Independent US Senate candidate Angus King opened a recent debate at the University of Southern Maine by congratulating Chris Sauer, president and CEO of Maine's Ocean Renewable Power Company, which has started generating electricity for the power grid from its tidal-energy turbine in Cobscook Bay. It is the first commercial tidal-energy project to do so in North America — a potential big deal for the state. King's opponents, Democrat Cynthia Dill and Republican Charlie Summers, also applauded the innovative success.
But the candidates disagreed more than they came to consensus over the course of the morning. Several key differences on energy and environmental policy emerged during the debate, which was sponsored by Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine, a/k/a E2Tech, and moderated by E2Tech's board co-chair Jeffrey Thaler.
For instance, Summers — who told the crowd that he did not believe human behavior was the primary cause of climate change — espoused nuclear power, noting that scientists in France have figured out how to "reprocess" (i.e., separate and recycle) dangerous nuclear waste. Such reprocessing could potentially increase the capacity of nuclear-waste repositories like the controversial Yucca Mountain project in Nevada. However, what Summers failed to mention is that elements of this technology, specifically how to separate and dispose of the most radioactive waste, are still underdeveloped.
Both King and Dill scorned the idea; when King had the opportunity to address a question toward Summers, he simply turned to him and said (incredulously): "Are you serious about nuclear power?" Summers nodded and offered a succinct response: "Absolutely."
Dill strove to differentiate herself from her opponents, opening several statements by saying "I am the only candidate on this stage who . . ." She highlighted the work she's done in the Maine legislature to defend and expand environmental protections. She also aligned herself more than once with President Barack Obama, highlighting the recently finalized "clean cars" standards that will increase fuel efficiency while decreasing emissions over the next 10 years (presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the new standards are "extreme" — and Summers agrees). Dill said she supports taxes on carbon emissions and gasoline as ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and wants to end subsidies for big oil companies. As for production tax credits for wind power, she's for it. The ability to "collectively pool our resources" and support certain industries is part of the "beauty of America," she said.
King championed natural gas as "America's second chance" to regain a competitive advantage with regard to energy production, and federal support for research and development as a crucial piece of energy independence. Like Dill, King opposes pumping tar-sands oil through a pipeline in Maine. But he did suggest that hydrofracking — a technique that uses pressurized fluids to release and extract petroleum and natural gas from deep in the ground — can be done safely, engendering distress from a statewide environmental-protection group.
"[W]e were disappointed that Governor King glossed over the very serious impacts of 'hydrofracking' on human health and environment," EnvironmentMaine director Emily Figdor said in a statement. "Families living in the shadow of gas drilling in Pennsylvania and elsewhere face explosions mere feet from their doorsteps, polluted tap water that is unsafe to drink, toxic fumes in the air they breathe, and more."