Voters should challenge candidates on energy policy

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A slowing world economy is largely responsible for falling energy prices, as is the easing of tensions with Iran and increased production from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries. Most of Europe has slipped back into recession, and even fast-growing countries like China and India are recording lower rates of economic growth, thereby muting energy demand. But when the global economy starts growing again, oil supplies will tighten and prices will go up.

Though neither candidate is addressing energy issues to any significant degree in their stump speeches, both Governor Romney and President Obama have enunciated specific initiatives in their campaign platforms. Governor Romney wants to increase domestic oil and gas production by leasing more federal lands, both onshore and offshore, to drilling companies. He also advocates moving ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline, developing the infrastructure for America to become a major natural gas exporter, and applying a lighter hand of federal regulation and mandates in the energy sphere. In addition, he has proposed reducing energy subsidies across the board but especially those currently available for wind, solar and biofuels. His ultimate objective is “North American energy independence” by 2020.

By contrast, Mr. Obama wants to “double down” on renewables and electric vehicles as the path to greater energy security, and he has also proposed increasing the average “fuel economy” of American cars 100 percent by 2025. Though the president pays occasional lip service to greater use of natural gas, he wants federal agencies to become involved in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing, a step that would likely increase costs and have a dampening impact on production. As for coal, Mr. Obama says he supports its continued use as long as it’s produced and burned more cleanly. (The recent court decision on the cross-state air pollution rule is a plus for the President since he doesn’t have to contend with imminent coal-fired power plant closures on the campaign trail.)

Of the two “platforms,” Mr. Romney’s is more realistic and does a better job of addressing America’s long-term energy and economic security. The U.S. is currently the third-largest oil producing nation in the world, with output growing 15% over the past five years, despite the post-Macondo drop in Gulf of Mexico production and the Obama administration’s overall anti-hydrocarbon posture. America is also the planet’s number one natural gas producer and number one coal producer.

Mr. Obama likes to brag about the 75,000 “green” jobs that have been created on his watch. But he neglects to mention the 700,000 jobs created in the oil and gas industry over the same period without any new subsidies. What’s more, the true-believers in his camp refuse to acknowledge that cheap and abundant natural gas has significantly diminished the likelihood that wind and solar can ever stand on their own.

The second presidential debate, to be held on October 16, will take the form of a town meeting in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates on foreign and domestic issues. Let's hope some informed voters will grill the candidates about which energy strategies make the most economic sense for America.

Weinstein is associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and a fellow with the George W. Bush Institute.

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