Mitt Romney released an energy plan in New Mexico on Thursday that highlights his continuing drift to towards his Big Fossil backers. It would essentially hand over control of energy policy to Big Oil and coal companies. It puts a new more radical twist on the familiar GOP energy vision of more fossil fuels, less clean energy, fewer public protections.
Perhaps its most radical features are taking control of public lands away from all Americans and weakening the Clean Air Act, both of which break with policies that have been embraced by Republicans as well as Democrats for generations. These are in keeping with the plan’s overall goal – granting the fossil fuel industry control over energy decisions – and thus granting this small group of private companies control over vast amounts of the public’s property and the health of millions of others. This handover of control has nothing to do with “conservative” principles and everything to do with changing the rules so the companies backing Romney can make even more money.
This is disastrous policy, but it’s also foolhardy politically – maybe it’s why polls show that Americans think President Obama is better suited to handle energy policy. The Romney policy rejects even those approaches that have near universal support. For example, nine in ten Americans—including 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of independents—say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the President and Congress. A Consumer Reports survey found that 80 percent of car owners want to raise fuel efficiency standards to 55 miles per gallon by 2025. A poll by United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection finds that 57 percent of the public supports a recently-finalized Environmental Protection Agency rule controlling mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants as long as companies are given more time to comply.
By failing utterly to address these concerns, Romney’s energy plan reveals how out of step he is with ordinary people.
He remains deeply in tune with oil, gas, and coal companies, however. These corporations are the true beneficiaries of his energy plan, for they would reap the rewards of taxpayer subsidies and free passes on toxic pollution. Romney received about $10 million from oil industry executives in Texas in one week alone. The New York Times reported that Romney’s team wrote the energy plan “in consultation” with industry executives, including Harold Hamm, a billionaire from Oklahoma in the oil and gas business. Conventional energy companies are enormously profitable and don’t need extra help to get ahead, but Romney’s plan would grant them every advantage.
This plan isn’t about energy security: it’s about betting our future on the fossil fuels of the past and keeping our country addicted to oil. It’s shortsighted. It’s reckless. We can do better.
Shooting for Energy Independence without the Best Weapon
Romney’s plan doesn’t even make sense as a way to achieve its own stated goals. Romney claims he will make the U.S. energy independent by 2020. Yet his plan says not a word about energy efficiency – the most cost-effective and environmentally safe way to reduce our dependence. This is a marked contrast to the landmark achievements of President Obama who is raising fuel economy standards for cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Within 20 years, these better-performing cars will save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump and cut America’s oil use by more than we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010. Romney’s energy plan makes no mention of this oil-saving solution, and elsewhere he has said he opposes it.
Romney would rather put all of his eggs in one basket: more domestic oil production. Romney claims President Obama has thwarted oil development, yet domestic oil production is up 24 percent since 2008.
Making It Easier for Polluters to Pollute
In the past, Romney has recognized the wisdom of holding companies accountable for their pollution and their actions. But you won’t find evidence of his past positions in his energy plan, which sees public safeguards as needless impediments to the fossil fuel industry. It takes a certain kind of blindness to see limits on toxic mercury only as a cost to power plant operators.
Pollution limits exist for a reason: to protect Americans from harm. And keeping people healthy is far better for the economy than letting them get sick and then spending tremendous amounts to try to get them better – money that mostly comes from the health care premiums that are putting American companies at a competitive disadvantage with other countries.
Individuals can’t force a power plant to clean up its act, but government standards can. They are the line of defense between our families and the toxins that cause asthma, cancer, and premature death. Here again, the contrast with President Obama could not be more striking. The Obama administration’s new standards to reduce mercury, lead, and other dangerous pollution from power plants will prevent thousands of premature deaths every year and protect children from development delays. Romney wants to eliminate this life-saving standard and many more as well.
Blocking Federal Oversight of Energy Development
Weakening and killing federal safeguards isn’t quite enough for Romney. His plan would further thwart oversight of fossil fuel companies by allowing states to control energy development. States certainly have a role to play, but they can’t do the job alone. We know, because they have tried. Before President Nixon passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, states offered to lower pollution standards if companies would agree to relocate. The result was a race to the bottom that shrouded communities in smog and sickened millions of Americans. Since the Clean Air Act was passed, America’s GDP has risen by 207 percent, confirming that we can have clean air and economic growth at the same time.
Companies support state control only because they think it will be far less stringent – that it will be more protective of their interests than the public’s. In the cases when states actually crack down on companies, they quickly come running to the federal government saying they can’t deal with a patchwork of state laws.
In the case of fracking, states haven’t done much yet to protect the public, so the companies still want state-based regulation. Only half the states where fracking is taking place have even taken the simple step of requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking fluid, and in eight of those states, companies can withhold any information they deem confidential. Surely all residents of every state deserve the same protections. Even George Mitchell, the Texas billionaire who pioneered fracking technology, has said fracking requires federal safeguards. But Mitt Romney and the companies financing his campaign don’t care.
Feeding Oil and Gas and Starving Clean Energy
Two days before Romney released his energy plan, he stopped in Texas to raise roughly $10 million from donors, including oil and gas giants. Their investment would pay off handsomely if Romney wins. BP, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil, have brought in more than $60 billion in 2012, yet Romney’s plan would give these companies $2.4 billion in tax breaks every year. The Ryan budget, meanwhile, would cut clean energy investments by 90 percent, down to just $1 billion in 2014. Romney would also kill the Production Tax Credit, an effective wind energy incentive that enjoys broad bipartisan support.
Under the Obama administration, wind power has doubled in the United States and solar power has experienced huge gains. Despite lip service to renewable energy, Romney’s plan would kill off this growth. Just the threat of the production tax cut expiring has been leading to thousands of layoffs.
Tacked on to the end of Romney’s plan is a brief section on innovation. But instead of promoting the cutting-edge of the energy market—advanced vehicles, super-efficient solar panels, and other clean technologies—Romney puts the most mature sectors—oil, gas, and coal—first.
No Mention of Climate Change
And there’s another fundamental gap in Romney’s energy plan. It says nothing about climate change. In a summer of extreme storms, deadly heat waves, destructive wildfires, and the worst drought in more than 20 years, it takes concerted effort to ignore the suffering all around you.
Disregarding this crisis is bad enough, but Romney’s plan would actually exacerbate it. It calls for expanding our reliance on dirty tar sands oil by, among other things, supporting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Turning tar sands into crude oil generates up to three times the global warming pollution of conventional crude. This will translate into even more extreme weather and more costly impacts pounding our communities. America can and must do better to confront the climate challenge.
The one thing that can be said about the Romney energy plan is that it’s clear what its effects would be – less public oversight, more pollution, less energy efficiency, abandonment of clean energy, less innovation. It’s hard to see how the public would benefit from that; it’s easy to see how oil companies would.