Mitt Romney released his energy plan this week and touted it as an ambitious agenda to free the United States completely from overseas oil by 2020. Like many grand plans that presidential candidates dangle in front of voters, Romney’s energy independence plan will hardly be game changer in the November 2012 election. I personally believe Romney will win in a landslide that will be more reminiscent of 1980 than 2000 or 2004, and that shift will become apparent after Labor Day when most voters finally and begrudgingly tune in. This energy plan, however, will not make a bit off difference in the coming presidential election.
The dream of energy independence has been in every president’s crosshairs since the Nixon administration was rocked by the spike in oil prices during the early 1970s. Romney’s plan, however, really does not offer any new or bold ideas, though strategically it is one more step he needed to take in shoring up the Republican base. The timing of the plan, like many of Romney’s announcements including the selection of Paul Ryan during the final weekend of the Summer Olympics, was another gift to team Obama as he had just mingled with top energy executives in Houston a few days ago.
Politics aside, however, Romney’s plan is more of a boon for conventional energy companies than any thoughtful solution that addresses the specter of peak oil and the long term negative impacts that fossil fuels have on our quality of life. And despite the constant bellyaching that the Obama administration has sabotaged the American energy industry, the fact is that oil and gas extraction are up, the U.S. is producing more of its own energy and the nascent clean energy sector is here to stay and will grow.
Here is some of what team Romney is recommending while attacking Obama’s current policies:
- More state control of energy development onshore and more energy development offshore: This is more of the tired mantra that the federal government cannot do anything right, and insists that states, which themselves have had their fair share of budgetary challenges, are better at developing their own energy sectors. Never mind the fact that this is already happening across the U.S.: if you are a natural gas investor, you are making a mint in the Dakotas; if solar floats your boat, New Jerseymay be the state for you.The Romney energy plan discusses more offshore energy leases in the Carolinas and Virginia, but is light on specifics elsewhere. This is great red meat for the party faithful; it ignores the fact that these trends are already underway.
- Pursue a North American partnership for energy production: Romney would give a quick green light to the Keystone Pipeline, which plunked Obama in alignment with Dan Heineman, the GOP governor of Nebraska. But the fact is that the United States already is in the midst of its own oil boom. In 2009, as former CEO Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines (and an energy expert in his own right) pointed out, the U.S. produced over 700,000 more barrels of oil a day than the previous year. In 2005 America imported over 60 percent of its oil; now that stands at less than 40 percent. Currently 13 percent of U.S. oil is from the Middle East. Bush and Obama policies had less of an effect on oil production than better extraction and recovery technologies. And as for our neighbors, while Canada is in the midst of an energy and natural resources boom, Mexico’s oil exports are in decline because of lower production and increased domestic demand south of the border. And circling back to oil production, all oil is traded on the global market. Increased production here does not shield Americans from geopolitical tinderboxes elsewhere – and with 93 percent of U.S. transport running on petroleum, the U.S. economy will screech to painful halt if the price of oil suddenly spirals out of control. Energy independence based on more drilling for oil is a ruse.
- Facilitate private sector led development of new technologies. A dig at the Solyndra fiasco of course would show up in Romney’s energy plan, and to that end a Romney energy administration promises the end of the current “distorting the playing field.” Never mind the stories about energy executives having easy access to the Bush/Cheney administration or the billions of dollars in subsidies that go to oil and gas companies year after year. But again this plan is more thumping of the “government does nothing right” drum. Meanwhile Germany’s solar industry, despite recent struggles, has made impressive gains; China is building a massive rail system and is pursing its own renewable energy agenda; and Korea will be the leader in smart grid technology. Meanwhile examples of companies that are investing in technologies from fuel cells to solar arrays about–and they are doing it not to save the world, but because it is making good business sense.
Rather than offer specifics, the Romney energy plan is full of snide quotes, political barbs and spoon-fed pablum to voters who are angry about gas hovering at $4 a gallon. There is nothing bold in the document, and nothing addressing the scenario of a world where fossil fuels, a finite resource, either run out or just continue to spike in price. The most vapid presidential candidate since another Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis, ran in 1988 is trying to win this election by offering copious amounts of empty proposals. Like Dukakis, Romney will score a bounce after his convention, but take note, Mitt: Dukakis ended up losing by eight points. The landslide is not yet assured.
What is troubling about Romney’s plan is overall reflective of our politics. No one wants to tackle the really tough long term challenges that lie ahead. It is naive to think we will swap out oil and gas for solar and wind power overnight. But a strategy to incorporate these and other technologies are needed to address declining energy reserves and climate volatility. Building the transcontinental railroad was hard; arming the United Kingdom to help the Brits fight off the Nazis during World War II was hard; developing the space program was hard. Changing our energy infrastructure to make it both sustainable for our businesses, communities and our environment will be hard, too. Romney’s punt on energy will be forgotten in a couple weeks, and sadly it is a missed opportunity to get those fickle voters in the middle excited.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.