The candidates are stumping on energy policy, but what do their positions and records tell us? In this post, we provide an overview. Spoiler alert: the key differences between the Republican and Democratic tickets are over clean energy, climate policy, government regulation and the Keystone pipeline expansion.
Energy policy has been one of the key issues on the campaign trail in battleground states this week and both of the presidential campaigns are emphasizing how their energy plans will create jobs. In Ohio, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of "waging a war on coal," and told the supportive crowd:
We have 250 years of coal; why in the heck wouldn't we use it? We're going to take advantage of our energy resources to save your jobs, to create more jobs.
Rep. Paul Ryan criticized the regulatory nature of the Obama administration’s energy policy in Lakewood, Colorado:
President Obama has done all that he can to make it harder for us to use our own energy. We will streamline the regulations, we will open up these resources so that we can create jobs here.
In rural Iowa, President Obama touted the fact that following the closure of a Maytag plant, "folks are now back to work" manufacturing wind turbines. Obama told the crowd:
The wind industry now supports 7,000 jobs here in Iowa. These are good jobs, and they're a source of pride that we need to fight for.
Meanwhile, both of the campaigns have increasingly criticized their opponent’s energy policy records and plans, making hyperbolized links to job destruction.
Mitt Romney calls the Obama administration’s energy policy “simply incoherent.”
For instance, it has blocked off-shore drilling in U.S. waters while applauding increased drilling off the coast of Brazil. Similarly, it has blocked construction of a pipeline that would bring Canadian oil to the United States, knowing full well that the result would be Canadian oil flowing to China instead. And it has pursued numerous regulations that would drive up energy prices while destroying millions of jobs.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s campaign offers the following critique of Romney’s vision for the nation’s energy future:
Romney is calling for more drilling and fracking with fewer safeguards. He wants to maintain the $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies for oil and gas companies that are making near-record profits, while eliminating a clean energy tax credit that supports tens of thousands of jobs. And his plan to “drill, baby, drill” while cutting critical investments in wind, solar, and biofuels will do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and will destroy thousands of jobs across the country.
Romney promises to put “conservative principles into action” on his energy policies, including instituting “significant regulatory reform,” ranging from fast track procedures for some energy companies, to removing carbon dioxide from the purview of the Clean Energy Act, to expanding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s processes for approving and licensing nuclear power. He also favors “increasing production,” including opening the nation’s energy reserves and the construction of pipelines to bring oil from Canada (e.g. the Keystone pipeline expansion). Romney’s plan also favors continued national investment in “research and development” for the energy industry. Though its entirely unclear what that will mean in practice, it likely means investments for research on oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear energy production. Romney has said he opposes federal aid for renewable energy, even though he supported clean energy initiatives “as an economic recovery engine” when he was governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s views on climate policy are also muddled.
Romney’s vision actually looks quite similar to that of Ronald Reagan’s when he campaigned for the presidency in 1980. In a presidential debate with Jimmy Carter on October 28, 1980 Reagan said:
I do believe that this Nation has been portrayed for too long a time to the people as being energy-poor when it is energy-rich…
The mines are closed down; there are 22,000 miners out of work. Most of this is due to regulations which either interfere with the mining of it or prevent the burning of it. With our modern technology, yes, we can burn our coal within the limits of the Clean Air Act…
We have only leased out and begun to explore 2 percent of our Outer Continental Shelf for oil…
Nuclear power: There were 36 power plants planned in this country… But 32 of those have given up and canceled their plans to build, and again, because Government regulations and permits and so forth make it take more than twice as long to build a nuclear plant in the United States as it does to build one in Japan or in Western Europe.
In addition to being an outspoken critic of the president’s clean energy agenda, Romney’s running mate has more established federal policy record when it comes to energy. Rep. Ryan has rarely broken with his party on energy policy and has a firmly conservative record. He was a co-author of H.R. 909, A Roadmap for America’s Energy Future, supported by oil and mining industries. His “Path to Prosperity Plan” also includes a substantial focus on the energy sector, including support for increasing domestic energy production, eliminating “boutique fuels” that require blends of fuel to meet environmental standards in different regions, increasing the number of refineries, and expanding the Keystone pipeline. Ryan opposes subsidies for clean energy and he prefers to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate air pollution. Furthermore, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Rep. Ryan has received $244,250 from the oil and gas industries over his career. And a June 2011 Newsweek/Daily Beast article reported that Ryan stood to benefit from his own tax proposals, including through energy tax breaks and subsidies for oil and mining industries.
In his 2010 State of the Union Address, President Obama urged clean energy as a means for job creation and curbing impact of energy production on the climate. But he also conceded that new areas would need to be opened up for oil and gas development. His clean energy agenda, however, has been met with strident opposition from House Republicans since the 2010 election. Obama kept a campaign promise and signed regulations in 2009 mandating cars and light trucks average 35.5 miles per gallon of gasoline by 2016. Last year, President Obama new standards that will cover cars and light trucks for Model Years 2017-2025, requiring performance equivalent to 54.5 mpg in 2025 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 163 grams per mile. Romney has criticized these standards as raising producing and buying costs. The White House website also touts its environmental efforts, including “Recovery Act funding for projects that vary from green job training to marine habitat restoration to water quality improvements.” Indeed, in a new book entitled The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, Michael Grunwald argues that the stimulus bill was “ginormous” for energy. The president delivered on his promise to double renewable energy generation in his first term and the bill included a substantial amount of money for a smart grid. The White House also touts establishing the nation’s “first comprehensive National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, our Coasts, and the Great Lakes;” expanding land and water conservation through wilderness, trail and river designations; and taking action to prioritize clean water.
According to a recent Energy Department progress report, domestic production has increased every year that President Obama has been in office, oil imports have fallen to their lowest levels since 1995 (though I would note that the reduction is also correlated with a depressed economy) and the U.S. is the leading producer of natural gas. Following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the Obama Administration instituted reforms for more aggressive regulation and oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling. In January, the Obama administration rejected the application from TransCanada to expand the Keystone XL pipeline. However, the president has continued to walk a fine line between green vs. industry sides of the debate by allowing the company to submit a new application following a new route. Meanwhile, liberals have accused the President of pursuing former Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy blueprint, citing Obama’s support for hydro-fracking and increased offshore drilling and domestic energy production.