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What Obama and Romney Said About Energy in the First Debate

So the consensus is that Romney won the debate last night. He did look sharp, but does that mean anything he said was more than empty rhetoric? Take the energy issue.
October 4, 2012, 9:29pm

So the consensus is that Romney won the debate last night. He did look sharp, but does that mean anything he said was more than empty rhetoric? Take the energy issue. His provocative statement “I like coal” was undeniably a memorable soundbite, but whether it not makes any kind of practical sense is a whole other question. (Clean coal’s about as realistic as a golden turd.) It’s one thing to walk into a party, get up on a table and shout out with total confidence, “Hey, we’re all gonna get laid!” It’s another thing to deliver the goods.

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Here’s what the two candidates had to say about one particular topic – energy:

Just from looking at the two guys, Obama is trying to play it cool. He talks to the audience rather than engaging Mitt. At around 33 seconds in, Mitt’s looking hard over at Barack, and the president is avoiding eye contact, head down. Throughout, Mitt’s talking straight at his opponent.

Obama says that energy production is on the up and up. This is true. Total energy production in the U.S. has risen more than seven percent since 2009. Romney claims that this increase has been “in spite of” the president’s policies. He backs this claim up saying that all the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land.

Land managed by the federal government accounts for roughly 28 percent of total U.S. land, including huge swathes of protected wilderness zones in Western states like New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Alaska. These wild areas have been under federal protection going back to Teddy Roosevelt, so Romney’s plan to hand them over to the states, who in turn would presumably fast-track oil and gas drilling, would be a major change in national policy. A drive through North Central Pennsylvania will show you just how harmless all that drilling is for the rural landscape. But hey, nobody could oppose energy independence.

Which brings up another issue: energy independence is the purple unicorn of energy policy. It sure sounds fantastic. Just imagine the president flipping the bird at all those terrorist-looking folks in the Middle East while he boards his jet fueled by pure American petrol. Using natural gas as an example, as domestic production has increased, so have exports. When Romney gives away all those federal lands to the states, the states grant leases to the drilling companies, who take the fuel for themselves and then sell it wherever they damn well please. The drilling companies then take fat profits, and with Romney’s planned tax cuts, these same companies pay less back to the government. Sounds a little like “energy independence” is a ruse for stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.

Then there’s the liberal losers argument. Poor old Obama’s been glad-handing the green energy folks, shelling out the public treasure to a bunch of ineffectual moochers. Romney calls out a litany of renewable energy companies. He blames Obama for giving them 90 billion dollars in one year. Obama argues that that’s what the federal government is supposed to do — subsidize progressive industries that stand to benefit the whole country. Romney’s plan to glut the market with cheap fossil fuel stands to benefit oil and gas companies. Who’s correct? That, as the candidates said over and over, is for you to decide.