HEMPSTEAD, New York, October 16, 2012 (ENS) – Issues of energy and the environment dominated the first section of tonight’s town hall debate between President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The debate took place at Hofstra University in Hempstead.
The President was first to raise the issue in response to a question from a college student on how he can get a job after he graduates.
Obama answered in part, “We’ve got to control our own energy, you know, not only oil and natural gas, which we’ve been investing in, but also we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy sources of the future, not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars.”
Then another questioner from the audience took center stage with the volatile issue of higher gas prices under the Obama Administration.
The question was, “Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?”
Neither candidate answered this question directly, but the exchange that followed was one of the most acrimonious of the entire debate, with the candidates arguing with each other and interrupting continuously.
President Obama reiterated, “The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. So here’s what I’ve done since I’ve been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”
“But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional sources of energy; we’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we’ve doubled clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels. And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years.”
“Now, I want to build on that,” Obama said. “And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years’ worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas. And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficient energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand, and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.”
“Now, Governor Romney will say he’s got an all-of-the-above plan, but basically his plan is to let the oil companies write the energy policies,” Obama charged. “So he’s got the oil and gas part, but he doesn’t have the clean energy part.”
China and Germany are making these investments, Obama said, adding, “I’m not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States.”
“So that’s going to help Jeremy get a job,” he said, “it’s also going to make sure that you’re not paying as much for gas.”
Romney agreed with the President that U.S. oil production has gone up during the past four years, but he then accused the President of not allowing enough drilling on federal land.
With Obama disputing him all the way, Romney said repeatedly, “The president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters.”
Romney said a lot of the increase in oil production came from the Bakken Range in North Dakota. He criticized the Obama Administration for “bringing criminal action against the people drilling up there for oil, this massive new resource we have. And what was the cost? Twenty or 25 birds were killed, and they brought out a Migratory Bird Act to go after them on a criminal basis.”
Romney was referring to a case brought by the Justice Department in the summer of 2011. Acting on allegations made by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the government sued seven oil companies operating in the Bakken shale oil field for killing a total of 29 birds by allowing them to die in the oil companies’ wastewater pits.
Judge Daniel Hovland of the U.S. District Court in North Dakota sided with the oil companies and dismissed the charges. The judge said the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is too vague to justify the indictments.
Romney said tonight, “I want to make sure we use our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables. I believe very much in our renewable capabilities — ethanol, wind, solar will be an important part of our energy mix. But what we don’t need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas.”
But Romney has said many times on the campaign trail that he does not support renewing the wind industry production tax credit, which expires at the end of the year. The wind industry is already laying off workers, anticipating that the tax credit will not be renewed.
Then Romney’s arguments became scattered. “This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal,” he said. “Talk to the people that are working in those industries. I was in coal country. People grabbed my arms and say, please, save my job. The head of the EPA said, you can’t build a coal plant. It’s virtually impossible, given our regulations. When the president ran for office, he said, if you build a coal plant, you can go ahead, but you’ll go bankrupt. That’s not the right course for America.”
Romney then promised he would achieve “North American energy independence within eight years.” Then, he said, “you’re going to see manufacturing come back jobs because our energy is low-cost. They’re already beginning to come back because of our abundant energy.”
“I’ll get America and North America energy-independent,” said Romney. “I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses. We’re going to bring that pipeline in from Canada. How in the world the president said no to that pipeline, I will never know. This is about bringing good jobs back for the middle class of America, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Obama told moderator Candy Crowley of CNN, the 82 Long Island residents in the audience and the millions of Americans watching on TV, “Very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We’ve opened up public lands. We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration. And the previous president was an oilman. And natural gas isn’t just appearing magically; we’re encouraging it and working with the industry.”
Obama reminded Romney that when he was governor of Massachusetts, “he stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, this plant kills, and took great pride in shutting it down.”
“And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal,” Obama said.
The President was talking about an incident in 2003 when Romney opposed giving Boston’s coal-burning Salem Harbor Power Station an extension on regulations that required an emisisions reduction.
Romney said he would not protect jobs if it meant killing people and, pointing at the Salem Harbor plant, said it was killing people.
However, Romney did not shut the plant down although two of its four units have closed.
See a detailed recap of these events here.
“So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent,” said Obama tonight. “With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil; same thing with natural gas.”
“And the proof is our oil imports are down to the lowest levels in 20 years, oil production is up, natural gas production is up, and most importantly, we’re also starting to build cars that are more efficient,” Obama said. “And that’s creating jobs. That means those cars can be exported, because that’s the demand around the world. And it also means that it’ll save money in your pocketbook.”
The National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons took aim at the President over his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
“Energy policy is an immediate pathway to jobs,” said Timmons. “President Obama spoke about increased oil production and a desire for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, but yet again, this debate came and went without the President mentioning the Keystone XL pipeline.”
“Governor Romney advocated in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline again and also spoke of shale gas, a game-changer that would create one million manufacturing jobs. The President also supported shale gas efforts, but his endorsement of more federal regulation on shale will handcuff the growth opportunity that it represents,” Timmons said.
President Obama denied a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline late last year because Republicans in Congress attempted to push him into approving it within 60 days, before the state of Nebraska had agreed to a route through the state that would avoid the shallow, environmentally sensitive Ogllala aquifer.
TransCanada has reapplied for a Presidential Permit, required for pipelines that cross U.S. borders and Nebraska has now defined its route.
Meanwhile, TransCanada is building the U.S. section of the pipeline through Texas, opposed by demonstrators sitting in trees to block the line they say will carry the world’s dirtiest oil.
There have been eight reported arrests and blockaders are still delaying TransCanada’s tree-clearing operations. Tuesday morning two blockaders locked themselves to Keystone XL machinery while more than 50 demonstrators defied police and entered the tree blockade. Today there are solidarity actions in Washington, DC, Austin, New York and Boston.
Environmentalists were quick to draw the distinctions between the two candidates.
Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC Action Fund, said, “Tonight’s town hall debate casts in bold relief the clashing priorities of the two tickets on energy policy.”
“The Romney-Paul [Ryan] agenda was written and paid for by the dirty fuels industry, and designed for its own benefit,” Beinecke said. “The Obama-Biden agenda puts people and their well-being first, and it understands that a clean energy policy is also good for our economy. This is a contrast everyone gets.”
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, certainly gets it. He said, “Tonight Mitt Romney doubled down on fossil fuels and the dirty energy sources of the past. He said that he would ‘fight for oil, coal and natural gas.’ We couldn’t have said it better.”
“Americans deserve a president who isn’t afraid to move America’s energy sources into the 21st Century,” said Brune, “and tonight President Obama reiterated his commitment to reviving American manufacturing, investing in clean energy innovation and ensuring that American workers have high-wage, high-skill jobs to support themselves and their families.”