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Romney’s Energy Plan: ‘A Document Not Worth Serious Analysis’?

Joseph Romm's picture
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  • Aug 31, 2012 7:21 pm GMT
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The central energy challenge we face as a nation and a planet is the transition away from fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change, to clean sources of energy. The most important debates in this area concern just how quickly this must be accomplished and how to do it in the cheapest way possible. Last week Mitt Romney’s campaign released its energy plan, which completely ignores all of this.

Instead, the plan focuses on the goal of North American energy independence by 2020 through expanded fossil fuel production. Unfortunately, as Michael Levi, an energy policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in a review of the plan for Foreign Policy, “achieving energy independence through expanded supplies is a pipe dream.” You can read his review to find out why. I want to focus on the plan’s dismissal of clean energy.

The Romney Plan’s Only Mention of Clean Energy

The only mention of clean energy comes in the plan’s Innovation section, where it states support for basic research into new energy technologies, and notes that expanded development should apply equally to all sources. There’s no way to read this as anything except a commitment to drastically scale back existing clean energy programs like tax credits, applied research, and funding for commercialization. The terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are totally absent.

Boston’s Cleantech Community on the Plan

I emailed a number of Boston’s most astute cleantech analysts and businesspeople for comment on the plan and what I heard was (unsurprisingly) overwhelmingly negative.

“It’s a political document not worth serious analysis,” said Mitch Tyson, a serial cleantech entrepreneur and a lecturer at Brandeis.

As Bilal Zuberi, cleantech VC at General Catalyst, put it:

I wish Mitt Romney understood the need for a true long term energy strategy for the US. Instead he is delivering where he sees money in the short term, i.e. continued focus on same old oil and gas sectors that have made us pawns in the hands of foreign governments.

I expected a Presidential candidate to understand he will be responsible for making decisions that would affect multiple generations. I don’t see how his energy policy at all link to the steady and growing concern across America for environmental pollution, global warming, and sustainable development.

Marcie Black of Bandgap Engineering pointed out another sin of omission: though it calls out clean energy subsidies, the document makes no mention of U.S. fossil fuel subsidies which are on the order of $10 billion per year.

Jim Cabot, SVP at Rasky Baerlein and a former EPA official, took issue with the plan’s nod towards resolving energy permitting issues. “Over the years I have found that blaming permitting is often a red herring for other more substantive problems,” he wrote. “Oh, and the approach of ‘I’ll just roll the dice with the future of the planet by rapidly accelerating carbon emissions’ gives me pause too.”

Romney Used to Appreciate Clean Energy, At Least a Little

 

Romney’s record on energy issues as governor of Massachusetts was mixed. He helped set up the Green Energy Fund, seeding it with $15 million from which to make cleantech investments. The Fund turned into MassCEC’s investment arm, which has done good work. On the other hand, he backed out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program for Northeast states.

His position on global warming has been consistently hard to pin down. In 2004, as he unveiled a climate plan for Massachusetts, he made the following hedge:

If climate change is happening, the actions we take will help. If climate change is largely caused by human action, this will really help. If we learn decades from now that climate change isn’t happening, these actions will still help our economy, our quality of life, and the quality of our environment.

Nearly a decade later, the evidence suggests climate change is even worse than we thought. It’d be nice if Romney would admit this. But despite the overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue, that won’t happen because of the delusions of the Republican base. Worse still, it’s no longer enough to just avoid taking a stance on climate change. That’s so 2004. Today, in our post-Solyndra world, you have to avoid supporting clean energy altogether.

The Media Covered What Was In the Plan, Not What Was Left Out

One of the most frustrating parts of Romney’s energy plan is that it actually succeeded in changing the conversation. The media knew they had to cover it, and so they covered what was in it. And so much of the press focus was squarely on the details around fossil fuel development, rather than its complete dismissal of cleantech.

The Debate We Should Be Having

The unfortunate thing about all of this is that we could be having a legitimate debate about clean energy policy. I know a lot of really smart people who favor clean energy policies like feed-in tariffs, deployment tax credits, funding for commercialization programs, loan guarantees or other government-backed financing mechanisms for scale-up, and more.

But if team Romney came out in favor of a low carbon price or federal electricity standard plus a significant increase in basic and applied energy research but against certain other policies that’d at least be a legitimate debate we could have.

Energy issues are complicated, as is climate change. Conservatives have a lot to add to the discussion with their appreciation for market forces and for the unforeseen consequences of government intervention. But with Romney as their candidate, they’re passing on the opportunity.

As Levi put it in the aforementioned review:

Reasonable people can differ on how much emphasis to place on climate change in U.S. energy policy, but it isn’t reasonable to ignore it entirely.

But we’re weeks away from a presidential election, so unreasonable is all we get.

by Walter Frick, via BostInno

Walter Frick is the Business Editor for BostInno. He’s passionate about the power of technology to improve the world. This piece was originally published at BostInno and was reprinted with permission.

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Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Sep 1, 2012

Joseph,

 

"The central energy challenge we face as a nation and a planet is the transition away from fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change, to clean sources of energy. The most important debates in this area concern just how quickly this must be accomplished and how to do it in the cheapest way possible"

It's gratifying to see our dilemma summed up in two sentences. Most people don't seem to get how simple the problem is even if the solutions are complicated but certainly doable.

And even if GW was not an issue, depletion of fossil fuels will leave us on the same painful economic doorstep if we fail to transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy production with minimal to no environmental degradation.

Thanks for this post.

Edward Kerr

ed frantz's picture
ed frantz on Sep 1, 2012

I hate to tell you this but our current president over-invested in a whole bunch of operations like   like Solyndra that not only did not pan out well and also  smack of political corruption. Thus the reluctance of politicians to see the long term benefit.  Many people now see most of the money as wasted and cannot see the value. We have to insist that mony spent for these projects is totally visible and must be account for by our poiticians

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Sep 2, 2012

You mean like the billions invested in extracting shale oil?  Solyndra failed because solar cell costs decreased dramatically, in the past 5 years crude prices have basically doubled.  One of these technologies is developing nicely and one is the epitomy of wasted money.  Trying to compare a developing technology with a mature technology in this manner is the epitomy of an apples and oranges comparison.  No technology has 100% success but things are proceeding in the right direction for solar!  How open is the oil industry on it's subsidies?  Only hear about them complaining when anyone mentions cutting off their gravy train.

Gary Hunt's picture
Gary Hunt on Sep 2, 2012

Joe:

I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but President Obama's Blue Print for a Secure Energy future drinks from the same "energy independence" kool-aid noting that every president back to Richard nixon has called for it.

So trashing the Romney Energy Plan for calling for energy independence puts him in the good company of every president.

Now I happen to think that energy independence is a good sounding talking point but the reality is we live in an energy inter-dependent world where oil and gas are fungible commodities traded in world markets.  But I am willing not to kill the messenger politicans for using it.

You arguments fall flat with me when you use the tired old climate crisis mantras because we know the science is far from incontrovertible and the only thing overwhelming is the shrillness of its advocates.  The inconvenient truth for you is the global warming--climate crisis--climate change war is over.  The emerging markets were unable to get the first world to agree to massive wealth transfer payments to bribe them to reduce GHG emissions.  Then is became obvious to all that the developing world had no intention whatever of reducing their economic growth to achieve environmental objectives.  Europe signed up for a complicated Emissions Trading Scheme and then cheated.  The US Congress controlled by Democrats rejected the Cap and Trade legislation.   The climate change movement is now reduced to annual junkets to exotic locales to lament the lack of global agreement.

Meanwhile, here in the US low natural gas prices from expanded production of domestic fossil fuels from shales is have a more immediate, profound and lasting impact on reducing GHG emission that the SUM OF all the climate change debates, conferences, schemes and failed treaties.

Is this a great country, or what!!!!!

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Sep 3, 2012

Romney and his party aren't ignoring climate change.  They are laughing at the very idea that anyone could possibly think climate change is a problem.  

Romney treated climate change as a joke while the delegates attending the 2012 RNC laughed wholeheartedly.  

There is no section on climate change in the Republican National Platform for 2012. 

The 2008 national platform had a section entitled "Addressing Climate Change Responsibly". In it the world was told that Republicans felt that "measured and reasonable steps" should be taken "today" to address climate change, and that doing this "will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy".  

The 2012 platform has no section on climate.  

There are two versions of the 2012 national platform online, a one page summary and the full 62 page document.  

In the one page version, as part of a section entitled "Reining in the EPA", Republicans call on Congress to "take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations".  In the "Our Nation's Energy Abundance" section, Republicans tell the world they are opposed to "any and all cap and trade legislation".  

And there is a thinly veiled attack on the integrity and motivation of climate scientists:  "We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research". 

In the 62 page full version of the national platform, in the "A Failed National Security Strategy" section we are told the fact the Obama administration is concerned about climate at all "reflects the extreme elements of its liberal domestic coalition".  Obama is criticized in this section for elevating climate change to the level of a national security threat.

There is no point in pretending to debate the energy policy you want to see with these people.  

Quoting from an editorial in Nature, one of the best scientific journals in the world, published last year when a House Committee approved legislation intended to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, which the Supreme Court had declared the EPA had the power to do:

"the legislation is fundamentally anti-science, just as the rhetoric that supports it is grounded in wilful ignorance.  One lawmaker last week described scientists as 'elitist' and 'arrogant' creatures who hide behind 'discredited' institutions....  It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness, a sad state of affairs in a country that has led the world in many scientific arenas for so long. Global warming is a thorny problem, and disagreement about how to deal with it is understandable. It is not always clear how to interpret data or address legitimate questions. Nor is the scientific process, or any given scientist, perfect. But to deny that there is reason to be concerned, given the decades of work by countless scientists, is irresponsible.

That this legislation is unlikely to become law doesn't make it any less dangerous. It is the attitude and ideas behind the bill that are troublesome, and they seem to be spreading....

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