T.V. Program Special Hosts Prominent Washington Insiders to Debate Obama, Romney Energy Plans
Although both claim to favor an “all of the above” strategy for establishing energy policies and achieving energy independence, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have very different approaches, experts said during a special U.S. presidential campaign edition of Platts Energy Week, an all-energy news and talk show program.
Elgie Holstein, a senior energy adviser to the Obama campaign and former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Energy, said the president’s policies have helped boost development of renewable energy, which he said is a crucial element in developing energy policy. He said Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, does not support renewable energy.
“Governor Romney talks about energy independence, but he wants to take off the table the things we need to get there,” Holstein said. “President Obama has doubled our use of renewables in this country and we’re on the way to doubling the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks by 2025. These are things that Governor Romney just doesn’t support.”
But Romney supporter Jeff Holmstead, head of the Environmental Strategies Group for the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani and a former assistant administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said Obama has stifled development of conventional energy sources so the government can help subsidize renewable projects instead.
“The number of permits that have been issued for any type of an energy project has trickled to almost nothing, so there is a difference between seeking jobs that can only be achieved through federal subsidies and actually getting the federal government out of the way and letting people develop the resources that are at our disposal today,” he said.
He said the “heavy hand” of government has made it too hard to get permits for conventional sources, and said the coal industry has been a particular target since Obama took office.
“[A] much more expensive energy is all he’s given us so far,” he said.
Holstein, however, countered that Obama’s policies have struck a balance between environmental and economic concerns.
“The president has committed over $5 billion … to clean coal,” he said. “It isn’t that the president opposes coal, it’s that we no longer have to make these choices between a dirty environment a healthy economy.”
Holstein said the low price of natural gas has been the biggest problem for coal.
“If coal is losing market share to natural gas … these are choices that industry is free to make under this administration,” he said.
He added that Obama deserves credit for increased natural gas production and a drop in oil imports, countering Republican complaints that he is blocking production.
“You can’t turn around and say that somehow or other the president is blocking these things when clearly it’s happening,” he said.
Holmstead said the energy industry, not Obama, should get the credit for any increases in production.
“It is completely disingenuous for the president to say, as he did, ‘We cut oil imports.‘ The president hasn’t done anything,” he said. “It’s like the rooster taking credit for the sun coming up.”
Holmstead said Romney would spur American oil and gas production by giving more power to the states, but not at the expense of environmental concerns.
“There are much better ways of achieving our environmental objectives, and that’s what the Romney campaign has said they want to do,” he said.
Holmstead said environmentalists have too much sway in determining energy policy under Obama.
“There has always been … robust debate within administrations to try and balance energy concerns and environmental concerns,” he said. “Under this administration, our energy policy has been completely turned over to EPA.”
Holstein said he was concerned about the direction Romney would take energy policy.
Holstein said the Obama administration is not interested in regulating hydraulic fracturing as long as the states are doing their job.
“The states have really taken the lead on this and I think they’re doing a good job,” he said.
Holmstead said that while the Romney campaign agreed with that approach, he doubted whether the Obama administration would opt not to regulate fracking since there are already six federal agencies looking at the issue.
“There does need to be oversight, I think the public needs to understand this can be done safely, but we don’t need more federal government involvement,” he said.