4th District debate turns to energy and the environment

NORWALK–It’s been a campaign season fiercely focused on the economy, and this latest debate was no exception. But for a good part of Thursday’s event, two other crucial issues got some attention: energy and the environment.

“Ninety seconds on energy policy,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District), “Okay. Here’s an area where we really need substantial change.”

himes-debicella debate 10-28-10

Dan Debicella, left, and Jim Himes in the final debate of their campaign (Uma Ramiah)

Himes and his opponent, Republican state Sen. Dan Debicella, agreed that reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil by developing alternative energy sources was the only way forward.

“We continue to send billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela,” said Himes. “I was in Afghanistan nine months ago and I’ve seen what that money gets used for against our young men and women.”

Debicella, like Himes, said he would push for other solutions. “We should incent all types of alternative energy,” he said, “whether it’s gas, nuclear, solar, wind, tidal power.”

“If we do all of that, we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil.”

Locally, Debicella suggested preserving the Long Island Sound, and cleaning up “brownfields,” or land previously contaminated by industry, while Himes pushed for creating more alternative energy jobs in Fairfield County. 

News 12 anchor Tom Appleby kept up the quick pace as debate moderator by limiting answers to 90 seconds, with 30 second rebuttals, for each question. That reduced the sniping, but they still found points of contention. 

“No single source of energy will replace foreign oil tomorrow,” Debicella continued. “Jim likes to pick winners. He likes solar power.”  But giving tax credits is the wrong approach, said the challenger. “Government shouldn’t pick winners.”

Debicella also accused Himes of supporting cap and trade, a policy that would force companies to limit their emissions or buy credits from other companies that do.

“Cap and trade is a tax on energy that will be given to businesses, who will then pass it on to you,” he said.

“We actually need to have a serious energy policy in this country, not just tax our way to lower greenhouse gases,” said Debicella. “The serious energy policy is we have to incent all types of alternative energy.”

But Himes disagreed. “Cap and trade has nothing to do with picking winners,” he said.
“It has to do with setting the environment that will allow the private sector to identify good technologies.” 

In turn, Himes questioned Debicella’s stance on climate change.

“Climate change is also an issue. But Dan doesn’t agree,” said Himes. “He has called it irrelevant.”

Debicella, in an interview on WNPR last week, was asked whether humans were responsible for warming the earth. “I’ve seen scientific studies both ways, so the answer I believe is that the question is irrelevant,” he said, suggesting that the U.S. needed to focus on getting off foreign oil, and not on the climate change debate.

Himes was clear on his position. “It could be the generational challenge of the next 30 years,” he said.

Debicella accused Himes of taking quotes out of context, but didn’t offer his opinion on climate change. “Our environmental policy needs to be the exact same as our energy policy,” he said. “We need to get off foreign oil, and we need to incent alternative energies.”

Himes accused Debicella of having the worst environmental record in the state Senate in the last four years. “It’s gotten a little bit better since he decided to run for congress,” he said. “And we’re arguing about whether he has the worst or maybe the second worst environmental record in the Senate, but it’s pretty far down there.”

“To think that we’re going to entrust our energy policy and the vibrancy, the economic importance of the Long Island Sound, to a guy with that kind of environmental record is just not right,” he said.

Then Himes flashed his endorsements.

“I know have the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters, of the Sierra Club, and of every environmentally focused group out there.”

Debicella was unimpressed. “What Jim of course fails to mention is that my scores for the last two years are 73% and 82% on agreeing with the environmental lobby,” he said. “True independence is I will vote for environmental bills when they are good for Connecticut,” he said. “But anything that’ll kill jobs or is over the top, I’ll vote against it.”

“That is real independence Jim, not rubber stamping 94% of the time,” he said, bringing out a well-worn statistic referring to Himes record of voting with party.