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After China, the United States is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, which is the primary contributor to climate change. Of large countries only Australia pollutes more per capita. In recent years, the cost of oil — the primary source of carbon emissions — has been at an all-time high. Climate change and efforts to extract resources for energy in the United States have hurt local ecosystems, raising strong environmental concerns. But solving these problems is neither cheap nor easy. Businesses remain strongly resistant to regulations or taxes on carbon emissions and other types of pollution, and there are economic benefits to drilling at home, including the relatively cheap extraction of resources and the jobs created by domestic projects. For these reasons, recent Republican presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan in 1980, have sought to frame business and the environment as opposing interests, and have tended to favor business in that battle. Democratic presidents, on the other hand, have usually sought solutions that benefit both the environment and business, and have been more willing to regulate business in the interest of environmental protection.
President George W. Bush took more action on this issue than any president in the last three decades, supporting strongly pro-business policies, such as removing environ- mental regulations and launching a program to examine if humans really have an impact on climate change. In this con- text, then-senator Barack Obama was elected as a generally pro-environment president, promising to support diverse solutions to address climate change.
President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have different views on America’s energy future, but both candidates have a track record of bolstering the green sector. For Mr. Obama, such efforts include job creation and diminishing dependency on foreign oil by funding alternative energy industries. As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney helped spark a green revolution by promoting green-energy subsidies, where the government gives money to companies that develop solar, wind, and other renewable energy resources.
Mr. Romney’s energy platform reflects the conservative attitude evident in the policy of past Republican presidents, an approach best described as “drill, baby, drill” (a slogan popularized by 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin). Andrea Saul, one of Mr. Romney’s spokespersons, has said, “Governor Romney will permit drilling wherever it can be done safely, taking into account local concerns.” Such a policy not only implies drilling for oil but also for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing and the extraction of tar sands. With natural gas in abundance across the United States, this approach has earned wide popular support, as it could supply cheap energy and create jobs.
In contrast, Mr. Obama’s position, while not the stark opposite some liberals have hoped for, calls for America’s energy future to rest on a much more diverse portfolio. His energy policy allows for offshore drilling and “clean” coal combustion to continue, while also encouraging continued growth in the renewable sector. Over the past year, the president has given public support to clean energy tax incentives sent before Congress that would benefit both wind and solar energy. Mr. Obama has also reversed much of Mr. Bush’s interior policy, such as by setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and ordering an end to uranium extraction in mines near the Grand Canyon.
Because the coal, oil, and gas industries have a strong business structure in the United States, Republicans commonly base their energy policy on its support. In contrast, the clean energy sector, as a young industry, has experienced a turbulent pattern of growth and instability over the last decade, which has scared potential investors. If Romney and the Republican Party win in November, oil and gas will continue to run the American energy marketplace, maintaining the status quo of unfavorable market conditions for renewable energy investment. If Obama is reelected, however, it is believed that his administration will create a federal renewable portfolio standard — that is, a regulation that requires increased production of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal– that would spur growth in the clean energy sector. With the upcoming election, the country’s course of action on energy priorities will be set for years to come.
-This article was written by David Katz and appears in full in The IDEA Guide to the 2012 U.S. Presidential Elections.