A Romney differentiator

July 30, 2012
A presidential campaign supposedly focused on the US economy and noisy with irrelevancy somehow remains silent on energy.

A presidential campaign supposedly focused on the US economy and noisy with irrelevancy somehow remains silent on energy. This is regrettable. The candidates differ fundamentally on the subject and its relationship to the economy. Both sides could use it to highlight core beliefs. Yet even when economic issues manage to pull attention away from superficialities, such as whether Mitt Romney discloses more than is required of his tax records, energy doesn't come up.

President Barack Obama's approach to energy is a matter of record. He wants to discourage the production and use of fossil energy with taxation and regulation and to encourage the use of energy from renewable sources with consumption mandates and taxpayer subsidies. Part of his motivation is a desire to lower emissions of carbon dioxide in response to climate change. And investment of public money in nonfossil energy will, he argues, create "green jobs."

Different approach

Romney proposes a far different approach. But how many Americans know about it? A concise statement of energy policy appears on the web site www.MittRomney.com.

Romney's approach is motivated by national security and economic growth, which, according to his policy statement, "can be made to work in tandem." Increasing domestic energy production, the statement says, would create jobs, "put downward pressure on energy prices," generate revenue for the federal government, and improve the US trade balance, which would strengthen the dollar.

The policy statement faults Obama on several fronts. It says the president has "sharply curtailed" oil production, in part through the drilling moratorium imposed after the Macondo tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It criticizes the decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline proposed to link the oil sands of Alberta with refining centers on the Gulf Coast. It blasts what it calls Obama's "war on the entire coal industry," waged with heavy regulation of emissions of CO2 and hazardous air pollutants. And it challenges Obama's "unhealthy ‘green' jobs obsession," saying, "Diversion of resources into green energy has occurred at a time when the traditional energy sector—oil, gas, coal, and nuclear—holds remarkable job-creating potential." Boring into motives, the statement accuses the president of being "in thrall to the environmentalist lobby and its dogmas."

The Romney energy-policy statement proposes to streamline regulation and permitting for all traditional energy sources. It also calls for the overhaul of environmental laws in a move that would include the removal of CO2 from the scope of the air-quality legislation. "The Obama administration's efforts to fit that particular square peg into the round hole of the Clean Air Act—essentially achieving the effects of cap-and-trade without congressional approval—threaten enormous economic disruption," it says.

Calling for increased production, the statement proposes an "inventory" of carbon-based energy resources, expansion of oil and gas drilling into federal areas now unavailable for leasing, energy partnerships with Canada and Mexico, and regulatory restraint with hydraulic fracturing. It calls for federal spending on basic energy research rather than for "steering investment toward particular, politically favored approaches." It seeks to direct policy "toward technologies that will replace imported oil with domestically produced fuels or electric power."

Statement has lapses

The oil and gas industry can find much to support in the Romney energy policy. But the statement has lapses. It's silent on the Obama administration's annual attempt to raid the oil and gas industry for money in the guise of neutralizing energy taxation and eliminating "subsidies." And it doesn't specifically challenge the folly of fuel selection by government officials. These are not only important points of policy but also issues that can and should be elevated to the level of principle—tax fairness in the former case and proper role of government in the latter.

The best feature of Romney's energy policy is its veer away from Obama's. The government-knows-best approach to energy costs too much and never works. The Romney differentiator on energy deserves more attention than it's receiving.

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