Obama Versus Romney: Everything You Need to Know About Where the Candidates Stand on Energy Policy

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By Daniel J. Weiss and Jackie Weidman, Center for American Progress

Clean energy is an important part of the economy of Colorado, which is the location of the first presidential debate on October 3rd.

Colorado’s robust wind industry and 70,000 jobs in green goods and services could suffer if the Production Tax Credit for wind isn’t extended by the end of 2012. The presidential candidates differ on this, as well as other energy issues. Hopefully the Denver debate, scheduled to focus on the economy, will also address energy policies so vital to Colorado and the nation.

The United States is in the midst of significant changes in our energy outlook. We are producing and burning more natural gas for electricity, while reducing coal use. Domestic oil production is at a 15-year high while oil imports are at a 15-year low. Renewable electricity doubled over the past four years, while worldwide carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change grow. The next president will face these and other serious challenges posed by a changing energy world.

President Barack Obama’s first term featured the adoption of essential toxic and carbon pollution reduction measures to protect public health. In addition, he modernized fuel-economy standards for the first time in two decades, which also helped the auto industry; invested in energy efficiency and renewable electricity; and created tens of thousands of jobs.

Gov. Mitt Romney’s energy agenda couldn’t be more different. He would undo new safeguards from mercury, carcinogens, soot, and smog from industrial sources. He opposes the improved fuel-economy standards, and would continue and expand tax breaks for big oil companies, while openly disparaging clean energy and investments in wind power.

In short, there are stark differences between the two presidential candidates that must be discussed on October 3 so Americans have a clear view of the energy path each candidate would lead us down.

Below is a more detailed direct comparison of their positions on the most visible energy challenges facing the nation. Following this chart is documentation on the candidates’ positions:


Oil and gas production


  • Oil imports lowest since 1997; dropped by 15 percent during term to 42 percent; vowed to cut current oil imports in half by 2020. [[Energy Information Administration, 6/12]
  • Domestic oil production is the highest in 15 years. The United States has more drilling rigs at work than the rest of the world combined. [Center for American Progress Action Fund,9/13/12; Energy Information Administration, 9/11/12]
  • Crude oil production from federal lands and waters was higher in 2009, 2010 and 2011 than in any of the last three years of the Bush administration. [EIA, 3/14/12]
  • Raised worker and environmental safety standards for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, strengthening well design, testing, control equipment, and workplace safety. The Gulf Coast region was not hurt economically by a temporary moratorium, which has the same unemployment as two years ago and had rising personal income in 2011. [White House, 3/30/12, NOLA, 4/15/12]


  • Would open the Florida portion of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves, public lands, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to new drilling. Would accelerate drilling permits, short circuiting health and environmental reviews. [MittRomney.com, 2011]
  • Defense Department concerned about Florida and Virginia drilling expansion since it could interfere with military training. [Panama City News Herald, 4/4/12]
  • Called the temporary moratorium on drilling in the Gulf following the Deepwater Horizon disaster “illegal.” [CBS News, 3/9/12]
  • See “Public lands protection”

Big Oil tax breaks


  • Calls on Congress to end $4 billion in oil tax breaks and to invest in clean energy instead. [White House, 3/28/2012]
  • Pledged to cut subsidies for oil, coal, and natural gas internationally, along with  G20 nations. [Economist,10/1/09]


  • Romney supports the House Republican budget, authored by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which preserves $40 billion in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry over a decade. [CAP, 3/20/12]
  • Romney’s economic plan would give the big five oil companies–BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell–an additional $2.3 billion annual tax cut on top of existing tax breaks they currently receive. [CAPAF, 7/26/12]
  • Romney’s plan cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, but does not make specific mention of oil and gas loopholes which let oil companies pay much lower effective federal rates. [MittRomney.com, 2012]
  • Asked directly in an interview about whether he is for or against subsidizing Big Oil, Romney responded: “I’m not sure precisely what big tax breaks we’re talking about.” [Fox News, 4/3/2012]

Clean energy


  • Federal government invested billions of dollars in renewable energy projects, creating tens of thousands of jobs; doubled generation of (non-hydropower) renewable electricity to 6 percent. [EIA, 7/1/12]
  • Supports extension of the production tax credit for wind generated electricity. [White House, 5/22/12]
  • “Governor Romney calls [renewable sources of energy] ‘imaginary.’ Congressman Ryan calls them a ‘fad.’ I think they’re the future. I think they’re worth fighting for.” [Climate Progress, 8/28/12]
  • “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.” [State of the Union, 1/24/12]
  • Transforming the Pentagon energy use by reducing the military’s dependence on fossil fuels that cost the Pentagon up to $20 billion annually. [National Journal, 4/11/12]


  • Opposes the extension of the production tax credit for wind energy, which could cost 37,000 jobs in the industry. [Des Moines Register, 7/30/12]
  • “In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy. This vision has failed.” [Columbus Dispatch op-ed, 8/8/12]
  • “You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.” [ThinkProgress, 3/6/2012]
  • Endorses the House passed budget authored by Ryan, which gives a 60 percent funding increase to coal, oil, and natural gas, while it decreases funding for research on vehicle batteries and solar projects, and loans to companies to retool to build fuel-efficient cars. [Politico, 4/17/12]

Reduce oil use and imports with efficient vehicles


  • New modern standards require cars and light trucks to achieve an average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This, combined with the first round of standards, will save 3.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2030. This is equivalent to the amount of oil we currently import from the Persian Gulf, Colombia, and Venezuela combined. [CAP, 8/28/12]
  • Invested in fuel-efficient vehicle and advanced battery research and development to spur job growth and increase international competitiveness; increased affordability and reliability of electric vehicles. [CAP, 8/28/12]
  • Proposed a “race to the top” for communities to seek federal investment in public electric vehicle recharging infrastructure. [White House, 3/30/11]


  • “Gov. Romney opposes the extreme standards that President Obama has imposed, which will limit the choices available to American families,” said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. [LA Times, 8/28/12]
  • Disparaged the first plug-in hybrid electric Chevrolet Volt as “an idea whose time has not come,” and said, “I’m not sure America was ready for the Chevy Volt.” [Michigan Live, 12/23/11, MSNBC 4/5/12]. EPA says the Volt gets at least 94 miles per gallon.
  • Advocates ending the federal loan program helping companies develop and produce efficient cars. [Orange County Register, 10/24/11]
  • Supports House passed budget authored by Ryan that would slash investment in alternatives to gasoline powered cars. [House Budget Committee, FY 2013]

Gasoline prices


  • Commodity Futures Trading Commission should increase market oversight of  Wall Street speculators who have driven up oil prices;, increase penalties for illegal activity. Dodd-Frank Wall Street  Reform and Consumer Protection Act includes rules to limit commodities speculation by Wall Street speculators that do not affect commercial end users. [CNN, 4/17/12; Media Matters, 4/18/12]
  • Favors investments in alternatives to gasoline, including electric vehicles and public transportation. [CAP, 8/28/12; American Public Transportation Association, 2/13/12]


  • Would repeal Dodd Frank and opposes reining in Wall Street speculators, calling Obama’s move “gimmickry.” [MittRomney.com, 4/17/12]
  • Supports House passed budget authored by Ryan that would cut Commodity Futures Trading Commission funding by nearly $40 million; cuts would hinder the CFTC’s ability to police the oil and other  markets that the Commission oversees.. [House Budget Committee FY 2013; White House, 4/17/12]

Green jobs


  • Historic level of investment in green jobs sector now with 3.1 million Americans employed according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [AP, 3/22/12]


  • Repeatedly called green jobs “fake,” such as calling them “illusory” in an op-ed on his energy plan. [Orange County Register, 10/24/11]
  • “[Obama] keeps talking about green jobs, where are they?” [OC Register, 10/24/11; League of Conservation Voters, 9/15/11]  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that there were nearly 1 million clean energy jobs created or saved by the Recovery Act.  [BlueGreen Alliance, 2/17/11]  

Public lands protection


  • Approved 17 major solar energy installation projects on public lands that are generating 6,000 megawatts of power; will expedite permitting process to increase development in Western states. [Department of Energy, 7/24/12]
  • Announced he would “allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes.” [White House, 1/24/12]
  • Signed a sweeping public lands bill in 2009 that designated 2 million acres of wilderness and created three national parks. [AP, 3/31/09]
  • Used the 1906 Antiquities Act to create three national monuments – Fort Monroe, Virginia; Fort Ord, California; and Chimney Rock, Colorado. These monuments will bring tourists and economic development to these places.. [ClimateProgress, 9/20/12] ]


  • Romney’s energy plan would give states the authority to allow drilling in National Park Service units and other public lands within state borders. The New York Times noted that “states, as a rule, tend to be interested mainly in resource development.” [NYT, 8/18/12]
  • The Romney plan significantly increases the likelihood that drilling could take place in 30 National Park units, including the Flight 93 Memorial and Everglades National Park.  [Center for American Progress, 9/12/12]
  • Romney said “I haven’t studied […] what the purpose is of” public lands. But he finds it unacceptable when conservation is “designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state.” [McClatchy, 2/16/12]
  • Fully embraced the House passed budget, authored by Ryan, which would sell off 3.3 millions of acres of national parks and public lands. [ThinkProgress, 3/21/12]

Climate change


  • “My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke.  They’re a threat to our children’s future.” [Climate Progress, 9/6/12]
  • Finalized the first ever carbon pollution reduction rules for motor vehicles, which will cut carbon pollution from vehicles built between 2012 and 2025. The standards will slash billions of tons of carbon pollution. [White House, 8/3/2012]
  • Proposed the first carbon pollution reduction for new coal-fired power plants. [NPR, 3/27/12]
  • State Department is leading a group of countries in a program that cuts global warming pollutants like soot, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons. [NYT, 2/16/2012]


  • Romney made fun of President Obama’s commitment to fighting global warming at the Republican National Convention when he said “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.” [Climate Progress, 9/19/12]
  • “There remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.” [NYT,9/5/2012]
  • “I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.” [Science Debate.org, 9/4/12]
  • Says the Clean Air Act doesn’t apply to carbon emissions: “My view is that the EPA in getting into carbon and regulating carbon has gone beyond the original intent of that legislation, and I would not take it there.” Would overturn Supreme Court decision by blocking EPA from setting carbon pollution reduction standards.[Politico, 7/18/11; MittRomney.com, 2012

Protect public health from mercury, toxic air pollution


  • Finalized historic standard that limits harmful mercury and air toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants. Proposed rules to reduce mercury and toxic air pollution from industrial boilers, incinerators, and cement manufacturing. Together, these initiatives will result in $187 billion in annual health benefits and would prevent 21,600 premature deaths, 199,000 cases of asthma, and 12,540 hospitalizations annually. [CAPAF, 9/18/12]
  • Proposed Cross-state air pollution rule that would save up to 34,000 lives, and $280 billion in economic benefits, annually; rule was struck down in 2-1 federal appeals court decision, but EPA could appeal.  [CAPAF, 9/18/12]


  • Would promptly issue an executive order that “directs all agencies to immediately initiate the elimination of Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy or job creation.” [MittRomney.com, 2011]
  • “Aggressively” develop all our coal sources. “Coal is America’s most abundant energy source. We have reserves thatat current rates of useswill last for the next 200 ye
    ars of electricity production in an industry that directly employs perhaps 200,000 workers.”  [MittRomney.com, 2011]
  • Against new EPA regulations of harmful mercury and air pollutants from coal: “I think the EPA has gotten completely out of control for a very simple reason. It is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system, to crush our ability to have energy, whether it’s oil, gas, coal, nuclear.” [The Hill, 12/5/11]
  • Romney’s campaign spokesperson falsely claimed that the mercury pollution-reduction standard “costs more than $1,500 for every one dollar reduction in mercury pollution.”  The EPA projects “that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution, Americans get $3 to $9 in health benefits in return.” [Climate Progress, 8/21/12]

Keystone XL pipeline


  • Delayed decision to permit construction of Keystone XL pipeline in November 2011 until a new route was identified and evaluated. The original proposed pathway crossed  Nebraska’s Sandhills, the recharge zone for the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies water for nearly one-quarter of American agriculture. Nebraska’s Republican governor Dave Heineman also opposed this route.   President Obama noted that the original route could “affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment.” [White House, 11/10/11; NRDC, 7/11/11; Nebraska Government, 8/11/11]
  • Congress forced President Obama to decide whether to approve or deny the Keystone XL in January 2012 before a new route was selected. He denied it because a new route had not been identified or analyzed. The president said that “the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment.” [White House, 1/18/12]
  • Approved the Cushing, Oklahoma to Gulf of Mexico leg of Keystone XL in March to address the over stock of oil in Cushing due to lack of transportation capacity; promised to ensure that construction and operation will proceed in an environmentally sensible way. [CAP,5/5/2012]
  • Obama will decide whether to approve TransCanada’s new proposed northern pipeline route in 2013, after the Nebraska state government and the State Department assess the environmental impacts of the new route. [U.S. Department of State, 5/4/2012]


  • “If I’m President, we’ll build it if I have to build it myself.” [Huffington Post, 5/4/12]
  • Used his first TV ad of the general election to say he would approve Keystone XL on “day one” if elected. [The Hill, 5/18/12]

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress; Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant for energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

This article was originally published on Climate Progress and was republished with permission.


  1. Thanks for making this public and hope the majority of US citizens reading this from a to z. In the meantime, I have advocated your article in the international circles as I believe this concerns the entire world.
    Joris Claeys – Econologics


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