Oil war, Part 4: Obama campaign takes a turn attacking Romney and ‘Big Oil’
This campaign message mirrors a three-Pinocchio ad from the Democratic National Committe that we fact-checked last week. The DNC video sounded nearly identical with one big exception: it accused GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney of being bought by “Big Oil.”
This ad from President Obama’s official campaign team merely tells viewers to remember what the oil industry wants, with the object again being Romney. It’s a slight change in wording but a big difference in meaning.
The last three ads in the battle between Big Oil and Obama’s supporters — one apiece from the American Energy Alliance, the DNC and the Priorities USA Action super PAC — earned three Pinocchios each. Let’s see whether this one holds up any better under scrutiny.
We mentioned in our DNC fact-check that current production levels don’t really warrant bragging rights for first-term presidents. That’s because the government works with five-year extraction plans, meaning most of the credit for production of oil and gas belongs the previous administration.
The production claim is also a bit out of context, because production has been relatively static since 2003. Currently levels represent only a slight uptick from recent years, and they’re still well below the levels from 1951 through 2002.
That’s not to say the president has stunted future growth. A Washington Post article last month cited an expert saying that Obama’s policies, particularly opening Alaska’s coastal waters to drilling, should keep production trending in a positive direction.
As for Romney’s stance on tax breaks for the oil industry, his campaign noted that he discussed the issue with Fox News on Tuesday. Sure enough, host Greta Van Susteren asked the former governor whether he supports the existing tax deductions, but he essentially leaned in two directions on the issue.
Romney prefaced his response by saying he wasn’t sure exactly which tax breaks he was supposed to be talking about. Then he explained that he wants to make tax rates more globally competitive for “American production generally,” which suggests he wants to reduce taxes. But then he added that he would eliminate the “special deals a lot of industries get.”
Romney’s campaign didn’t respond to repeated requests for clarification on this issue, but it’s fairly evident that he’s waffling.
To get understand which oil-industry tax breaks are at stake, see those that the president has tagged for elimination in his 2013 budget. They’re on page 221 of the document, under the heading “Eliminate fossil fuel preferences.” (We provided this same reference to the Romney campaign).
Romney’s economic plan says nothing about oil subsidies, but it recommends lowering the current 35 percent marginal tax rate that applies to the wealthiest corporations. One passage from the document reads as follows: “Right now, with a top marginal rate of 35 percent, it vies for the developed world’s highest, placing our companies—indeed, our entire country—at a competitive disadvantage. That is the bad news. The good news is that with the rate set so high, there is a lot of room to bring it down.”
We don’t know exactly where Romney stands when it comes to tax breaks for the oil industry, but it’s safe to say that the Obama campaign isn’t dead wrong in assuming he would support the provisions.
In terms of mileage standards, the GOP frontrunner had this to say during a February speech for the Detroit Economic Club: “In my view, the industry got in trouble because the UAW asked for too much, management gave too much, and the government CAFE standards hurt domestic automakers.”
When it comes to renewable energy, Romney has a mixed record. During this election cycle, he’s been highly critical of the president’s investments in that sector. Here is an excerpt from his economic plan:
“To begin with, wind and solar power, two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative fuel, remain sharply uncompetitive on their own with conventional resources such as oil and natural gas in most applications. Indeed, at current prices, these technologies make little sense for the consuming public but great sense only for the companies reaping profits from taxpayer subsidies. As for job creation, studies show that ‘green’ jobs might actually hurt employment more than they help it.”
Still, as Massachusetts governor, Romney said high gas prices were “probably here to stay,” and he proposed a plan that called for reducing energy demand. He also supported investments in renewable energy by creating the Green Energy Fund for his state.
Romney’s economic plan calls for an “obvious triple play” policy that focuses on oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy. Renewable energy doesn’t make the list.
The Pinocchio Test
The president’s campaign deserves much credit for avoiding recent mistakes that the DNC and Priorities USA made in defending his energy policies. In particular, this latest ad doesn’t accuse Romney of trading promises for money from Big Oil.
On nearly all accounts, the Obama campaign video appears to have a solid basis for its claims. The one exception is when it gives the president credit for recent increases in oil and gas production levels. The most Obama really could have done to affect oil production up to this point would be to block extraction plans that were already approved.
Overall, this latest ad in the oil war deserves one Pinocchio. But that’s a noticeable improvement over preceding ads in the spat.
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UPDATE: A reader mentioned that information from the Energy Information Administration's monthly energy reviews disproves the claim that the Obama administration is “doubling renewable energy.”
EIA data shows that only solar- and wind-energy production have doubled, and only when it comes to generating electricity. This narrow set of data leaves out geothermal and hydrothermal energy, as well as non-electricity renewables such as solar heat and biofuels.
The numbers for overall renewables tell a very different story. Production is up only 28 percent in that regard, so it appears the Obama campaign has cherry-picked data to create an extra-sunny narrative. This is the point our concerned reader brought up.
Still, the word “doubling” suggests a work in progress, and the president made clear from the start of his term that he wanted to achieve that goal. Renewable-energy production has indeed doubled in one regard (electricity from solar and wind sources), and it’s about a quarter of the way there in the sense that our reader asked us to consider (overall renewables).
We thank the reader for noting this issue in the ad. Overall, the campaign ad is not totally off-the-mark on this claim-- at least not enough to change our Pinocchio rating.