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Obama, Romney Differ on Energy Policy

October 29, 2012

President Obama and Governor Romney agree that the U.S. is too dependent on foreign oil. But their views differ significantly on how to reduce or even end that dependence to make the country energy self-sufficient.

President Obama has been a champion of expanding renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, which he says hold great promise.

Mitt Romney is a proponent of raising production levels of America's own fossil fuels, including coal, which the U.S. has in abundance.

The Center for Climate and Energy solutions published a voter guide to the candidates' energy policy positions.

"I think Governor Romney has focused more on supply, particularly of conventional fuels such as oil and coal," notes Manik Roy, vice president for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "President Obama, while I think he's also interested in supply - we saw the back and forth in the second debate on drilling - President Obama in addition has focused on clean energy technologies and reducing demand for oil."

The two candidates debated whose policy was more effective in reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. The protection and creation of jobs was another key issue, in a slow economic recovery with unemployment near eight percent.

"We've also got to look to the future," said Obama at the November 17 debate. "That's why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you're going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That's why we've doubled clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels. And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. We've got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years' worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas. And we can do it in an environmentally sound way."

At that same debate Mitt Romney countered that while renewable energy sources are helpful, the United States needs to full exploit is full fossil energy potential.

"But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This [president] has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal. Talk to the people that are working in those industries. I was in coal country. People grabbed my arms and say, please, save my job. The head of the EPA said, you can't build a coal plant. If we do what I am planning on doing, which is getting us energy-independent - North American energy independence within eight years - you're going to see manufacturing jobs come back because our energy is low-cost."

According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. imported less than half of the petroleum it consumed last year, down from 60 percent 6 years ago.

Gasoline consumption has dropped to its lowest level in ten years. Production of U.S. oil rose during the Obama administration, but not as much as Governor Romney would like.

President Obama postponed approval of extending the Keystone pipeline from Canada, requiring more environmental impact studies. Governor Romney blames rising U.S. gas prices on that delay.

So what influence does any president have on production and gas prices in a global oil market?

"On the creation of energy, the drilling of oil - I think it's relatively limited," added Roy. "That happens largely in the private market, it happens largely in an international market. We have a small fraction of the world's energy reserves here. Even if we greatly expanded it [production], it would be a drop in the global bucket."

In the last five years, advances in hydraulic fracturing technology have revealed an abundance of natural gas in the U.S. Production has surged, and costs have plummeted.

Fracturing now produces nearly as much electricity as coal at lower cost. Both President Obama and Governor Romney support exploiting this vast resource, despite environmental risks.

The candidates differ over the portion of renewable resources should have in the United States' energy mix. President Obama has spent $90 billion in grants and loan guarantees for clean energy companies. Obama also wants Congress to extend tax credits for wind energy, while Governor Romney does not.

"The president is more activist in promoting future technologies," noted Roy. "I think the governor would love to see future technologies done as well too, but he has a more limited view of the appropriate role of the federal government, which would be to invest in research and development rather than deployment. The president says research and development, but deployment also."

So what do people want? According to some polls, says Roy, they want it all: low prices, jobs, self-sufficiency, and respect for the environment.

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