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Election 2012: Who Wins On Energy Issues?

Following up on my own examination of Obama’s and Romney’s stances on clean energy and other cleantech, as well as NRDC’s comparison of Obama and Romney on energy issues, here’s a good guest post from a friend of the site (originally published on

The Presidential candidates’ views on energy issues differ dramatically.

President Obama has made crystal clear his priorities vis-a-vis the direction the United States should take on powering itself during the next four years, and far beyond. He was first to use the term “all of the above,” and he has applied it comprehensively.

Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, has taken up the “all of the above” expression, only he uses it in a narrower and more immediate sense. His campaign favors fossil energy, making use of popular slogans like “Drill, baby, drill.” He envisions energy independence for North America (which includes production from vast oil resources belonging to Canada) by 2020 if we follow this prescription.

That goal eight years from now is about as far as Romney will go in terms of the future. His horizon is finite, as is his commitment to reversing climate change. Giving a minimal nod to renewable resources, he undermines his words by ignoring the financial fast track for renewables and steering investment money toward fossil fuel expansion and new nuclear development.

Obama has operated under (as President), and campaigns on, a strategy that stresses the importance of calling out all ways possible to supply American energy needs in the future. Let’s start with conventional resources:

  • Extensive use of natural gas and fracking technology to retrieve it.
  • Continued oil development, including first steps toward Arctic drilling and fast-tracking half of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
  • “Clean coal” (a misnomer).
  • Existing nuclear, and already permitted development.

He has also made clear in no uncertain terms that renewable energy, embraced and ambitiously pursued by most other nations of the world, is the wave of our future. Middle Eastern and North African oil companies are already putting Obama’s course into action.

Obama believes that we must have an orderly transition from one to the other. He has already put his words into action in many ways:

  • Opening up extensive federal lands in six western states for solar.
  • Supporting both onshore and offshore wind technologies.
  • Increasing low-pollution uses of biomass.
  • Piloting and encouraging development of other resources such as wave, tidal, and geothermal, and
  • using land-based hydropower, both conventional and run-of-river.

He has also admired hybrid power projects like the new 300-MW solar-wind plant in the West.

The energy issue reveals important differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates and their platforms. Romney‘s emphasizes exploitation of old, environmentally unsound, and limited fuel resources. His attitude toward funding embraces more financial breaks and continued subsidies for the petroleum industry. His affection for renewables is a recent concession and as such, still skin-deep. He looks no farther than two presidential terms.

Obama‘s plan, ambitious but believable, takes us as far as mid-century, and sometimes beyond. He continues on the path he has cut over the past four years. His measured reaction to Hurricane Sandy bears out the depth of his planning and capability to react in emergencies. He proposes financially viable solutions:

  • Photovoltaic solar energy, which now costs less than fossil and nuclear and has already met half of German energy needs.
  • Wind technology, proven both onshore and offshore and continuing to economize.
  • Ocean energy (wave and tidal), which has advanced so quickly that Scotland proposes to achieve 50% energy independence from ocean and wind within the next three years.
  • Biomass, a resource reuse strategy, which has developed enough to attract considerable investor interest.
  • Geothermal, proven for decades in California and embraced in Iceland’s energy-independent economy, which is now involved in transmission-sharing with the United Kingdom via 1,000-mile undersea cables.

Romney’s campaign relies on “love for America”–in energy terms, love for the past and the already mega-profitable. By contrast, Obama’s carefully considered long-range plans stand for hope, progress, and ultimately a better, less fearful world.

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