a patriotic responsibility.”

McCain’s website does not mention Amtrak (or any other form of inter-city passenger rail service). His record, however, indicates opposition to continued funding for the nation’s passenger rail service. A Jan. 28 interview of conservative icon Paul Weyrich by Wes Vernon, posted at the conservative website Renewamerica.org, notes the former’s assessment of McCain as being “very anti-rail.” Moreover, Vernon wrote, “The Arizonan has said shutting down Amtrak – if he’s elected – would be a ‘non-negotiable issue’ for him.”

And a Jan. 26 New York Times story noted McCain’s campaign “says it would also cut financing for programs that the White House budget office has deemed ineffective, a list that includes Amtrak.”

McCain did not vote last October on the Amtrak Reauthorization bill, which the Senate approved by a 70-22 vote (the House of Representatives on June 11, 2008, approved its version of the bill by a veto-proof 311-104 vote; the text is available at Thomas.gov: look it up by the bill number "HR 6003" and pick the "HR.6003.EH" version). In 2002, McCain introduced legislation to phase Amtrak out of service over four years by breaking it into three separate entities – covering operations, maintenance and inter-city rail reservations – that would have competed as for-profit businesses.

We will continue to update this post if and when the campaigns post new information or position statements.