Given the weight of politics and practicality placed upon CCS, journalists must press the candidates for their thoughts on projects like the now defunct FutureGen. Just a year ago, FutureGen promised to be the first zero-emissions coal plant, but the Department of Energy pulled the plug when costs ballooned well beyond original projections. Would Obama, for instance, revive the project, and if so, how? (Along the same lines, reporters should push the candidates to talk more about nuclear power, which they both support as a non-carbon-emitting alternative to fossil fuels—though safety gets the lion’s share of press attention, it may be less of a concern than the huge cost overruns that have plagued the industry since its inception.)

Beyond all of these carbonaceous considerations, of course, it is equally important that McCain and, presumably, Obama be pressed to detail their plans to create market incentives and mandates for renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and biologic. As they do that, they must also talk about how those systems will mesh with the nation’s ailing power grid (a vital infrastructure question that has been totally ignored).

We need more specifics about the candidates’ cap-and-trade plans. That is especially true now that the Lieberman-Warner bill, which both McCain and Obama said they would have supported had they not missed the cloture vote, is dead in the water. As (again) The Wall Street Journal put it this week in what was probably the most detailed post-primary article about energy issues, their “goals may sound similar, but the candidates would pursue drastically different paths to achieve them.” And finally, McCain and Obama must outline what they think the U.S. negotiating position should be regarding an international emissions reductions treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. With those answers in mind, voters will have a much better understanding of the energy options that will affect their futures when they go to the polls in November.

Turning Point:

Part One: Scandal! Oh, Nevermind

Part Two: Let’s get serious

Part Three: The Supreme Court


Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.