Thursday, September 13, 2012

All-Of-The-Above: One Policy, Two Different Takes on Threat of Global Warming

Once the grandstands have been taken down in Charlotte and Tampa and we’ve heard from candidates and celebrities alike, it’s time to examine the platforms of each political candidate under a microscope. While both candidates subscribe to the All-of-the-Above Energy Policy, they plan to execute them in traditionally partisan ways.  Deciding which candidate to support ultimately comes down to one question: how big an issue is global warming?

Romney supports renewable energy but doesn't view it
as being at a critical juncture yet. He feels it is important
to keep the cost of electricity down in this economy by
continuing to drill for oil and natural gas. (Courtesy: NPR). 
As one would expect from a business titan who built his fortune in the free market, Romney plans to approach energy policy with a more hands-off approach. At the beginning of his chapter on America’s Natural Resources he declares that under his administration the government “will not pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace. Instead, we will let the free market and the public’s preferences determine the industry outcomes.”

Republicans love to point to the half-million loan guarantee now-bankrupt Solyndra received from the current administration as an example of mismanaged government funds. He says that his party “encourages the cost-effective development of renewable energy, but the taxpayers should not serve as venture capitalists for risky endeavors.” Instead of grants and incentives for new technologies, Romney says that he will focus government spending on research and development through organizations like the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, a subset of the Department of Energy.

What this means is that loan guarantees and grants like the Renewable Energy Grant 1603, which expired late last year, will continue to disappear. This could be bad news for technologies that are not capable of being economical without government subsidies, such as the majority of solar and wind projects. Although this will deal a heavy blow to the biomass industry as well, it may actually help the field in the long run. With solar and wind spending down, biomass projects which are more economical, may have a better chance of getting funding.

Romney also plans to rely on coal and natural gas more heavily than Obama has by encouraging the Keystone XL Pipeline and allowing states to regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing. At a time when unemployment has hit eight percent for 42 months in a row, the U.S. should be not shutting down the coal industry, eliminating thousands of jobs and raise the price of energy, according to Romney. Images of Europe, who is well ahead of the U.S. in renewable energy but is paying almost twice the amount for electricity during a deep recession, comes to mind.

The Republican platform signifies a party that acknowledges the issue of global warming, but is not yet sure it is necessary to radically change policy. Democrats, on the other hand, see climate change as an issue in need of decisive action now. Democrats acknowledge the financial risk in supporting emerging technologies but feel that if one technology can succeed on a large scale, it will be well worth the investment. Erin Voegele of Biomass Magazine says that like venture capital firms, the government has budgeted for some projects to fail and claims that “agencies that offer loan guarantee programs have often experience lower-than-expected failure rates for projects. She takes this as a sign that the government could in fact take MORE risks in these programs.

President Obama sees global warming as an
imminent threat, requiring immediate
action. (Courtesy: White House)
Obama claims to have created more than 225, 000 green jobs through governmental incentives and tax credits. His position is that if the government gives tax breaks and subsidies to the oil industry, it should at least offer them to an industry that is trying to save the planet. Obama feels that continued investment in alternative energy practices as well as regulations such as fuel economy standards are necessary to reach his goal of having 80% of America’s electricity come from clean energy by 2035. 

For the average voter this all boils down to how big an issue you believe global warming is right now. During World War II, the U.S. misspent millions as it fought a two-front war. No one would have dared grumble about the way tax dollars were spent at the time because it was absolutely necessary; bickering over the best way to spend military dollars while Nazis and Communists crept closer to our borders just wasn’t an option. Today voters are asked to gauge the threat of climate change and the effect the U.S. can have on an international problem.

The Renewable Energy Components of the Democratic and Republican Platforms – By Erin Voegele, Biomass Magazine (Sept. 7, 2012)

Energy Innovation Under Romney and Obama – By Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review (Sept. 6, 2012)

2012 WE Believe In America – Republican Platform

Moving America Forward – 2012 Democratic National Platform 

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