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Monday, October 8, 2012

Candidates duck energy debate

In anticipation of the first presidential debate, I was interviewed by a representative of LA’s second largest newspaper group. Here’s how it appeared in the front page of the Los Angeles Daily News:
From oil refineries in the South Bay to millions of motorists and other consumers, federal energy policy is critical to this region.

If President Obama truly favors a so-called "all-of-the-above energy strategy" that supports a mix of traditional and newer energy sources, some asked why do his policies restrict availability of coal, oil and even natural gas?

"I'm not sure what Obama could tell me to convince me that he sees a future role for fossil fuels," said Joel West, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences in Claremont. "I'd more want to put him on record in supporting these things so later on he could be held accountable for that."

By contrast, Romney has emphasized traditional energy sources by calling for more oil drilling and fewer industry regulations in general.

"I'd like Romney to recognize that there are certain cases in which renewable energy can be successful today or can soon be successful with a little bit of government support," West said. "Because otherwise he risks being perceived as another stooge for the oil companies."
Due to a work commitment, I missed the debate but was later able to review the transcript. It appears that my worst fears were realized.

This is what Obama said:
I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America,

On energy, Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we've got to boost American energy production, and oil and natural gas production are higher than they've been in years. But I also believe that we've got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.
And here is what Romney said:
Energy is critical, and the president pointed out correctly that production of oil and gas in the U.S. is up. But not due to his policies. In spite of his policies.

Mr. President, all of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land. On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and licenses in half. If I'm president, I'll double them, and also get the -- the oil from offshore and Alaska. And I'll bring that pipeline in from Canada.

And, by the way, I like coal. I'm going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal. People in the coal industry feel like it's getting crushed by your policies. I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.
And then the candidates had this exchange:
ROMNEY: [T]he Department of Energy has said the tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year. And it's actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that's been in place for a hundred years. Now ...

OBAMA: It's time to end it.

ROMNEY: And in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world.

Now, I like green energy as well, but that's about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives. And you say Exxon and Mobil. Actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth.

But, you know, if we get that tax rate from 35 percent down to 25 percent, why that $2.8 billion is on the table. Of course it's on the table. That's probably not going to survive you get that rate down to 25 percent.

But don't forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years' worth of breaks, into -- into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don't just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right? So this -- this is not -- this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.
So,as predicted, Obama paid lip service to all of the above (his official energy policy) but could find nothing good to say about fossil fuels while pushing solar and wind, while Romney couldn’t find anything good to say about solar or wind while pushing fossil fuels.

Still, it was disappointing that the candidates were talking past each other, with neither willing to engage the center. The president has a consistent track record — compared to some other Democrats (e.g. Bill Clinton, let alone Joe Manchin) he’s not really interested in fossil fuels. Similarly, we would expect a Bush or a Cheney to do the oil companies’ bidding, but it seems surprising that Romney, a former blue-state governor, couldn’t find a more middle-of-the-road position on energy policy.