The Divide: Romney and Obama views on energy policy - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, June 3, 2012 at 1:51 am / Updated at 3:24 pm
The Divide: Romney and Obama views on energy policy

An ideological chasm — deep and hardened — cuts through the 2012 campaign.

People marvel at how polarized the country has become, how gridlocked the decision making, how rote the political debate. Some fear that public policy — how a nation of diverse interests muddles forward — has been reduced to a partisan playground.

In an occasional series from now until November, The World-Herald will step back from the shouting and highlight some real differences voters can weigh. The goal: to highlight how policy choices can affect people's lives and to hunt for areas where Republicans and Democrats might find common ground.

With the Republican nomination now clinched and school out, two things have begun in earnest: the general election campaign and the summer driving season. It's a good time to talk about energy.

Since “energy crisis” became a catchphrase in the 1970s, Americans have worried that too much of our energy comes from fickle foreign sources.

We worry about price swings. We worry about cutoffs. We worry so much about this lifeblood — which runs our cars and factories, keeps us warm or cool, sustains our economy — that war planners have to think about how U.S. forces might intervene to ensure supplies.

Almost four decades after sweater-wearing President Jimmy Carter dubbed the energy battle the “moral equivalent of war,” Americans still don't agree on solutions, and the discussion remains captive to the partisan divide.

Those right of center say

Maximize use of America's own oil, gas and coal. New technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling have made more of it accessible, giving North Dakota an oil boom. Drilling should be expanded in the Arctic and offshore, and more of our imported oil should come from close allies such as Canada. With maximum domestic production — plus conservation steps both sides advocate such as higher-mileage cars — the U.S. one day can do better than reducing reliance on foreign producers. It can reach energy independence.

Those left of center say

New production technologies aside, fossil fuels remain finite, polluting and globe-warming to produce and to burn. The U.S. should adopt policies to hasten a shift to renewable, cleaner energy sources such as solar, wind and next-generation biofuels. Accelerating that shift now, even if initially costlier, will cushion the inevitable transition from fossil fuels, put America at the forefront of new industries and pay immediate environmental benefits.

Any common ground?

A lot, actually. Both sides hail recent reductions in foreign oil dependence. Oil imports have fallen from 60 percent of what we use to 45 percent over the past six years, the government says. Both sides favor environmentally careful development of domestic fossil fuels. No one favors pollution. Notwithstanding the debate over climate science, most Americans favor reducing greenhouse gases, polls indicate, but don't want the added costs to hamper the economy. Most of all, experts on both sides say, the choices would be clearer and less prone to partisan warfare if the nation had a comprehensive, long-term energy policy — a road map of priorities.

What all this means to me

Short term: Utility bills and gasoline prices — everybody pays them, one way or another. Long term: Government must balance multiple, intertwined demands — for energy, for pollution control, for budget restraint, for limiting greenhouse gases — all as technology is changing. The outcomes will touch almost every part of daily life, from how we get around to how we keep our homes heated and cooled.

Midlands in the spotlight

The Keystone XL pipeline, because its initial route would have run through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills, put Nebraska at center stage of a national controversy. Despite prodding from pipeline backers in Congress, including Rep. Lee Terry, who led a push to force action sooner, the president says no final decision will be made until after the November elections.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney weigh in:

On oil and natural gas

Obama

Viewpoint:Touts an “all-of-the-above” strategy, encouraging development of both domestic fossil fuels and cleaner sources. Has proposed to open 75 percent of potential offshore fields to drilling but says federal subsidies for green energy should continue (making the point recently amid Colorado solar panels and Iowa wind turbines). In answer to subsidy critics, he urges a cutoff of tax breaks for big oil companies, calling them costly and no longer needed to spur oil production.

Romney

Viewpoint:Wants to speed domestic production of oil, gas and coal. Says Obama administration rules hinder that by kowtowing to environmentalists. Says Obama used the BP oil spill as a pretext to limit offshore drilling and wastes tax dollars on green-energy subsides to firms like Solyndra (a solar panel maker that went bankrupt after receiving federal aid). Says to keep consumers' costs low, the free market, not subsidies, should guide energy development and says the marketplace favors fossil fuels, not renewables.

On Pollution

Obama

Viewpoint: Toughened fuel-economy rules for vehicles, imposed mercury-emission rules on power plants and proposed rules to shift more power plants from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. Proposes stricter federal rules for fracking, the high-pressure injection of fluids during drilling. His broader cap-and-trade bill for greenhouse gases died in Congress. He shelved a plan to toughen smog rules and angered environmentalists by approving an Arctic oil drilling plan for the waters off northwest Alaska.

Romney

Viewpoint: Says federal rules “stifle” coal, oil and nuclear power, crimping supplies and increasing consumers' costs. Would reverse the Obama administration's decision that carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is a pollutant subject to the Clean Air Act. Also would speed research into “clean coal” technologies and speed the licensing process for nuclear plants. Of global warming, he says, “We don't know what's causing climate change.” Says states' current rules on fracking, a process that has expanded domestic natural gas production, are sufficient.

On alternative energy sources

Obama

Viewpoint: Has allocated research money and proposed tax credits for alternative-fuel vehicles (electric, natural gas, hydrogen), saying multiple options will best serve consumers in the long run, even if they require startup subsidies. Likewise devoted funds to solar and wind power projects, including aid to specific companies.

Romney

Viewpoint: Backs ethanol and favors aid to basic research in alternative fuels but not to specific companies. Says the market best determines which sources suit consumers and the market has determined solar and wind power aren't viable.

On the Keystone XL pipeline

Obama

Viewpoint: Says Keystone plans are still being evaluated and mustn't be rushed. Has strongly supported the Oklahoma-to-Texas leg of the pipeline, which doesn't require his approval because it crosses no international borders.

Romney

Viewpoint: Says Obama is stalling the Canada-to-Texas pipeline to placate environmentalists even though the tar sands supplying the oil will be developed regardless and can help hold down gas prices.

On gasoline prices

Obama

Viewpoint: Says higher U.S. oil production won't be enough to affect gas prices. Has urged a crackdown — more regulators, higher penalties — on oil speculation in financial markets, saying it inflates prices at the pump. Has raised fuel-efficiency rules, which make new cars cost more but gas go further. Defends tapping the oil reserve last summer as necessary to offset a fall in war-torn Libya's oil production.

Romney

Viewpoint: Says maximizing U.S. oil production and accelerating the Keystone pipeline are the best ways to restrain gas prices. Also has said that a gradual increase in gas prices is the kind of market-based incentive that will encourage conservation and innovation. Has criticized Obama's tapping of the U.S. oil reserve last summer, saying it's meant for emergencies only.

Compiled by Roger Buddenberg from World-Herald press services and archives

Read more related stories
State Department moves to delay Keystone XL pipeline decision
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »