For Obama and Romney, A Stark Contrast on Energy and Environment

As the U.S. presidential campaign enters its final phase, Yale Environment 360 compares the sharply divergent views of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the environment and energy.

Few policy issues separate Barack Obama and Mitt Romney more widely than the environment and energy. One man believes human activity is driving global warming, the other questions to what extent humans are responsible. One advocates federal support for renewable energy technologies, the other believes that alternative energy should sink or swim on its own merits. One believes that the U.S. government can play an important role in setting standards that are environmentally and financially beneficial, the other calls the Environmental Protection Agency “a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system.”

What follows is a summary of the positions of the two candidates on four key issues:

Climate Change | Oil and Gas Drilling
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
The EPA and Environmental Regulation

Climate Change

Barack Obama

  • Supports continued international efforts to forge an agreement among major world economies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite failure to do so in past four years.
  • Supported carbon cap-and-trade legislation, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009 but died in U.S. Senate.
  • Enacted regulations to double the fuel efficiency of U.S. vehicles by 2025.
President Barack Obama
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/GettyImages
Barack Obama
Invested billions of dollars in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs through economic stimulus legislation.
Empowered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft stricter carbon dioxide emissions standards on fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Directed the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings and vehicles by 28 percent by 2020.
In response to Romney and other Republicans belittling efforts to combat climate change, Obama said at Democratic convention, “My [energy] plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet — because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future.”
Mitt Romney

  • Wary of international climate negotiations, noting that emissions growth is coming from developing nations and warning that the U.S. must avoid “unilateral” CO2 reductions that would place its economy at a global disadvantage.
  • Opposes, in the words of the Republican Party platform, “any and all cap-and-trade legislation.” Said earlier, “The idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”
  • Opposes Obama’s new fuel efficiency standards as extreme.
Governor Mitt Romney
Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages
Mitt Romney
Opposes EPA regulating carbon dioxide emissions.
Has expressed shifting positions on the threat posed by climate change. In 2009 book, No Apology, he wrote, “I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in size of the global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to man…”
Has contradicted those earlier statements during the current campaign. “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet,” he said last year at Pittsburgh fundraiser.
As Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, initially supported a regional carbon cap-and-trade program, saying that a “flexible market-based regional cap-and-trade system could serve as an effective approach” to reducing carbon emissions. He eventually refused to join the initiative because it did not contain price controls to limit energy costs.
Has made light of Obama administration efforts to regulate CO2, saying, “Now I know there is also a movement to say that carbon dioxide should be… managed by the Environmental Protection Agency. I disagree with that. I exhale carbon dioxide. I don’t want those guys following me around with a meter to see if I’m breathing too hard.”

Oil and Gas Drilling

Barack Obama

  • Has opened millions of new acres of federal lands, boosting domestic oil production. Notes that oil imports as share of U.S. consumption have decreased from 57 percent in 2008 to 45 percent today.
  • In past year, oil imports cut by 10 percent, equivalent to 1 million barrels a day. Has vowed to cut current oil imports in half by 2020.
  • Supports the unprecedented surge in natural gas production due to rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of underground shale formations. Vowed at Democratic convention to develop the 100-year supply of natural gas “that’s right beneath our feet,” creating 600,000 jobs.
  • Backs EPA’s development of regulations, in coordination with states, to oversee fracking and reduce the technology’s water and air pollution. In May, the Department of the Interior proposed rules requiring companies hydrofracturing shale on public lands to disclose contents of drilling fluids, but only after drilling has taken place.
  • Has deferred until after the election a decision on construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. Has approved southern segment of the pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas.
  • Has approved limited oil drilling off Alaska’s coast, but opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Has refused to open coasts off the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards to oil and gas drilling.
  • Has called for ending $4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies.
Mitt Romney

  • Has vowed to make the U.S. energy-independent by 2020, primarily by relying on a “cornucopia” of carbon-based fuels.
  • Has accused Obama of pursuing an “incoherent” energy policy that has “stifled” the domestic energy sector, killed millions of jobs, and cost the government billions of dollars in revenue by over-regulating the oil and gas industry. Says the Obama administration is waging “war” against the oil and coal industries.
  • Proposes a six-point energy plan that would empower states to control onshore energy development, including on federal lands; open up offshore areas, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, to oil drilling; collaborate more closely with Canada and Mexico on energy, including construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline; streamline and reduce regulation of the oil and gas industry.
  • Favors oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Calls for opening up more public lands — including those in and around some national parks — to oil and gas drilling.
  • Vows to prevent overregulation of fracking and shale gas extraction, a sphere environmental groups maintain is under-regulated.
  • As Massachusetts governor, did not display his current all-embracing support of fossil fuels. Was sharply critical of a heavily polluting coal plant in Salem, Mass., saying, “I will not protect jobs that kill people. And that plant kills people.”

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Barack Obama

  • Has invested billions of dollars in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Since 2008, U.S. has doubled generation of electricity from renewable sources; nearly 6 percent of U.S. electricity now comes from non-hydropower, alternative energy sources.
  • In 2011, U.S. was the world leader in clean energy spending, investing $48 billion in green energy.
  • Has set ambitious clean energy goals, vowing that 80 percent of U.S. electricity will come from renewable sources by 2035.
  • Has supported legislation, now set to expire, that extends production tax credits to the wind industry.
  • His administration gave $535 million in federal loan guarantees to the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, Solyndra, sparking harsh criticism from Romney and Republicans.
  • Has enacted regulations requiring U.S. vehicle fleets to attain an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, a doubling of current standards. Says the new standards will reduce U.S. oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day by 2025, saving consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump, and eliminating 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution by 2025. Has helped fund efficiency upgrades on more than 1 million homes and 1,400 manufacturing plants.
  • Department of Defense has embarked on a wide range of programs to develop biofuels for its ships, vehicles, and planes, and to bring renewable energy technologies to the battlefield.
  • Has accused the Romney campaign of drafting an energy plan “written by and for big oil companies.” Told community college students in Maryland, “They dismiss wind power. They dismiss solar power. They make jokes about biofuels. They were against raising fuel standards. If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they probably must have been founding members of the flat earth society.”
Mitt Romney

  • Opposes extending the production tax credit for the wind industry and has vowed to end federal subsidies for renewable energy projects. Campaign spokesman said Romney will “end the stimulus boondoggles and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can complete on their merits.”
  • Vows to “facilitate private-sector-led development of new energy technologies”
  • Has sharply criticized Obama’s approach to renewable energy, writing in an op-ed, “In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy. This vision has failed.” Said Obama’s green jobs strategy “seems to be operating more on faith than on fact-based calculation.”
  • Mocked Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, saying what Obama really meant is that he supports only energy sources that come from above ground: “So he’s for solar and wind, but he doesn’t like coal, oil, and gas because they’re below the ground. Now we understand Obama-speak a little better.”
  • Shortly after becoming governor of Massachusetts, supported renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives, authorizing the investment of $24 million from a state trust state in alternative energy projects. Encouraged public-private partnerships to develop clean energy.

The EPA and Environmental Regulation

Barack Obama

  • Supports proposed EPA regulations setting tougher CO2 emissions thresholds for fossil fuel-fired power plants. Many existing coal plants are currently unable to meet these standards, while the growing number of natural gas-fired power plants will.
  • Supports proposed EPA regulations limiting emissions of mercury and other toxics from power plants.
  • Declined to implement a regulation proposed by the EPA under the Clean Air Act that would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone from 75 to 70 parts per billion, saying the $90 billion cost of the tougher standards would have been onerous on businesses during the recession. Doctors said the tougher standards would have saved several thousand lives a year and led to several million fewer cases of respiratory ailments.
  • Supports continued federal regulation of oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Mitt Romney

This article was written by Yale Environment 360 senior editor Fen Montaigne, with research assistance from Rebeka Ryvola, Aliyya Swaby, and Jacob Cohn.