How Romney and Obama would address climate and energy issues

I recently responded to a question on the National Journal blog, "What do the energy and environment policies of President Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney bode for the country?"

You can read more on the original blog post and other responses here.

Here is my response:

What do the energy and environmental policies of President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney bode for the country? C2ES recently published a nonpartisan voter guide on the candidates records and statements. Based on our findings, we would expect the following.

We would expect a President Romney to push for more production of oil and gas on federal lands, and for nuclear power, both through his executive agencies and in Congress. We would expect him to shift Department of Energy funding away from deployment of renewable energy, while retaining funding for basic research and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). And, we would expect him to support efforts in Congress to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Our crystal ball, however, gets hazier with his treatment of the already-promulgated EPA regulations. The Obama vehicle fuel efficiency standards have been broadly praised and Detroit is making major investments to comply. Romney has blasted the standards, but would he really roll them back? EPA’s 2010 requirements for new major sources of greenhouse gas emissions were modest. Would Romney go to the trouble of dismantling them? And would he risk headlines about increasing mercury pollution? Previous presidents and congressional leaders had trouble trying to roll back environmental regulations. Would a President Romney follow them down the same path?

We aren’t ready to call that one.  

Now to President Obama. 

Like Romney, we would expect to see a re-elected President Obama push for more oil and gas production on federal lands. Though, as under a President Romney, the United States would still be buying oil in a global market, making it vulnerable to global supply constrictions regardless of the amount produced in North America.

We would expect Obama to continue support for nuclear power, for funding for the deployment of renewable energy sources, including with the wind production tax credit, and also for continued research.

In a second Obama term, we would expect continued efforts to limit climate change. Given the lack of appetite in Congress for major climate legislation, however, Obama’s approach would likely be regulatory. We anticipate that the Obama administration would continue its work on vehicle fuel efficiency standards with another round of standards for heavy-duty trucks. We’d expect the Obama EPA to move forward in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other large stationary sources, but don’t know how to handicap the ambition of the reductions. In whatever manner the standards are set, we hope an Obama EPA would allow states to use flexible market-based mechanisms to meet them – and give the next generation of climate-conscious governors room to lead.

A final hopeful word for those despairing of the bleak partisanship that blocks progress today: Remember that Senator Obama’s first major statement on climate action was his co-sponsorship of Sen. John McCain’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bill. Remember that the 2008 Republican nominee for president was arguably the national climate action leader of the previous decade, and that Republican Govs. Schwarzenegger, Pataki, Huntsman, Crist, Pawlenty, and, yes, Romney, were not long ago among those leading climate action at the state level.

Furthermore, note that the Republican governors’ energy plan, released last week, mentions carbon capture and storage several times, including in this intriguing statement: “Technologies such as carbon capture, storage, and dissemination could fundamentally change the way we use coal in the future.” The Republican governors are calling for technologies that extract the energy value from coal while shrinking the greenhouse gas footprint, a very important part of our path forward.

There's a tendency to think the way things are now is the way they will always be, but the last few years have been full of surprises and the next few will be, as well. For reasons good, bad, and accidental (i.e., the vehicle standards, the economy, and the new access to shale gas), we have a shot at keeping our greenhouse gas emissions much lower over the next 10 years than previously expected. In the long run, however, that will be nowhere near enough. Let’s hope the temporary reprieve can give us time to return to the bipartisanship needed to move toward meaningful climate and energy policy.

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