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Energy Policies at the Denver Debate

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted October 5, 2012

The first U.S. presidential debate in Denver underscored the vast gulf between President Barack Obama’s approach to energy policies and that of his opponent, former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

On the general topic of energy, Romney suggested that that he would make North America “energy independent” and thus generate about four million jobs. In response, President Obama remarked that while conventional energy exploitation is an obvious necessity, so too is the attention that ought to be granted to forward-looking energy sources (in other words, renewables).

Going into particulars, Romney declared that he would double the number of government permits issued to gas and oil projects on government-owned land, and he would also bring in oil from offshore, Alaska, and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The Obama administration last year rejected TransCanada’s (TSE: TRP) first application for a transborder pipeline permit, saying that pressure was exerted for an approval before the State of Nebraska could decide on a route to protect the Ollgala aquifer that supplies irrigation and drinking water to eight states in the American Midwest. Later in September, TransCanada submitted a new application.

Romney also expressed support for “clean coal.” The coal industry, of course, has been opposed for several years to the Obama administration’s stance on coal. It’s also true that the coal industry’s share of national power production has dropped in large part due to the shale revolution and ensuing boom in natural gas at low prices.

While President Obama declared that the oil and gas subsidies need to be ended since they receive about “$4 billion a year in corporate welfare,” Romney refuted the suggestion by citing the Department of Energy, which put the tax breaks at $2.8 billion. He also pointed to the government’s sometimes-misguided investments in failures or troubled companies like Solyndra, Fisker, and Tesla. Solyndra, of course, borrowed $535 million before going bankrupt; the other two car companies have yet to demonstrate a profit.

Romney, it appears, exaggerated matters a bit when he claimed that President Obama wasted $90 billion on his green initiatives. That money was stated as available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but the Energy Department received just $35 billion and has spent $26 billion to date. Further, several of the green programs were signed into law by the Bush administration, and a fair bit of funds were allocated under that administration as well.

President Obama maintained that a cut was necessary for oil subsidies, emphasizing the importance of renewable power. Various environmental groups expressed overwhelming support for his stance.

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