Where Gov. Romney Stands on Energy

Jennifer Rennicks | August 30, 2012 | Elections, Energy Policy

This blog is the first in a series of blogs examining the energy positions of Presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.  SACE staff Chris Carnevale and Simon Mahan contributed to this post. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.

As Mitt Romney prepares to accept the Republican National Convention’s nomination in Tampa tonight, it’s time for voters to take a good hard look at where he stands on energy issues in general and at the energy plan he released last week in particular. In what feels like a déjà vu moment from four years ago, the Romney energy plan is heavy on ‘drill baby drill’ but light on mentions of fast-growing, clean energy technologies.  Including a drilling rig icon on his website, in lieu of the proffered light bulb icon, would have better symbolized this fossil-fuel driven energy proposal. Indeed, the Twitter-friendly version of the 21 page Romney-Ryan energy plan is this: more states’ rights, less red tape, more oil, coal, and tar sands.

I certainly agree with the sentiment that our country must prioritize domestic energy sources that can simultaneously promote energy independence, reduce energy costs and create jobs that cannot be outsourced. However, Governor Romney’s plan cannot fully achieve these goals largely because his favored energy resources – natural gas, coal and particularly oil – are global commodities traded in global energy markets. Thus, encouraging states to “drill here, drill now” in federal waters or mine the rest of the coal in Appalachia will not guarantee energy independence by 2020 nor can it ensure energy prices remain steady.

This ‘word cloud‘ graphic conveys with simple clarity where the Romney energy plan’s priorities are: oil, oil and gas.

However, positions on something as complex as an energy policy cannot be summed up in a single image, and this election (perhaps more than those in the recent past) will help determine whether our economy remains harnessed to the powerful-yet-antiquated fossil fuel industries that grew the 20th century or whether it hitches a ride with the fast growing clean energy technology sector. Below is a very brief summary of where Governor Romney stands on various energy issues, drawn from his new energy plan and his own statements, for voters to consider.  [Note: Where his past positions/statements vary from his current positions, those are noted in parentheses.]

Oil and Gas Drilling

As the centerpiece of his new energy plan, Romney proposes to open the Florida portion of the Gulf of Mexico to new drilling [more on that below] as well as the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Romney also supports more drilling on public lands and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to move tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. To encourage more oil production and accelerate the approval of drilling permits, Romney proposes to give more control to the states. Hand in hand with oil production are the loopholes and tax breaks that Big Oil has enjoyed for decades.  Romney does not support closing tax break loopholes arguing that to do so would be increasing taxes, you can view a town hall speech in his own words here.

Coal

Romney supports developing America’s coal resources noting that “Coal is America’s most abundant energy source. We have reserves that—at current rates of uses—will last for the next 200 years of electricity production in an industry that directly employs perhaps 200,000 workers.” Romney opposes the newly adopted mercury rule, known as Utility MACT, citing cost concerns. [This is in contrast to what newly-elected Governor Romney said in 2003 about the Salem Harbor coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts, “That plant kills people” and “I will not create jobs that kill people.” You can view a video clip in his own words here.]

Nuclear

Romney’s energy plan proposes to expand the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s capabilities to approve new nuclear reactor designs and to reform what he calls the “cumbersome and restrictive” permitting processes to ensure that licensing decisions for reactors on or adjacent to approved sites, using approved designs, are complete within two years.  While Romney has not taken a strong stance on the nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Vice Presidential candidate Congressman Paul Ryan has acted multiple times to advance the controversial waste storage plan.

Energy Efficiency

While praising the virtue of energy independence—that is producing all the energy we use—Romney pays little attention to half of the equation.  Unfortunately the half he ignores is the most cost-effective, most efficient, and is arguably the best near-term option for jobs: energy efficiency.  Romney’s plan focuses entirely on ramping up production but says little about how we can better use the energy sources we already tap. Romney supports the budget put forward by his running mate, Ryan, which would slash investments in energy efficiency and blamed President Obama for ‘forcing’ through national standards for energy-efficient lighting even though the standards were signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. [This is in contrast to his 2004 Climate Protection Plan, where he pledged that Massachusetts would work with other states “to foster legislation and other approaches” that would encourage energy efficiency standards for many products, including “Torchiere lighting.”]

Renewable Energy

In Romney’s energy plan, renewable energy resources do not have a dedicated section describing how his Administration would support these technologies. Instead, renewable energies, including wind and solar, are mentioned in tandem with oil, gas and coal resources. Romney’s plan is to turn permitting and regulatory authority over to states with oil and gas as well as renewables. It’s a bit hard to imagine how devolution to the states would work in reality since Wyoming doesn’t own Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon is not the jurisdiction of Arizona.  Much of the lands (and seafloor) where oil and renewable energy resources  exist are publicly owned and managed by the federal government for the benefit of all Americans. Would Americans accept a wind farm atop Mount Rushmore, or oil rigs throughout the Everglades if leaders in those states decided to proceed? In recent speeches and in his plan, Romney fails to mention that wind energy has actually represented 35% of installed electrical capacity since 2007, provides over 20% of two states’ generation mixes and employs approximately 75,000 workers nationwide.  Romney fails to mention that, partly due to government assistance, solar PV has dropped in price by 75% in just the last three years and that the U.S. is once again a major exporter of solar technology.

Electric Vehicles

Despite being a native son of the Motor City, Romney joked that the Chevrolet Volt is “an idea whose time has not come” and “I’m not sure America was ready for the Chevy Volt” bringing to mind his controversial 2008 op-ed urging the federal government to “Let Detroit go Bankrupt.” [His lack of support for electric vehicles contrasts with his stance in 2007, when he said, “I sure hope that you’re going to see more and more hybrids and better fuel economy. It’s a must. I’d love to see us really get to 50 miles per gallon. Plug-in cars may be a way of reducing our emissions.”]

Climate Change & Carbon Pollution

Romney opposes cap and trade legislation and questions whether carbon pollution is a threat: “I don’t think carbon is a pollutant in the sense of harming our bodies.” In fact, Romney now questions the bulk of climate science by saying, “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”  [This statement contrasts sharply with what he wrote in his 2010 book, No Apology, when he said, “I believe that climate change is occurring. … I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to man and how much is attributable to factors out of our control.”]

Summary

Although oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy all feature prominently in his energy plan and stump speeches, Romney fails to address the high risks and substantial liabilities of these traditional energy sources – namely pollution, fuel costs, water use, and climate change.  Various studies, including this from the Rocky Mountain Institute, have concluded that deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy is a better long-term strategy for reliable, low-risk, low-cost energy, than the traditional, carbon-based energy sources favored by utilities.

Moreover, Romney’s proposal to put in place the “most aggressive leasing plan ever put forward” would have profound implications here in the Southeast and should give us all pause as the Gulf Coast is still coping with the impacts of the Gulf Oil Spill more than two years later. The white sand beaches that stretch from Florida through the Carolinas are the engines of robust tourism economies, so proposals to drill along our shores must factor in the economic risks that drilling would mean for our treasured places along the coast. The plan offered little mention of improving fuel economy standards to reduce foreign oil exports (even though he himself acknowledged the government’s role in researching better fuel economy in a 2008 oped) or harnessing the country’s abundant renewable fuel resources, such as those supported by former President George W. Bush.

In short, Romney’s plan relies heavily on developing oil, gas and coal while mostly ignoring renewable energy and energy efficiency. I, for one, will be watching when Governor Romney and President Obama debate energy policies in one of the upcoming presidential debates this fall. I encourage everyone to follow the debates next month and look for our blog examining Obama’s stance on energy policies late next week.

Jennifer Rennicks
Jennifer joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2006 as federal policy manager and now directs policy and communication efforts of SACE and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action…
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