The second presidential debate took off with a flourish on Tuesday. The town hall-style debate took place in Hempstead, NY and featured questions from the audience of undecided voters.
Inevitably, the topic of energy arose, and it took on a renewed importance after a question about gas prices began a battle.
The general consensus from the energy world was that President Obama won the energy portion of the debate. His claims, according to a fact check from the Christian Science Monitor, were more accurate.
Of course, the general ideas that came out of the energy question were nothing we haven’t heard before: both candidates support an all-of-the-above energy policy, but Governor Romney would focus on coal and more drilling as soon as possible while President Obama would incorporate renewable solutions.
More interesting, however, were their claims in the debate and how they held up to the real-life situation.
Obama made the first comment about energy in the debate before any related questions were presented, MNN reports:
“We’ve got to control our own energy…not only oil and natural gas, which we’ve been investing in, but also we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy sources of the future, not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars.”
And though Romney did not respond to that statement, a question soon arose fueling a heated spat over energy policies. The question was directed at Obama:
“Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?”
The President danced around the answer at first by emphasizing that oil imports have decreased, coal production and employment has gone up, and natural gas production is at the highest in a while. But he ultimately said that efficient energy is the goal, something that will reduce demand and lower gas prices.
This caused Romney to jump on the point. He claimed that oil production has fallen 14% and gas has fallen 9% on federal lands during the Obama administration.
And these claims, though true, are misleading. This was true for federal lands, though on public land, oil production has actually gone up 13%. Part of the reason for the fall on federal lands was BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
But he also emphasized that regulations essentially prevent the construction of new coal plants, a problem considering that most of the nation’s coal plants are older than 30 years.
Regulations do make this difficult. Coal consumption in the U.S. has decreased over the last five years as a combination of regulations and cheap natural gas pushed it aside.
Governor Romney noted that he will allow more drilling on public lands and offshore, expanding drilling beyond shale and granting permission to the heavily-debated Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian oil sands.
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While Obama denied that he was preventing coal production, he also took a jab at Romney, reminding him of a coal plant he closed, saying “this plant kills,” during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.
And then the debate returned to the question of gas prices. Romney reminded the audience that where gas prices were $1.86 a gallon when Obama took office, they now average around $4 a gallon. It’s clear, he said, that the strategy is not working.
His claims were accurate, but not necessarily for the reasons he cited. As the President pointed out, the economy was on the edge of the Great Recession at the time. And gas prices are heavily dependent on oil prices, something the oil market, rather than the President, controls.
Obama closed off the debate by emphasizing the importance of renewable energy—wind power in particular. A topic of concern in the energy world is that of the federal tax breaks on wind power, set to run out at the end of the year. While the President has supported renewing the credits, Romney has been against it. In an op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch in March, MNN reminded us, he wrote:
“In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy.”
And this sentiment is exactly what Obama used against him to end the debate on energy. He said that Romney saw the wind jobs as “imaginary jobs.” Romney was not allowed time to defend this claim before the debate moved on, only managing to say that an “aggressive energy policy” is “critical to our future.”
We can gather from the debate that these “all-of-the-above” strategies have specific agendas.
For Romney, the best move would be immediate gratification with coal consumption—a resource the U.S. has in abundance—increased oil drilling offshore and on federal lands, and a maintenance of the current pace of natural gas production.
His claims that renewables are important go against his actions, such as his direct opposition to the renewed wind tax credit.
Obama would rather maintain a focus on renewables, more of a long term strategy than Romney’s. Wind power requires construction time and a long list of approvals before farms can appear, though his solution would ease carbon emissions (a topic the candidates failed to approach). He proceeds with caution in drilling situations, taking time to grant approval. (The Keystone XL pipeline was not completely denied—the administration simply wanted more safety precautions involved.)
But just as Romney has become his policy’s own worst enemy by shutting down the Salem coal plant in 2003, Obama hasn’t followed through with his renewable promise. Solar panels are still conspicuously absent on the White House roof, something the President promised would be in place by the summer of 2011.
So who really wins in terms of energy? We won’t know until we see who holds to these promises.
That’s all for now,
Energy & Capital’s modern energy guru, Brianna digs deep into the industry with accurate and insightful updates into the biggest energy companies and events. She stays up to date with the latest market moves and industry finds, bringing readers a unique view of current energy trends.