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2012 US Elections Candidates on Energy

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Updated: January 25, 2012

Amid ongoing economic struggles, the cost and availability of energy resources have become contentious issues in the United States. President Barack Obama and Republican candidates say that increasing energy independence is critical to national security. However, they disagree on environmental and regulatory policy, as well as on which sectors should be favored.

[Editor’s Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.]

Barack Obama

Democratic Incumbent

Obama entered the White House touting growth in clean energy and promising to reduce U.S. dependence on oil while increasing regulation to protect the environment. In March 2011, Obama released a “blueprint” for a securer energy future (PDF) outlining these goals. The administration says the country is on track to double renewable energy generation, including wind, solar, and geothermal production, above 2008 levels by 2012. In his 2011 State of the Union speech, Obama proposed that 80 percent of electricity production come from clean energy sources–such as nuclear, renewable, “clean coal,” and “efficient” natural gas–by 2035.

A year later in his 2012 State of the Union speech, Obama cited the need for an “all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy,”–a mantra often used by Republicans–and announced he would open more than 75 percent of potential offshore oil and gas resources, which drew vocal support from Republicans. He also said he would allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes.

Under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency has pursued controversial regulation of greenhouse gases emitted by power plants as well as rules targeting improved efficiency of vehicles. His administration accelerated fuel economy standards of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for light trucks–enacted by the 2007 energy bill–and proposed more stringent standards (54 mpg for cars) to be put in place by 2025.

In March 2010, Obama announced opening up more federal lands and coastal areas to oil production, but the Gulf oil spill in April led to stricter adherence to drilling regulationsand a restructuring of some oversight agencies. Obama also has continued to call for eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies–including proposing to generate $41 billion in deficit reductions (TheHill) by nixing subsidies. On January 18, the administration decided to halt plans to build the controversial Keystone XL oil pipelineintended to stretch from Canada to Texas. The administration said it made the decision based on its inability to meet a congressional deadline to assess issues raised, rather than on the merits of the project.

Newt Gingrich

Republican Candidate

Gingrich on his website presents a six-point energy plan, calling for removing “bureaucratic and legal obstacles” to oil and natural gas development; financing clean energy research with oil and gas royalties; removing the ban on shale oil development in the West; and eliminating the EPA.

Gingrich calls for replacing the EPA with an “Environmental Solutions Agency” that would use incentives and cooperation “to achieve better environmental outcomes while considering the impact of federal environmental policies on job creation and the cost of energy.” In 2007, Gingrich published the book, A Contract with the Earth, which advocates an entrepreneurial, free-market approach to protecting the environment.

Timeline: Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign PolicyGingrich supports subsidies for all forms of energy production (NationalJournal). Gingrich voted for ethanol subsidies while in Congress and continues to support it. “We decided it was better for money to go to Iowa than to Iran, better for money to go to South Dakota than to Saudi Arabia,” Gingrich said at an event in Iowa in November 2011 (OmahaWorldHerald).

Ron Paul

Republican Candidate

Paul’s energy policy will be focused on “free market” energy solutions. He says federal “regulations, corporate subsidies, and excessive taxation have distorted the market and resulted in government bureaucrats picking winners and losers,” and have increased energy prices. He would repeal laws and regulations that impede energy production and would lower taxes on energy production.

Paul has said that reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil will simplify U.S. foreign policy and improve the “anemic economy at home.” He opposes energy subsidies, which he views as a government handout, but he supports tax credits. Paul opposes ethanol mandates, which he says often turn out to be “corporate welfare for big agriculture.”

Following the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Paul criticized the federal cap on spill liability, saying the burden shouldn’t be on the taxpayers. “If accidents continue to be handled this way, it is easy to understand why so many see more cost than benefit to offshore drilling, and that is also a tragedy,” he said.

Mitt Romney

Republican Candidate

Romney’s plan focuses on “significant regulatory reform” (PDF), increased domestic production, and research and development. Romney proposes a new regulatory framework for the EPA that would “preserve environmental gains without paralyzing industry.” This, his plan says, would include streamlining air rules for coal plants and reforming regulations for the nuclear industry. Romney supports ethanol subsidies (WSJ), saying in May 2011 in Iowa, “ethanol is an important part of our energy solution for this country.”

Romney also has been critical of the Obama administration’s green jobs strategy. He says the traditional energy sector–oil, gas, coal, and nuclear–has “remarkable job-creating potential.” Romney advocates increasing domestic production of fossil fuels, including shale gas, and partnering with Canada and Mexico to develop these resources. He also said that his administration would help develop shale gas (PDF) in Europe to help allies reduce dependence on Russian gas.

Romney was critical of the Obama administration’s position on the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada and the moratorium on offshore drilling that followed the 2010 oil spill. He said in his plan, “a Romney administration will pave the way for the construction of additional pipelines that can accommodate the expected growth in Canadian supply of oil and natural gas in the coming years.”

Rick Santorum

Republican Candidate

On his campaign website, Santorum said the country needs “an all-of-the-above energy policy that uses oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy to power our economy and empower the American worker.” He advocates ending roadblocks to oil exploration and stopping new natural gas regulations. “We will open up energy in America, whether it’s ANWR, whether it’s coal mining, whether it’s drilling, we will have a free market of energy production,” he said in a speech in November 2011. “And we will lead the world and we will have stable, long-term energy prices.”

Santorum said at a debate in Michigan in November 2011 that he would phase out all energy subsidies and opposed creating incentives for “different forms of energy that the government supports.” Santorum voted against ethanol subsidies while in Congress. In a June 2011 debate in New Hampshire, Santorum said he believes the ethanol industry ismature enough to survive (CNN) without them.

Michele Bachmann (*withdrew)

Editor’s Note: Rep. Bachmann withdrew her candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on January 4, 2012.

Bachmann (R-MN) has proposed an energy strategy that includes expanding drilling andreducing regulations that increase production costs of traditional energy. “If we legalize American energy production, which I have been advocating throughout my time in Congress, we will create very quickly 1.4 million high-paying jobs,” she said in an October 2011 speech in Des Moines, Iowa. “We’ll increase domestic energy supplies 50 percent and that will bring $800 billion into the United State Treasury.”

In August 2011, she said under her presidency the country would “see gasoline come downbelow $2 a gallon again” (CNNMoney). She has supported opening up drilling in the Outer Continental shelf and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which she called in her October 2011 Des Moines speech “the most perfect place on the planet to drill for oil.” As a member of Congress, she has introduced several pieces of energy legislation, including ones to support fast-tracking shale production and increasing access to oil drilling.

Bachmann also supports diversifying supply and finding “innovative solutions to help protect the environment.” She is a member of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus and has introduced legislation to fast-track tax depreciation on renewable energy production. However, she also has opposed subsidies for ethanol (USAToday), the phase-out of the incandescent light bulb (TheHill), and regulating greenhouse gases.

Jon Huntsman (*withdrew)

Editor’s Note: Huntsman withdrew his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on January 16, 2012.

Like many of the GOP candidates, Huntsman is proposing an “all of the above” approach to energy policy with an emphasis on energy security. “America is drowning in energy resources, yet every year we send $300 billion–half our trade deficit–overseas for oil,” says his campaign site. His website says ten of the last eleven recessions have included sharp spikes in gasoline prices.

Huntsman’s energy plan comes with two focus points. First, he vows to create a leveler playing field for non-petroleum based transportations fuels, including electricity, coal-to-liquids, and compressed natural gas. Second, Huntsman has said he would eliminate all energy subsidies. “We will stop using limited federal resources to prop up individual companies, directing that money instead to basic energy research,” he said in a November 2011 speech in New Hampshire. Huntsman backed tax credits (SaltLakeTribune) for renewable energy production while governor of Utah.

In announcing his energy plan in New Hampshire, he also said he supports more domestic oil production, construction of the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and expanded use of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production. Huntsman also criticized the EPA for several new clean air rules directed at coal power plants that he says would cause blackouts.

Rick Perry (*withdrew)

Editor’s Note: Perry withdrew his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on January 19, 2012.

Perry proposes an energy plan that focuses on security and jobs, through an “all of the above” strategy. He says as president, he would focus on increasing domestic sources of energy that would create 1.2 million jobs. He also will ask the Interior Department to open “all appropriate” lands and waters to energy exploration. Perry has said he would eliminate the Energy Department and restructure the EPA to reduce regulatory burdens on energy producers.

“We’re sitting on this absolute treasure trove of energy in this country,” Perry said at a debate in New Hampshire in October 2011. “We need to get a president of the United States that is committed to passing the types of regulations, pulling the regulations back, freeing this country to go develop the energy industry that we have in this country.” Perry said at a debate in Las Vegas in October 2011 that the federal government doesn’t “need to besubsidizing energy in any form” and energy decisions should be left to the states.

As governor of Texas, Perry has made diversifying the state’s energy mix a major priority to help lower prices, according to the Texas governor’s websitePerry has also opposed the federal moratorium on offshore drilling imposed after the 2010 oil spill, as well as federal cap and trade legislation, arguing that it would make oil, gas, and electricity more expensive.



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