As they’ve done on the campaign trail for months, both Mitt Romney and President Obama on Wednesday night proposed higher energy production as a means of helping to bring down the nation’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate.
Asked at the Denver presidential debate about the specific differences between their plans to bring back the millions of jobs that have been lost over the past decade, both noted that they agree on at least one point – increased oil and gas drilling will be a key component. Obama also said he would continue to push policies to boost the renewable-energy industry.
But as economists have also said for months, energy production – whether through increased oil and gas drilling or boosting renewable energy or both – won’t come close to creating enough jobs to putting most of the nation’s 23 million unemployed people back to work.
“On energy, we agree we’ve got to produce domestic energy,” Obama said. “But we’ve got to use energy sources of the future like wind and solar and biofuels.”
“I will get us North American energy-independent – that creates 4 million jobs,” Romney said. It’s not clear where that 4 million figure comes from. Romney’s own energy plan, unveiled in August, relies on a March Citigroup report concluding that aggressive new drilling could lead to the creation of 3.6 million new jobs and a 1.1 percent drop in unemployment by 2020.
It’s true that there’s a new boom in U.S. natural-gas production, which has created jobs in gas-rich regions of the United States, such as North Dakota and Ohio. According to a study by the energy analysis firm IHS-CERA, increased natural-gas production could create 1.6 million new jobs by 2035. That’s good news – but it won’t be enough to significantly move the needle on the unemployment rate in the next four years.
It’s also likely that those natural-gas jobs will be created no matter which candidate is elected president – most of the nation’s new natural-gas development has taken place on private land, thanks to technology breakthroughs made by private companies, largely independent of government policy.
Economists point out that increasing production of domestic fossil fuels can lower the trade deficit while boosting production of low-carbon sources of energy such as wind and solar reduces the environmental costs associated with increased greenhouse gases. In that sense, domestic energy production has economic benefits. But both candidates will need to do much more than drill or build windmills to help the majority of Americans who need jobs now.