Romney battles Obama over energy in testy, face-to-face exchange

President Obama and Mitt Romney engaged in a sharp, face-to-face exchange over energy and gasoline prices at their debate Tuesday as Romney portrayed the president as an enemy of domestic oil-and-gas development.

The two men came within a foot of each other and repeatedly interrupted each other as Romney argued Obama isn’t doing enough to make the U.S. energy-secure and lower prices.

Obama noted the rise in overall U.S. oil and natural-gas production on his watch and touted declining oil imports, while promoting a strategy that’s also heavy on green energy and auto efficiency.

“But that's not what you've done in the last four years. That's the problem,” Romney countered at the debate at Hofstra University in New York, accusing Obama of blocking fossil fuel development. “In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.”

“Not true,” Obama shot back.

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The two repeatedly interrupted each other after that, with Romney repeatedly trying to pin down Obama on oil-and-gas drilling license and permit levels. “How much did you cut them by, then?” Romney said.

“Governor, we have actually produced more oil,” Obama said.

Overall U.S. production is booming, but production has recently dipped on federal lands and waters, which Romney and other Republicans call evidence of what they call undue restrictions on drilling.

But administration defenders note that the recent oil production dip from the federally controlled areas stems from factors including the temporary offshore drilling suspension that began after the BP oil spill in the Gulf. They point to the onshore migration of oil and natural-gas development toward shale formations, which largely underlie state and private lands.

Romney pointed to rising gasoline prices on Obama’s watch as evidence of failed policy.

“The proof of whether a strategy is working or not is what the price is that you pay at the pump,” Romney said Tuesday. “If you paid less than you paid a year or two ago, then the strategy is working. But you are paying more.”

Regular gasoline prices were $1.89 per gallon when Obama took office and are currently averaging $3.77 nationwide, according to AAA.

Obama said prices were so low at the beginning of his presidency because “the economy was on the verge of collapse.”

“We were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney is now promoting,” Obama said.

The president also said that auto mileage standards his administration has toughened will save consumers money.

“I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal,” Romney said. 

Romney’s plan calls for opening up areas including the East Coast that are off-limits to drilling, and for approving the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands crude to Gulf Coast refineries, a project the White House has delayed a decision on.

Obama touted his support for drilling while accusing Romney’s plans of shortchanging green energy and efficiency.

“He has got the oil and gas part, but he does not have the clean energy part, and if we are only thinking about tomorrow or the next day and not thinking about 10 years from now, we are not going to control our own economic future, because China, Germany, they are already making these investments, and I am not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries,” Obama said.

This post was updated at 10:27 p.m.