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Obama vs Romney on the Issues / OBAMA VS. ROMNEY: ENERGY

Obama vs. Romney: Energy

photo of Coral Davenport
August 23, 2012



In 2008, Obama campaigned on a pledge to enact a sweeping cap-and-trade law that would slash fossil-fuel pollution, mandate increased production of renewable electricity, and spend $150 billion on clean-energy research over a decade. The bill failed in the Senate, and “cap-and-trade” has become a politically toxic phrase, but the president has continued to pursue elements of climate-change and carbon-reduction policy. He used his executive authority to issue Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut fossil-fuel emissions from power plants and to ramp up fuel-economy standards for vehicles. In an April interview with Rolling Stone, Obama said, “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”

The president supports some expansion of oil and gas drilling: EPA and the Interior Department have approved permits for drilling in U.S. waters in the Arctic Ocean off the Alaskan coast. He is cautiously supportive of hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” to extract deposits of oil and gas trapped in shale, although EPA has issued new regulations for the process. Obama has touted the fact that domestic oil drilling is at its highest level in eight years and that the nation’s dependence on foreign oil has dropped to below 50 percent for the first time in 13 years. But much of that improvement resulted from the selling of drilling leases during the Bush administration and from activity on private land, which doesn’t require federal permitting. Obama wants to end $4 billion in annual tax breaks to big oil companies.


Despite GOP attacks in the wake of the Solyndra controversy, Obama has continued to push for loan guarantees, cash grants, and tax credits for the production of wind and solar power, and tax breaks for the purchase of hybrid and electric vehicles. He has ramped up the Pentagon’s use of renewable energy through major purchase agreements for wind and solar power and for biofuels. Obama hopes to expand the funding of cutting-edge technology research. He has proposed a “clean-electricity standard” that would mandate electricity production from zero-carbon sources, including wind and solar.

The president supports policies that would lead to an expansion of nuclear energy. His proposed climate-change policies, if enacted, could boost nuclear-energy production. He has asked Congress to pass a clean-electricity standard that would mandate the production of electricity from zero-carbon sources, including nuclear power. He opposes construction of a federal nuclear-waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev., and he tasked a blue-ribbon panel to come up with other options for disposing of the waste. In the wake of the nuclear meltdown in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a slew of safety recommendations for new U.S. plants.



Injected about $40 billion into clean-energy programs but included a $535 million loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra that gave GOP critics an opening.

Obama delayed a decision on the controversial 1,700-mile pipeline that would bring 700,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Hinted that he would approve it in a second term.

In the absence of congress­ional action on climate change, Obama’s EPA issued rules to cut global-warming pollution and other toxic emissions from coal plants.

Obama struck a deal with auto­makers to raise vehicle fuel-economy standards from 35.5 mpg to 54.5 mpg by 2025, which would cut oil demand and fossil-fuel emissions, while boosting production of hybrid and electric vehicles.



Steven Chu: The Energy secretary is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist steeped in climate-change
research. First viewed as a sterling pick for the agency’s top job, he has been tarnished
by the Solyndra controversy and is considered unlikely to stick around for a second term.

Lisa Jackson: The EPA administrator brought an environmentalist’s zeal to the task of
enacting controversial clean-air regulations on coal-fired power plants. Republicans have
made Jackson a top target, attacking her as the face of “job-killing” regulations.

Ken Salazar: The Interior secretary is a former senator from Colorado with a strong
understanding of both the renewable-energy and the fossil-fuel industries. He survived
the BP oil spill and oversaw a fundamental restructuring of his agency in its wake.

Heather Zichal: She served as a deputy to Carol Browner, Obama’s first energy
and climate “czar.” Since Browner’s departure in 2011, Zichal has been Obama’s
chief energy adviser.






In his book No Apology, Romney wrote, “I believe that climate  change is occurring…. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor,” and he floated the idea of a carbon tax to reduce fossil-fuel pollution. But in a campaign appearance last fall he said, “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.” Romney would overhaul  the Clean Air Act to streamline environmental controls on coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, and would eliminate EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution.

“The United States is blessed with a cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources,” says Romney’s jobs plan. Romney would have the Interior Department conduct an inventory of the nation’s oil and gas resources, and he would permit drilling “wherever it can be done safely,” including off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in the Gulf of Mexico, and off the Alaskan coast. He says he would streamline drilling permitting with a “one-stop shop” for approval of common activities. To encourage states to allow more exploration, Romney would allow coastal states to share in revenues from offshore drilling. He would promote “fracking” of gas and oil trapped in shale, allowing states to regulate fracking without enduring “overly aggressive interventions” by EPA.

The former governor would end loan guarantees, cash grants, tax incentives, and other such spending on clean-energy research; he would instead redirect the money toward basic research in programs such as the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. This is one area where he overlaps with Obama, who has also made ARPA-E a top priority. “Government has a role to play in innovation in the energy industry,” Romney writes in his jobs plan. But he adds, “We should not be in the business of steering investment toward particularly political favored approaches.”

Romney would push to expand nuclear energy by streamlining licensing procedures for new nuclear reactors so that projects with an approved design or adjacent to existing facilities could be completed within two years. He would give the Nuclear Regulatory Commission the resources to review and approve several types of reactors quickly. Romney has criticized Obama’s opposition to building a nuclear-waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev., but says that if the people of Nevada don’t want the facility, the federal government should allow other states to identify potential sites for the project. “Let the free market work,” Romney says. “That’s the right course for America.”



As Massachusetts governor, Romney implemented emissions caps for coal-fired power plants. Now he supports rolling back federal limits on coal emissions.

Romney worked closely with governors of other New England states to craft a regional cap-and-trade program—but he didn’t sign on to the final plan.

In a 2008 CNN interview, Romney said that higher fuel-economy standards and hybrid cars will help reduce oil dependence. But in a February 2012 radio interview, he said that higher fuel-economy standards are “disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers.”

As governor, Romney signed a law giving tax breaks and loan programs to homes and businesses that implemented energy-efficiency measures and installed solar water heaters.



Jim Talent: The former senator from Missouri wrote part of the energy chapter of Romney’s 59-point jobs plan. Talent is a partner in the D.C. lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs, which counts among its clients Peabody Energy, one of the nation’s largest coal companies.

Harold Hamm: The Oklahoma billionaire, who made his fortune in fracking exploration, became a top energy adviser to Romney in March. Forbes magazine ranked him 36th on its 2011 list of the 400 wealthiest people in the world.

Gregory Mankiw: Romney’s longtime economics adviser raised eyebrows four years ago with an op-ed calling for a carbon tax to combat global warming. Mankiw, a Harvard economics professor, is former chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Jeff Holmstead: George W. Bush’s former assistant EPA chief now lobbies for the fossil-fuel industry at Bracewell & Giuliani. He has been an informal adviser to the current campaign. 

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