Mitt Romney’s Energy Plan

A lot of environmental organizations are pointing out that Mitt Romney laughed about climate change during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

I don’t think it’s so funny when I’m reading every day about the current reality of a warming world. See if you laugh when you read these stories about arctic sea ice reaching a record low.

In 2011, Romney himself said:

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.” Source: Reuters

Romney has also just released an Energy Policy Whitepaper, which sets a goal of “North America Energy Independence by 2020.”  Chris Nedler has a nice piece on it, “Romney’s Energy Plan Follows the Money.”

In brief, I’ll mention that one of Romney’s sources is an already discredited report by oil executive (disguised as an academic) Leonardo Maugeri. The basic idea is that we’ve got plenty of oil and natural gas in North America, and if we’ll only exploit it, we can become energy independent in a few short years.  Of course, every president since Nixon has talked about energy independence, but for some reason we never  accomplish it.

I could point to hundreds of sources demonstrating why it is impossible to continue economic growth and achieve  energy independence at the same time, but the shortest way to get the point across is to share this new short video by Richard Heinberg.

Like Romney’s position on climate change, his position on ‘peak oil’ seems to have changed as a presidential candidate.  In his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, he made the following comment:

“Many analysts predict that the world’s production of oil will peak in the next ten to twenty years, but oil expert Matt Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, presents a compelling case that Middle Eastern oil production may have already reached its peak.  Simmons bases his contention on his investigation into the highly secretive matter of the level of reserves in the Saudi oil fields. But whether the peak is already past or will be reached within a few years, world oil supply will decline at some point, and no one predicts a corresponding decline in demand. If we want America to remain strong and wish to ensure that future generations have secure and prosperous lives, we must consider our current energy policies in the light of how these policies will affect our grandchildren.” (p. 233)

The Romney Energy Agenda is as follows:

  • Empower states to control onshore energy development;
  • Open offshore areas for energy development;
  • Pursue a North American Energy Partnership;
  • Ensure accurate assessment of energy resources;
  • Restore transparency and fairness to permitting and regulation; and
  • Facilitate private-sector-led development of new energy technologies.

Romney talks about states rights because, he points out, “it now takes a shocking 307 days to receive [a federal] permit to drill a new well.”  In contrast, a state permit in North Dakota can take 10 days, or 27 days in Colorado, or 14 days in Ohio.

Romney assures us that these processes do not impose greater environmental risks.  Instead, he argues, “states are far better able to develop, adopt, and enforce regulations based on their unique resources, geology, and local concerns.”

Am I the only one just a wee bit suspicious about that claim? Apparently not. Chris Nedler comments, “the Romney plan’s pretensions to defending states’ rights are naught but a transparent effort to break down all remaining barriers to oil and gas exploration on federal lands.”  I’ll delve into this issue of local rights vs. states rights vs. national rights a bit deeper in my next post.

To the other bullet points, opening more areas up to offshore drilling is not going to help much.  Offshore production has been expanding, and as long as we’re willing to pay more and more (including paying for the environmental and climate costs) this cannot continue for a too much longer.  High oil prices makes drilling in ever deeper waters possible, but even here there are limits. The limits may be set by the next economic downturn (likely), or by geological limits.  They work in tandem.

Pursuing a North American Energy Partnership means approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and encouraging the continued development of tar sands in Canada.  Mexico, a former oil producing powerhouse, is now past it’s own peak in oil production.  Just the fact that Romney places such an emphasis on offshore oil and Canadian tar sands speaks volumes. This is what peak oil looks like: when conventional oil sources become harder to get, we then go after the difficult, high priced oil.  As Richard Heinberg points out, “It’s high oil prices that make unconventional oil worth producing in the first place.”

“Ensure accurate assessment of energy resources” – in principle this is a great idea.  There is indeed much confusion and obfuscation about the data.  Reliable data was one of the first and primary requests of the peak oil community. However, Romney’s plan is primarily geared toward allowing more exploration anywhere and everywhere.  The plan says “There is no excuse for placing any area so far off limits that its potential cannot even be determined.” The suggestion again is that too many regulations and restrictions are to blame our lack of energy independence.  The truth is, the United States has been extensively explored, and there are unlikely to be significant new findings.  It also should be recognized that energy resources do have significant environmental and climate change consequences, and each of these consequences carries financial costs as well.

Restoring “transparency and fairness” means reforming statutes and regulations that “have been seized on by environmentalists as tools to stop development altogether.” Romney wants to reverse the meager regulatory gains accomplished in the 40 years since the first Earth Day.  See above.

“Facilitate private-sector-led development…” The detail under this bullet point comes back again to “Strengthening and streamlining regulations and permitting processes…”  It encourages permitting nuclear power, and discourages subsidizing renewables (“distorting the playing field”), yet without mentioning elimination of the huge subsidies the fossil fuel industries now receive.  It has been estimated that Congress provides the oil, coal, and gas industries between $10 and $52 billion per year.

This brings us back to Chris Nedler’s article: Romney’s Energy Plan Follows the Money.

This should surprise no one since, according to Lipton and Krauss in the Times yesterday, Romney received nearly $10 million from the oil and gas industry just this week. Romney’s chief energy adviser is shale oil baron Harold Hamm, one of his top super PAC donors, who stands to benefit handsomely if Romney takes the reins. Oil and gas employees and their families are the sixth-largest source of donations to the Republican National Committee, as Jim Snyder and Kasia Klimasinska reported for Bloomberg today, and the industry as a whole is the tenth-largest contributor to the Romney campaign. The fossil-fuel tycoon Koch brothers alone have personally contributed over $60 million to Romney’s campaign.

As I detailed in my data roundup on energy industry lobbying two weeks ago, if you want to understand U.S. energy policy, all you need to do is follow the money. That is precisely what Mitt Romney is doing.

I hope to do a post like this on Barack Obama’s Energy Plan as well.  I suspect it will look more favorable than Romney’s, but please don’t expect a glowing review for Mr. Obama.  Keep in mind that Obama had a radio ad in Ohio with “a decidedly pro-coal message.

Dirty Energy Money pervades both sides of the aisle in U.S. politics.

3 comments on “Mitt Romney’s Energy Plan

  1. urbancrisis says:

    Reblogged this on Sustainable USA and commented:
    Oh Mittons, you’re views on climate change are completely ignorant of the ongoing situation, but like most of your postions, keep lying to yourself and continue thinking you’ll give my generation a better future.

  2. Angela says:

    This is good David. Thanks for putting the time into illuminating Romney’s energy plan. I like learning things through your blog as I don’t take the time to wade through the ‘news’ and other sources to get the info I need.

  3. [...] the last post I talked about Mitt Romney’s Energy Plan, where one point was his interest in increasing states rights over federal rights to [...]

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