Are US Presidential Candidates Dodging the Energy Debate?

on Sep 13, 2012

On September 12th, the Financial Times published the analysis of Edward Morse, global head of commodities at Citygroup and an energy economist, who pointed out that while both Barak Obama and Mitt Romney were trying to capitalise on the US energy renaissance, neither of them has so far addressed the most important energy policy issues.

As Mr Morse notes in his analysis, as may be expected, the general promise of “energy independence” has become part of the overall campaign rhetoric, without either of the candidates really explaining what the independence in question entails. The Republican nominee Mitt Romney has already hurried to promise energy independence for North America, arguing for fewer restrictions on oil drilling and the almost unfettered use of the US’s coal resources, as noted by Mr Morse. Mr Romney’s position naturally reflects the ties between the Republican party and the oil industry, as noted in a recent FT article. As a consequence, Mitt Romney has criticised President Obama on the rising cost of gasoline and his environmental aides for what the Republican candidate refers to as “misguided desire to see higher energy prices”, the NY Times has reported.

!m[](/uploads/story/355/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)Mr Obama on the other hand, has been trying to find the balance between reaping the benefits of the current boom in oil supply, while taking into account his environmentally-minded voters whose support helped him win the 2008 elections. In his analysis, Mr Morse notes that the President has been reluctant to comment on the future amount of drilling as one of the oil boom consequences. In addition, he also has been reluctant to admit that the supply boom does not have much to do with his policy, but is rather a consequence of an extraordinary expansion of exploration triggered by higher prices a decade ago.

And while both candidates are willing to take advantage of the oil energy boom, one of their main policy differences is their attitude to renewable energy. The NY Times reports that in his speech to the Republican National Convention at the end of August, Mr Romney mocked President Obama, noting that “his assault on coal and gas and oil will send energy and manufacturing jobs to China.” Mr Obama on the other hand used his acceptance speech to reveal details of his energy programme, which includes increased investment in renewable energy and higher mileage standards for vehicles.

According to Mr Morse, the two presidential candidates should spend the coming weeks debating the choices facing the country’s energy policy, and go beyond the question of whether or not the US should drill without restrictions. Among the pending issues are the oil boom consequences on US economic and foreign policy, the right land-use policy as well as environmental protection requirements and global energy issues. In addition, the nominees should also focus on how to stimulate investment in the industries which will take advantage of the energy wealth. As Mr Morse concludes, keeping the energy debate at a more or less superficial level and failing to discuss the deeper implications of domestic energy policies will do the US electorate a deep disservice.


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