But there’s little in the short term that any president can do. Longer term, presidents and presidential candidates for decades have set a goal of energy independence, to no great success. No president or Congress has found the political will or the consensus on policies to achieve that goal. Little in the current campaign suggests that will change starting in 2013.
Listen to the candidates with one ear and you would think they basically agree on energy issues. Both are, in their own ways, advocates of “whatever works” approaches to wean the United States off its dependence on foreign oil. Listen with both ears and you come away understanding the debate that rages from campaign event to campaign event.
In Mitt Romney’s telling, Obama has slighted domestic production of oil, gas and coal while shoveling billions to alternative-energy companies, some of which have gone bankrupt and some of which are run by his contributors. To hear the president, Romney is a tool of big oil and other energy producers, defending tax breaks for the industry at a time of record profits and not willing to stand up to them on behalf of consumers.
The rhetorical differences are significant, but if there were easy solutions, politicians would have found them long ago.
— Dan Balz
Here are Obama and Romney’s positions on energy, broken down by subject:
Obama took advantage of the financial crisis in the auto industry to forge an agreement with companies, unions, banks and environmental groups for improving the fuel efficiency of new cars. About one in eight barrels of oil produced worldwide goes into American cars and trucks.
The initial deal set fuel efficiency standards at the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon for the average new car by 2016 and later talks set an average of 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by model year 2025. Although it will take more than a decade to replace the U.S. vehicle fleet, oil industry economists think that American motor fuel consumption may have peaked.
Romney opposes President Obama’s new fuel efficiency standards. He says that the government mandate is the wrong way to improve efficiency and that it will raise the cost of cars more than it will offset the money motorists will save by buying less gas.
“Governor Romney opposes the extreme standards that President Obama has imposed, which will limit choices for American families,” a campaign spokeswoman said. “The president tells voters that his regulations will save them thousands of dollars at the pump but always forgets to mention that the savings will be wiped out by having to pay thousands of dollars more up-front.”
Obama rejected an earlier Keystone XL pipeline proposal, saying that a deadline set by Congress did not leave enough time for environmental review. He has left open the possibility of approving a revised plan.
He favors opening up new offshore areas for oil and gas exploration but has proceeded cautiously in the wake of the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His five-year plan includes preliminary work off the coast of Virginia and the south Atlantic states. He has supported Shell’s efforts to drill in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea over protests by environmental groups. Mitt Romney has accused him of stifling gulf exploration, but the number of rigs there is about the same as before the spill.
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed guidelines for hydraulic fracturing, but Obama has not slowed the use of the controversial drilling technique that has spurred higher output of domestic oil and gas. He calls for an all-of-the-above energy strategy and has urged firms to replace coal with natural gas, which has lowered greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama has called for cutting U.S. oil imports by a third by 2020, a target well within reach as a result of higher U.S. output and lower consumption. Low natural gas prices have sped the closure of coal-fired power plants, many of which are 45 to 60 years old.
Romney has said that on Day One of his administration, he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s oil or tar sands across the Great Plains to the Texas Gulf Coast.
Romney would open up all federal land for oil and gas drilling, including the Pacific, Atlantic and Alaska coasts, as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Although oil and gas production has increased sharply since President Obama took office, Romney has accused him of trying to stifle fossil fuels.
Romney says he would aim for North American energy independence, boosting domestic output and relying on Canada and Mexico to fill U.S. oil import needs.
He would strip the Interior Department of its power to lease federal land and turn that over to the states. He also would put regulation of drilling — including hydraulic fracturing — in the hands of states, not the Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, he would remove the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide, a power that was unambiguously recognized in a Supreme Court ruling during the George W. Bush administration. The EPA is collecting CO2 data and weighing tough limits on emissions by new power plants. Romney, who says Obama is “killing coal,” blames the agency for forcing the closure of coal plants, which are large CO2 emitters.
Obama came into office vowing to double the use of renewable energy sources, primarily wind and solar power, and he has achieved that. The wind industry has been one of the brightest spots in a tough economy, doubling capacity to 49.8 gigawatts and accounting for a third of new generation for electricity over the past five years.
The president favors extending the production tax credit for wind. He told an audience in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Aug. 13 that “without these wind energy tax credits, a whole lot of these jobs would be at risk.”
The economic stimulus bill in 2009 included major spending on innovative batteries and renewable energy, including loan guarantees and grants for projects, research and development.
The administration approved a $535 million federal loan to Solyndra, a solar panel maker whose technology turned out to be too expensive. The company went bankrupt and defaulted on the loan.
Romney would eliminate the production tax credit for wind energy and other subsidies for renewable energy. He does, however, support tax incentives for oil drilling.
He also favors the renewable fuel standard that requires a minimum level of ethanol use by refiners of motor fuel. Even though the tax credit for ethanol has expired, the renewable fuel mandate has boosted the use of ethanol to an extent that might not have happened otherwise.
Romney has criticized the energy lending and grant programs in the 2009 economic stimulus bill.
WHO ARE THEIR ADVISERS ON ENERGY?
Steven Chu: The energy secretary shares Obama’s views on renewable energy and federal investment in emerging technologies. He has advised the president on the 2010 BP oil spill and drilling guidelines.
Ken Salazar: The interior secretary reorganized the flawed Minerals Management Service after the oil spill and advises on leasing federal land and water, including in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.
Lisa Jackson: The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is weighing ways to limit emissions of carbon dioxide.
Harold Hamm:The billionaire chief executive of Continental Resources, which has led the surge in shale oil drilling in North Dakota’s Bakken formation, is a staunch opponent of abolishing tax incentives, or tax breaks, for drilling. He is the only adviser the Romney campaign has identified.