Obama, Romney trade jabs on energy

President Obama and Mitt Romney wasted no time laying into one another’s energy policies — an issue central to political battles over jobs and the economy — at Wednesday night’s debate.

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Romney noted that gasoline prices have risen considerably on Obama’s watch and noted more broadly that “middle-income families are being crushed.”

He also revived his criticism of Obama administration regulations that Republicans say are hurting the coal industry. 

“People in the coal industry feel like they are being crushed by your policies,” Romney said at the debate in Denver.

Obama administration officials have criticized GOP attacks on Environmental Protection Agency air pollution rules, arguing that scuttling the regulations would gut crucial public health protections. They also say that inexpensive natural gas, not regulations, are responsible for the coal industry’s woes.

Romney, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, also touted his pledge to approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, a project still under consideration by the Obama administration.

Obama noted his support for oil-and-gas development, citing increased production during his presidency. But he has also accused Romney of turning his back on green energy and energy efficiency.

“I think it is important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America,” Obama said. “I also believe that we have got to look at the energy sources of the future like wind and solar and biofuels.”

But Romney said the rise in U.S. oil production has occurred “in spite” of Obama’s policies.

While overall oil production is rising and import reliance has been falling, production from federally controlled areas fell in fiscal 2011 after rising earlier in Obama's presidency, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

The temporary deepwater drilling freeze imposed after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has played a role in the production trend.

Obama also struck a populist tone in reiterating his call to end oil industry tax incentives.

“Does anybody think that Exxon Mobil needs some extra money when they are making money every time that you go to the pump?” Obama said.

Many Republicans, some Democrats and the oil industry say that removing billions of dollars in tax incentives would likely stymie domestic oil-and-gas projects.

Romney countered that many of the tax incentives go to smaller, independent companies, while adding that under his plan to lower corporate rates overall, ending those deductions would be “on the table.”

“That is probably not going to survive,” Romney said of the industry tax breaks.