Will the real 'Mr. Oil' please stand up?
I have never seen two presidential candidates fight over which one of them is the Oil, Gas and Coal King as I did last night watching the second 2012 presidential debate at Hofstra University.
When “Jeremy,” the student who asked the first question of the night, which was something to the effect of, “What will your administration do to ensure I can get a job after college,” Obama’s third point was, “We’ve got to control our own energy, not just oil and natural gas, which we have invested in, but we’ve got to make sure we’re developing the energy sources of the future … that’s why we’ve invested in solar, wind and biofuels … The most important thing we can do is control our own energy.”
Obama pointed to increased domestic oil production, the highest level in 16 years, and the highest levels of U.S. natural gas production in decades, increase in coal production and coal employment. “We can’t just produce traditional energy,” Obama said, “that’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars, and doubled clean energy production: wind, solar, biofuels.”
But the conversation inevitably made its way back to fossil fuels. Obama said under his administration the U.S. has continued to open up new areas for oil drilling, and that it’s been a priority for his administration to go after natural gas. “We can do it in an environmentally sound way,” he said. But it’s not just about producing more oil, more energy, it’s about utilizing those resources in an efficient manner. “That’s how we reduce demand and keep prices lower,” the president said, adding that Romney would let the oil companies write his energy policy. “He has the oil and gas part, but not the clean energy part,” Obama said.
Romney said people must look at the president’s energy policies and not his rhetoric. He said none of the increase in oil and gas production under the Obama administration was on federal lands. “Oil production is down 14 percent on federal land, natural gas production is down 9 percent.” He said the president cut oil and gas permits in half. And when Romney brought up the oil boom in North Dakota’s Bakken formation, he did so by saying not only has Obama not supported this development, but he worked to stymie it by bringing a criminal action suit under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act because 20 to 25 birds were killed as a result of oil drilling.
“I believe very much in our renewable capabilities, ethanol, wind and solar,” Romney said. They are an important part of the energy mix, he continued, adding that we don’t need a president who will keep us from taking advantage of our oil, coal and gas resources. “This has not been Mr. Oil, Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal,” Romney said. What Romney said next may have gone without notice, but I think it could be construed as a telling sign of what to expect under his administration.
He mentioned that the head of the EPA said it’s impossible to build a new coal plant in the U.S. due to all of the regulations—regulations that are established and enforced under the EPA, the executive branch. It’s not a secret that those who are more closely affiliated with Romney than with Obama want to, at minimum, roll back environmental regulations and, at most, dismantle the EPA entirely.
I have spoken with people who work in the field of diesel aftertreatment systems, devices have helped the new diesel systems become some of the cleanest in the world by nearly eliminating carcinogenic soot emissions and pollution-forming nitrogen oxides, which were developed as a result of EPA regulations on those emissions, and they truly fear that they may go out of business if Romney is elected. Why? Because they believe that he will roll back EPA environmental regulations, forcing closure of manufacturing plants where these clean diesel systems are built, eliminating not only manufacturing jobs but also thousands of high-paying engineering and design jobs in the same field. And that’s just one of many clean energy fields that are threatened if EPA regulations are “reformed.”
Also, let’s remind ourselves that Republicans introduced the Stop RIN Fraud Act of 2012, which would legislatively usurp EPA’s administration of the renewable fuel standard and its RIN program, even though the National Biodiesel Board and many others are in favor of continuing the work the agency has been conducting with the private sector to better control RIN fraud. Pete Olson, who introduced the measure, said in his press release: “I oppose the RFS and support its repeal.” It doesn’t get clearer than that.
However, it is not always easy to look at party affiliation and determine what energy policy the president will support. Both RFS1 and RFS2, the bases for exponential growth in U.S. biofuels production, were signed into law by George W. Bush, a republican oil man.
Romney said he has a plan to get North America energy independent in the next eight years. He dogged the president for opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline.
When the moderator asked the president if $4 gas is the new normal, he said world demand has gone up, production has gone up, and “very little of what Romney said is true.” He said the Obama administration has opened up public land. “We’re drilling more on public lands than the previous administration, and he was an oil man,” Obama said. “Natural gas isn’t just appearing magically. We’re encouraging it and working with the industry. I hear Romney say he’s a big coal guy, but when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant, pointed at it, and said, ‘This plant kills,’ and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal. What I’ve tried to do is be consistent. We’ve made the largest investment in clean coal technology, so as we’re producing more coal, we’re doing it cleaner, smarter; the same thing with oil, the same thing with natural gas. Oil imports are down to the lowest level in 20 years.”
Romney retorted, saying, “I don’t think anyone truly believes that you are a person who will be pushing for oil and gas and coal. I will fight for oil, coal and natural gas, and the proof is what you’re paying at the pump. When the president took office, the price of gasoline was $1.86 a gallon, now it is $4 a gallon. If the president’s energy policies were working, you’re going to see the cost of energy go down.”
Obama quickly answered that: “Romney said when I took office, the price of gas was $1.86, why is that? The economy was on the verge of collapse because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression, as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney is promoting. So it’s conceivable Governor Romney could bring down gas prices because, as a result of his policies, we might be back in that same mess.” And on the pipeline question on which Romney persisted, Obama said his administration oversaw the building of enough pipeline to wrap around the world. “I am for it, but I’m not for ignoring the other half of the equation.”
Obama said Romney called wind jobs imaginary and he’d get rid of them. Of course, Romney said his policies would not eliminate wind power jobs.
In all of the discussion about who will drill for more oil, Obama or Romney, the BP oil spill in the Gulf—what was the environmental catastrophe of our lifetime—was not mentioned once.
The question I pose to you is, not which president will cater more to the oil and gas industry, but which will support the continued development of biodiesel?