Editor's note: This article is one of an eight-part series that examines where U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis, and Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine stand on some of the issues important to Missouri voters.
McCaskill differs from the Obama administration in that she supports the Keystone XL Pipeline project and wants to slow some environmental regulations. The Democratic incumbent, like the president, said oil companies should have to use the drilling leases they already possess or lose them before Congress would consider giving them new exploration rights. And she wants to end subsidies for large oil companies. McCaskill also supports fracking, if done safely.
Akin opposes many environmental regulations already in place, such as regulations for fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and new rules to curtail pollution. He wants congressional approval of all major, new federal regulations.
The Republican challenger supports the Keystone pipeline project and endorses increased drilling on federal lands by oil and gas companies. He wants to allow energies of all types to compete in a free market and is against subsidizing new energies.
Dine has not publicly stated any specific policies regarding energy.
What experts said
Brian Dabson, director of the Rural Futures Lab, said rural areas and farmers have much to gain from wind, solar and biomass energies.
“Investment in alternative energies is in the national interest. We need to support these energies alongside traditional sources as part of a balanced portfolio,” he said. “Gas and coal are a finite resource and they are not at a scale to support all of our energy needs.
MU nuclear engineering professor William Miller said subsidies for certain energies skew the economics of the market.
“We have a tax system that seems to provide benefits to several energy producers: wind, oil, solar and others. We tend to subsidize energies because they’re for the common good and we want them to compete in the market, but right now some energies are only economically feasible because of tax incentives.”
Dabson said the Keystone pipeline wouldn’t exactly be of benefit to anyone living along the pipeline, as it could imperil the Ogallala Aquifer and damage some of the pristine environments in Nebraska.
“We need to see whether there are alternative routes to limit the danger of oil spills. If we need a pipeline, let’s make sure we do it in a way that doesn’t create damage in its path,” he said.
Miller said the Keystone pipeline would provide an increased supply of oil, and its course can be redirected as needed.
“We’re much safer environmentally than we used to be,” he said. “It was thought that the Alaska Pipeline would be very detrimental but it hasn’t been.”
As for fracking the jury is out, Dabson said.
“In earlier times it did a lot of harm to water quality,” he said. “Nowadays there’s so much activity across many states that the technology is improving. It’s a resource we should be tapping into. I support fracking as long as we bring in state-of-the-art protections so we’re not sacrificing future generations for current ones.”
Dabson said there is a lot of land covered by permits that should be drilled on before moving on to others. Many of the price agreements on public lands date back decades. Dabson said that in this discussion, however, we often forget that public lands belong to all of us.
“Public lands are not something to be traded to allow private companies to plunder,” he said. “If we’re going to agree to extraction, there should be clear public benefit to that. We need to make sure the price of extraction of our lands derives benefits for us all.”
Miller said Akin and McCaskill are very similar in their energy policy.
“Both say we should do more drilling, and I support that," Miller said. "We’ve been talking about doing more for decades, but other factors limit our ability to actually do so. We’re held hostage by our dependency on foreign oil. However, telling corporations that they need to drill on the lands they already have permits for is reasonable."
As for regulations, Miller thinks they have become overly burdensome. “Regulations are set to protect the public, but the cost-benefit impact is way out of line with many regulations. We have more than we really need.”
Miller said that with both regulations and subsidies, moderation and balance is key.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.