Factcheck.org: Straining a Point

Obama released a national ad saying he would "fast-track alternatives" to imported oil. On closer examination, his proposal is to spend $150 billion over the coming decade on energy research. Ten years doesn't sound all that "fast" to us, and there's no guarantee that the research will result in less oil being imported.

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign released the ad and said it would run on national cable TV networks starting July 17. According to the news release, the 30-second spot "underscores Barack Obama's understanding of national security in a new century." Perhaps so. Much of what it says is accurate enough, but on one point we find that it strains the truth and could easily give viewers a false impression.

Fast Track
As an example of Obama's supposed grasp of 21st-century security threats, the ad says he will "fast-track alternatives so we stop spending billions on oil from hostile nations." Pictured on screen are images of whirling windmills generating electricity, a solar array against a blue sky, and a couple of white-coated lab workers, one of them peering into a microscope.

The campaign says the ad is referring to Obama's long-standing proposal to spend $150 billion over 10 years for research into alternative energy – "to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emissions coal plants, and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid."

Spending that money may well be a good idea, but it's not our place to judge. We do object to implying that a decade-long program, which in all probability could not even begin until sometime in late 2009, is a "fast-track" to anything.

We also point out that even over the long term there can be no guarantee that just spending more for research will produce the sort of new fuels, vehicles or other breakthroughs that would actually reverse the growth of oil imports. Keep in mind that the U.S. imported the equivalent of 13.4 million barrels of oil per day last year, up nearly 17 percent from just five years earlier and 32 percent higher than in 1997. This is a huge problem that has been getting worse for a long time. Reversing it will not be "fast" or painless.

We repeat: We're not knocking Obama's 10-year plan. We cited it in our July 9 article as the reason that a Republican National Committee ad was wrong to say that Obama has "no new solutions" to the energy problem. We're not endorsing Obama's plan either.

We are saying Obama's ad gives the false impression that his decade-long program is a "fast track" that would allow the U.S. to "stop spending billions on oil from hostile nations." 

Republished with permission from factcheck.org.