Where Gov. Romney Stands on Energy

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.

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6 Comments

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Something else that wasn’t mentioned directly in the Romney Plan, but making the rounds through popular media is Romney’s stance on the wind energy industry’s primary tax incentive: the production tax credit. Even though the PTC enjoys wide bi-partisan support, especially through the Heartland and even here in the Southeast, Romney favors expiration of the PTC in December. Such a move would devastate the wind industry.
http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/241057-overnight-energy


Comment by Simon Mahan on August 31, 2012 11:05 am


I concur that Romney’s (and Ryan’s) speeches were short on specifics, but they laid our a fundamental policy: Energy is key to our national security, and they will strive to hold its costs to a minimum, because low cost energy creates jobs. This will focus a searing spot light on “capitalist cronyisms”, sweet deals between lobbyists and the government. Expect lay offs in both. High cost, subsidized energy technologies will die. Regulatory costs will be defined by the states and private interests in conjunction with, but not subservient to, federal regulators. Regulations which increase costs must be openly defended. Mandated energy purchases, which can not meet market prices, will die.

These are epic changes, and will destroy special interest fiefdoms.


Comment by R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. on August 31, 2012 2:47 pm


The PTC should be allowed to expire. Wind is not base load and never will be, and when we need it most–primarily in prolonged cold spells during the winter caused by a stationary high or prolonged hot spell during the summer due to equivalent stationary highs–the wind drops to zero. As a consequence, base load has to be built to cover these extreme energy-intensive situations in which wind is absent. So adding a whole bunch of wind capacity is counterproductive when one compares capital cost with reliability.

And if wind energy hasn’t achieved the economies of scale to be an economically viable energy source by now, even as an ancillary source, it never will. Besides, both solar and wind will succumb to a much more promising (in terms of reliability, capital and operating cost) energy source, and that is LENR. I predict in five years wind and solar won’t even be seriously considered and we can start clearing the landscape of all those horrendous turbines and space-wasting solar cells. I’m looking forward to it.


Comment by Rockyspoon on September 1, 2012 8:35 am


Romney should not be emphasizing greater reliance on coal without adding the word clean to it or picking to selectively eliminate the subsidies for wind and solar while leaving in place the subsidies for the oil industry. The way to achieve a level field in the energy field is thru the elimination of all subsidies and tax credits and thru the introduction of a carbon tax because by allowing the carbon intensive industries to pollute at not cost to them we are jjust transfering the burden to society, creating a negative externality for which al taxpayers would have to pay in the future. The federal government should level the field and allow competition to decide the future of energy.


Comment by Roberto Lozano on September 2, 2012 11:58 am


Agree that Romney’s plan misses the mark on energy efficiency. It is still the cheapest form of “energy.” However, your comment that natural gas is a global commodity isn’t quite accurate. Natural gas is regionaly priced. Today in the US it is around $3/MMBtu, while in Japan it is north of $14. The shale gas revolution in the U.S. has given the U.S. an historic competitive advantage. It is fueling a manufacturing renaissance, with over $75 billion in announced investments by energy intensive manufacturers. Some gas producers would love nothing more than to globalize the price of natural gas by exporting large amounts in the form of LNG. Excessive exports of LNG will erase America’s newfound competitive advantage. We should use it to maximum advantage here.


Comment by Peter Molinaro on September 2, 2012 3:06 pm


Peter, you’re correct and I misspoke on the issue of natural gas being a ‘global’ commodity – I meant to convey that natural gas, and to some degree coal, are regional commodities produced and consumed throughout the country and North America and that oil in particular is very much a global commodity bought and sold on the world market. The competitive advantage that the US has in shale gas supplies does come with an environmental price given the potential health impacts of hydraulic fracturing/fracking [http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/state-considering-studying-health-impacts-of-fracking/] and the potential climate impacts from methane leaks [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/jun/29/fracking-debate-climate-change-risks] so I believe it is important we proceed with caution.


Comment by Jennifer Rennicks on September 7, 2012 9:07 am


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