Obama and Romney on Energy Issues

Energy issues have long been a major topic in presidential election campaigns, and this year is no exception. The details do vary every four years, however. In 2012, the swift development of shale gas fracking has made natural gas substantially cheaper, and increasing oil prices have made exploiting shale oil deposits highly profitable, opening up new reserves. But reducing carbon emissions has become more critical than ever, as climate change's effects become more apparent.

The best energy policies are not always obvious. For instance, cheaper natural gas is displacing more expensive and dirtier coal, leading to fewer carbon emissions. But many are worried about environmental impacts provoked by the hydraulic fracturing of rocks to release natural gas, including water contamination and the release of methane into the atmosphere.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney offer different visions of what America's energy policy should be. While both presidential candidates are in favor of expanding oil and gas drilling, both support the development of natural gas resources and hydrofracking, and both would like to see more North American energy independence, their opinions differ on some key energy issues, as outlined in the table below.

Energy Issue Barack Obama Mitt Romney
Climate Change Obama Romney
Climate Change Believes it is one of the biggest issues of this generation Believes there is a lack of scientific consensus on climate change
Policy reaction to climate change Need smart policies that lead to growth in clean energy and result in social and economic benefits Climate change science is an input to public policy decision but should not dictate a particular policy response
Carbon Emissions Obama Romney
Carbon-pollution limits (e.g. cap and trade) Proposed carbon-pollution limits (cap and trade) Against carbon cap and trade (because it could devastate the U.S. economy)
The Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate carbon dioxide (a part of the agency's Clean Air Act mandate) Maintain EPA's authority Strip EPA of its authority
Renewable Energy &
Energy Efficiency
Obama Romney
Clean energy goals Vows that 80% of U.S electricity will come from renewable resources by 2035 States that Obama's goals are running "on faith rather than fact"
Clean energy research and development Funded the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) which focuses on transformational energy research Concentrate alternative energy funding (such as long-term, apolitical mechanisms like ARPA-E) on basic research
Tax credits for renewable energies Maintain incentives for renewable energy (wind and solar power generation have doubled during Obama's administration) Stop "wasteful" subsidies (windmills and solar plants have failed to become economically viable). The government should not steer investment toward politically favored technologies
Specifically: Production tax credit for wind energy projects Renew wind energy production tax credit Let wind energy production tax credit expire
Energy efficiency standards Supported new efficiency standards Supported energy efficiency initiatives as governor of Massachusetts but views Obama's energy efficiency standards as extreme
Federal mandate for ethanol use in gasoline (requires refiners to use a minimum amount of ethanol) Maintain the federal mandate for ethanol use Maintain the federal mandate for ethanol use
Federal standards for fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks Raised federal standards to 54.5 MPG by 2025 Opposes federal standards
Fossil Fuels Obama Romney
Tax breaks and incentives for oil and gas drilling ($4 billion a year) Eliminate oil and gas tax breaks Keep oil and gas tax breaks (accuses Obama of "waging a war" against coal and oil industries)
Drilling on federal lands and waters Open more offshore areas for drilling (e.g. off Virginia) and maintain leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of Alaska. Maintain moratorium off the Pacific and most of the Atlantic coasts Open all federal lands and waters for drilling (including the entire Pacific and Atlantic coasts and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
Interior Department's ability to lease and issue permits for drilling on federal lands and water Maintain Interior Department's leasing authority Strip Interior Department of this power and give it to states (which, Romney believes, will issue permits faster and more efficiently
EPA regulations on coal development Maintain and strengthen coal regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (many aging coal plants are being replaced with natural-gas fired plants) Remove obstacles and EPA regulations on coal
Use of hydraulic fracturing in drilling Supports, but should be subject to federal safety standards Supports, but should be regulated by the states
Keystone XL pipeline (which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf) Approved southern leg of the pipeline but remains undecided about the northern leg Would approve on day one of his administration
Nuclear Energy Obama Romney
Future of nuclear power Conditionally committed to support the financing of the first commercial nuclear power plant approved in the U.S in more than 3 decades. Expand Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) capabilities for approval of additional nuclear reactor designs. Streamline NRC processes to ensure that licensing decisions for reactors on or adjacent to approved sites, using approved designs, are completed within two years.