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Fighting the energy crisis

Comparing the candidates on wind energy

WASHINGTON - For once, American Indians want to hear more hot air from politicians. Or, rather, any air at all - when it comes to political support for wind and other alternative forms of energy.

Tribal leaders in South Dakota - which will hold both its Democratic and Republican presidential primaries June 3 - are paying especially close attention. Research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicates that South Dakota alone is capable of producing 566 gigawatts of electrical power from wind: the equivalent of 52 percent of the nation's electricity demand.

Officials with NREL also say that many of the windiest areas in the U.S. are located close to and on reservations. The laboratory has estimated that the total tribal wind generation potential is about 535 billion kilowatt-hours per year, or 14 percent of the total U.S. electric generation in 2004.

At the same time, a new Energy Department report released in May indicates that wind energy could generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity by 2030 - about the same share now produced by nuclear reactors. Wind energy currently accounts for only about 1 percent of the nation's electricity, although the industry has been growing steadily.

Energy experts say that as many as 75,000 new wind turbines will need to be built on U.S. grounds to meet the 20 percent goal.

Some tribes are already beginning to use their lands to harness wind energy and, in turn, are making some money by selling their energy credits to power companies. For tribes that wish to trade carbon credits for the energy they harness, no federally supported system is currently in place.

Indian Country Today now takes a look at renewable energy and cap-and-trade platforms of each of the three presidential candidates in an effort to help tribes compare and contrast their views.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, Democrat

--''What I want to do is not only look at existent, known forms of renewable energy and how we can move more quickly to commercial application and distribution for solar, wind, and geothermal, but also look at other forms of biofuel and biodiesel,'' Clinton said in a statement May 16. ''You know, let's take a look at the internal combustion engine. Let's figure out if there are some new ideas out there that would play to America's strengths as we move toward less of a dependence on foreign oil and more homegrown energy.''

--Calls for obtaining 25 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable energy by 2025. Proposes a $50 billion, 10-year fund that would invest in renewables and other alternative energy sources.

--Supports a cap-and-trade system to cut U.S. emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Would auction off 100 percent of emission credits, making polluters pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases. Is a co-sponsor of the strongest climate bill in the Senate, the Boxer-Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.

For more specifics, visit www.hillaryclinton.com/issues/energy.

Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat

--''As president, I'll work to solve this energy crisis once and for all,'' Obama said in a statement released May 11. ''We'll invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in establishing a green energy sector that will create up to 5 million new jobs - and those are jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced. We'll invest in clean energies like solar, wind and biodiesel.''

--Calls for getting 25 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable energy by 2025. Calls for 30 percent of the federal government's electricity to come from renewables by 2020.

--Supports a cap-and-trade system to cut U.S. emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Would auction off 100 percent of emission credits, making polluters pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases. Is a co-sponsor of the strongest climate bill in the Senate, the Boxer-Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act.

For more specifics, visit www.barackobama.com/issues/energy.

Sen. John McCain, Republican

--''Wind power is one of many alternative energy sources that are changing our economy for the better,'' McCain said at a press conference May 12. ''And one day they will change our economy forever.''

--Supports renewable energy development, but has not offered specific targets.

--Didn't vote for a 2005 bill that would have included the largest expansion of financial incentives to produce clean wind energy.

--Supports a cap-and-trade system to cut U.S. emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Would give away many emission credits at the start of his plan instead of making polluting entities pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases; although, down the line he would phase in auctions of such credits. Would allow domestic and international offsets as a form of compliance.

For more specifics, visit www.johnmccain.com/informing/issues.