No modern first-world nation can function without stable and secure supplies of energy; therefore you would assume that energy policy would be a key issue in any electoral campaign. But is it? In this three-part series, I will take a look at what the campaigns of President Barack Obama and his challenger former Governor Mitt Romney are saying about their respective energy policies, and assess what each could mean to America going forward. Let's start with a look at the Romney's campaign's energy policy:
The Romney campaign dedicates a section of its website to energy. At first glance the section looks promising, with many lines of blue text, which typically indicates a hyperlink to further material. Unfortunately, they're not hyperlinks, but rather just blue-colored bullet points that express vague notions like: “Conduct comprehensive survey of America’s energy reserves,” and “Open America’s energy reserves for development”; this would be fine for a brainstorming session on energy topics to include on the website, but is rather disappointing when presented as the energy policy.
This lack of depth plagues other parts of the policy page as well. Romney's energy section starts out with an attack on the Obama energy strategy titled “Obama's Failure” that goes on to make the claim that the Obama administration has pursued “policies that have stifled the domestic energy sector.” And while this has become a standard part of the GOP rhetoric against Obama, it is also a claim that is hard to back up when domestic oil production has risen to levels not seen since the early days of the George W. Bush administration, This surge in production has driven natural gas prices to their lowest levels in more than a decade, and last year the United States became a net exporter of petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, etc.) for the first time since the late 1940s. Romney does attack Obama for the blockage of the Keystone XL pipeline out of Canada, but then does not explain how this Canadian oil would help the United States, especially since much of it has already been earmarked for export.
What then can we glean from the Romney energy site? Well, for one, under President Romney, the United States' energy future will be firmly rooted in fossil fuels since the website says that “the United States is blessed with a cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources.” At the same time, it is clear that the Romney campaign is highly skeptical of renewable energy. The campaign's focus on renewables is only in the area of funding basic research into alternative energy (without explaining what exactly they mean by “basic research”). But some of the site's other language suggests this will be money wasted since the campaign flatly makes claims about “the failure of windmills and solar plants to become economically viable or make a significant contribution to our energy supply.”
So what's left? Regulatory reform. This actually leads off “Mitt's Plan” for energy, and includes such ideas as streamlining the regulatory approval process, fast-tracking the permitting of nuclear power plants and encouraging approval for new reactor designs, barring the EPA from being able to regulate carbon dioxide levels, and not “overregulating” the shale gas industry.
The EPA regulations have been a favorite target for the Republicans, who say that the EPA is driving older coal-fired power plants out of business since they cannot meet new, stringent regulations of CO2 emissions. But this does beg the question of whether or not it would be better to replace an inefficient 40-year old power plant anyway and ignores the pressure that low natural gas prices are putting on the coal industry (an example of market forces at work). Similarly, it is hard to argue that the shale gas industry should be less regulated since here we are specifically talking about hydrofracking, and all but one instance of groundwater contamination due to hydrofracking can be traced back to poor operational practices on the part of the petroleum companies doing the fracking. Encouragement of new nuclear reactor types, like passive-safe and liquid thorium designs, is a positive step, though one has to wonder if building new, untested nuclear reactors should be paired with less oversight of their construction and operation?
Unfortunately, for such an important topic, Mitt Romney's official energy position is absent specifics and is less a strategy for securing America's energy future than it is a collection of anti-Obama talking points. The only conclusions we can draw are that a President Romney would slash regulations and promote the further use of oil, gas and coal, while putting renewable energy on the back burner.
Next up, the Obama campaign's energy policy. Quick preview: it is just about as vacuous as Romney's.
Update: Tuesday morning, newly-minted vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan hit the campaign trail for a stop in Lakewood, Colorado. While the advance billing for the speech said that Ryan would be discussing energy policy, there was little in the way of energy content in his speech. Ryan slammed President Obama for his delay of the Keystone XL pipeline, which Ryan paired with calls to slash regulation of the energy industry and to take full advantage of America's domestic energy reserves; basically a call for government to get out of the way.
But the Boston Globe reports that at the same time Ryan was slamming the Obama administration for “wasteful” spending in 2009, he was actively soliciting $20 million in earmarks for a renewable energy program designed to cut CO2 emissions in his district in Wisconsin. “I was pleased that the primary objectives of their project will allow residents and businesses in the partner cities to reduce their energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate the local economy by creating new jobs,” Ryan wrote in a letter to Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu requesting government funding for the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation.