As the Republican presidential contest heats up, the candidates continue to focus on jobs, government spending, and taxes. Energy and environment issues have been a big part of that discussion, mostly in the form of criticism of President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, questions about the administration’s loan-guarantee program that funded now-bankrupt Solyndra, and proposals to ramp up domestic drilling.
About 80 percent of National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders think that energy and environment issues will remain a significant factor for Republican presidential candidates heading into the 2012 election.
Of Insiders responding, 25 percent said that energy and environment issues will be “very significant” for the GOP candidates; nearly 55 percent said that the issues will be “somewhat significant.”
“If Republicans can successfully tie energy policy to their jobs agenda, it could be a very good campaign issue for the Republican nominee,” one Insider said.
“Households are spending more disposable income on energy than they have in a decade,” wrote another Insider. “Selling energy as a job creator rather than an economic enabler has stayed politically trendy.”
The trendsetter for the GOP has been Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who last week presented his own energy plan that he said would boost economic recovery and create jobs. Among his proposals was expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, the South Atlantic, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and Western states. He also wants to target what he calls EPA’s “job-killing” regulations.
“The quickest way to give the economy a shot in the arm is deploy American ingenuity to tap American energy,” Perry said.
Insiders said that Republican candidates will continue to make the case that their energy priorities would create domestic jobs—while arguing that Obama’s policies hurt the economy.
“As long as the economy continues to sputter, energy and environment policies will be a key part of the narrative,” said one.
Nearly half of Insiders said Obama's decision whether to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to bring tar-sands oil 1,700 miles from Canada to Texas will be his most significant energy and environment decision before the 2012 election. The State Department could announce a decision by the end of this year.
“The Keystone decision will be emblematic of the larger decision this White House makes—what will be federal policy relative to traditional fossil-fuel production and usage as a way of lifting the overall economy,” one Insider said.
Thirty-two percent of Insiders chose “other” as their response to the question regarding the most significant energy and environment issue he faces, specifying a variety of policy issues ranging from decisions on clean-energy investment to those regarding EPA regulations.
While 18 percent of Insiders said that Obama’s decision last month to stall tighter ozone smog standards from the EPA would ultimately be seen as his biggest environmental decision, some Insiders argued that the way the administration decides on whether to issue final toxic air pollution standards for utilities could influence the 2012 election.
“Issuing a final toxics rule will be the biggest decision in this space by far; a major delay will be seen as a sign of weakness and full-scale retreat by the administration on environmental policy,” said one Insider.
While the Keystone decision will be important, on Insider said, “all of the proposed emissions rules will have a much greater impact on jobs and the economy (negatively), and thus a much larger political impact.”
How significant of a role will energy and environment issues play for GOP candidates in the 2012 election?
- Very Significant 25%
- Somewhat Significant 54.5%
- Somewhat Insignificant 16%
- Very Insignificant 4.5%
“Nations go to war over energy security, not health care, immigration or broadband access. Like it or not, economic and energy security are inevitably intertwined and the Republican candidate, whoever that eventually is, will have a unique opportunity to make that case very effectively in 2012 against this president.”
“At least for one more cycle. Households are spending more disposable income on energy than they have in a decade. Selling energy as a job creator rather than an economic enabler has stayed politically trendy, even though it represents a 'sell signal' for our economy as a whole.”
“The GOP is going to run its campaign on 20th century energy, which is as smart as running on Windows 2.0 in a iOS5 world.”
“If Republicans can successfully tie energy policy to their jobs agenda, it could be a very good campaign issue for the Republican nominee.”
“GOP candidates will likely rally around the same orthdoxy, the false promise of energy independence and portraying EPA as a rogue agency for following court orders -- they will try to separate themselves on tone -- harshness of attack, rather than substance, where there is little difference.”
“Since all of the GOP candidates agree on the Republican Party's 'drill, baby, drill' approach to energy policy, its hostility to any new EPA pollution controls, and its disinterest in doing anything about global warming, it is hard to see energy and environmental issues play a significant role in the nomination process. In the general election, however, I think their nominee could be quite vulnerable on these issues.”
"All the GOP candidates are beating up on EPA and, with the possible exception of Huntsman, believe that we should substantially increase domestic energy production. Since there is not much to distinguish any of them from each other on energy and environmental issues, such issues will not play a significant role in the Republican primary."
Which will be Obama’s biggest environmental and energy decision that he makes before Election Day 2012?
- The decision to delay tighter ozone smog standards 18%
- The Keystone Pipeline project decision 48%
- A decision on drilling off Alaska’s coast 2%
- Other 32%
The decision to delay tighter ozone smog standards
“Industry has much greater concern about the ozone standard and thus it has the potential to be a greater jobs issue, despite the higher profile of the Keystone pipeline project.”
“Looking at a political map it's not hard to see why the Obama administration stopped EPA from moving forward. While they are getting flack from environmentalists now its nothing compared to what would have come from state and local officials under the more stingent standard (political nightmare in places Obama needs to carry).”
The Keystone Pipeline project decision
“The Keystone decision will be emblematic of the larger decision this White House makes—what will be federal policy relative to traditional fossil fuel production and usage as a way of lifting the overall economy.”
“Clearly the pipeline decision, as it pits two of the administration’s constituencies (labor and environmentalists) against one another.”
“The Keystone decision will likely garner the most attention, but if either Secretary Chu or EPA Administrator Jackson depart prior to the election the repercussions would be greater.”
Other (please specify)
“The president will continue to lean into clean energy innovation as a key ingredient in America's long-term economic growth. Growth is the only issue Americans really care about and clean tech is one of the few sectors that can deliver it.”
“It will be the decision whether to proceed with or delay proceeding with the regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources, such as power plants. As long as Pennsylvania and Ohio remain so important in the electoral map, it is difficult to envision the administration moving forward on greenhouse gases.”
“That's hard to predict. These are the known issues, but there may be some unknowns on the horizon too. Did anyone anticipate the Deepwater spill, Fukushi Daiichi accident, or Upper Big Branch explosion?”
“EPA's 'job-killing regulatory agenda'—the mantra that Republicans will continue to press repeatedly.”
“The Keystone decision will have an impact on the Obama campaign either way, but all of the proposed emissions rules will have a much greater impact on jobs and the economy (negatively), and thus a much larger political impact.”
“I'd suggest he may not even have made it yet. It could be the upcoming Utility Air Toxics or being pressured into a decision related to the regulation of shale gas and/or mountaintop mining (court just pushed back on the EPA there).”
“During the appropriations process, there will be high-level negotiations over measures that have already passed the House to limit or delay several major EPA regulations. It is very likely that at least 1 or 2 such restrictions (i.e., policy riders) will be included on a CR or Omnibus funding bill. The White House will publicly oppose all of them, but may privately be happy to accept one or more of them—just to take them off the table during an election year. Obama's biggest decision will be which restrictions on EPA regulations he will accept. Will it be Boiler MACT, Cement MACT, Utility MACT, CSAPR, coal ash, CO2 regulation, or some combination of these rules? It's highly unlikely that restrictions on all these rules will be adopted, but it's equally unlikely that none of them will be.”
National Journal’s Energy and Environment Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of energy policy experts. They include:
Jeff Anderson, Paul Bailey, Kenneth Berlin, Denise Bode, Kevin Book, David Brown, Neil Brown, Stephen Brown, Kateri Callahan, McKie Campbell, Guy Caruso, Paul Cicio, Douglas Clapp, Eileen Claussen, Steve Cochran, Phyllis Cuttino, Kyle Danish, Lee Dehihns, Robbie Diamond, Bob Dinneen, Sean Donahue, Jeff Duncan, John Felmy, Mike Ference, David Foster, Josh Freed, Don Furman, Paul Gilman, Richard Glick, Kate Gordon, Chuck Gray, Jason Grumet, Christopher Guith, Lewis Hay, Jeff Holmstead, David Holt, Skip Horvath, Bob Irvin, Bill Johnson, Gene Karpinski, Joseph T. Kelliher, Brian Kennedy, Kevin Knobloch, David Kreutzer, Fred Krupp, Tom Kuhn, Con Lass, Mindy Lubber, Frank Maisano, Drew Maloney, Roger Martella, John McArther, Mike McKenna, Bill McKibben, David Miller, Kristina Moore, Richard Myers, Aric Newhouse, Frank O'Donnell, Mike Olson, T. Boone Pickens, Thomas Pyle, Hal Quinn, Rhone Resch, Barry Russell, Joseph Schultz, Bob Simon, Scott Sklar, Bill Snape, Jeff Sterba, Christine Tezak, Susan Tierney, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Wolff, Franz Wuerfmannsdobler, and Todd Young.
This article appears in the October 19, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.