Mile High Presidential Debate: Domestic Policy and Energy
By Becky English, Rocky Mountain Chapter Energy Committee Chair
For months, Denver has been looking forward to the first debate of this presidential campaign season. On Wednesday October 3, a beautiful autumn day, the campus at the University of Denver burst forth with outdoor games, music, several dozen tables representing organizations and causes, and demonstrations lining nearby streets. Some 7,500 people bought tickets for the privilege of being on campus for the event.
Just days before the October 4 deadline to register to vote, a half-dozen organizations sponsored voter registration on the D.U. campus, and most reported vigorous activity. At this venue, registrations skewed Democratic. However, there were at least three groups of students on campus visibly supporting Governor Romney and Republican platform positions.
The debate focused on domestic policy. Inside, longtime PBS News Hour journalist Jim Lehrer had an agreement with the audience that there would be no applause and no vocal outbursts for or against anything being said onstage. [Below left, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; at right, a Young Evangelical for Climate Action.]
Outside, students who watched the debate on jumbo video monitors were free to whoop and holler their approval and disapproval. They were especially happy when the candidates mentioned Denver, the University of Denver, or Colorado. The weather turned windy and cool as the debate began, making it a chilly evening for those who stayed to view the debate with friends.
As the volunteer chair of Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter's energy committee, I was listening for references to the environment and to energy. This debate had no direct references to the environment.
Here's an exchange that was probably revealing for many Sierra Club members who understand the relationship between fossil fuels, climate change, and environmental degradation.
Mitt Romney: First of all, the Department of Energy has said the tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year. And it's actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that's been in place for a hundred years. Now…
President Obama: It's time to end it.
Mitt Romney: And… and in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world. Now, I like green energy as well, but that's about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives, and you say Exxon and Mobil-actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth. But you know, if we get that tax rate from 35 percent down to 25 percent, why, that $2.8 billion is on the table. Of course it's on the table. That's probably not going to survive, you get that rate down to 25 percent.
But… but don't forget, you put $90 billion-like 50 years' worth of breaks-into solar and wind, to… to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I… I had a friend who said, you don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers. Alright? So this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy-secure.
Here's what President Obama said about energy:
"I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America … On energy, Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we've got to boost American energy production. Oil and natural gas production are higher than they've been in years. But I also believe that we've got to look at the energy source of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments… Middle-income families are being crushed. And so the question is how to get them going again, and I've described it. It's energy and trade… And the reason this [cutting taxes] is important is because by doing that, we can not only reduce the deficit, we can not only encourage job growth through small businesses, but we're also able to make the investments that are necessary in education or in energy.
"I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America… And everything that I've tried to do and everything that I'm now proposing for the next four years in terms of improving our education system, or developing American energy, or making sure that we're closing loopholes for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and focusing on small businesses and companies that are creating jobs here in the United States, or… or closing our deficit in a responsible, balanced way that allows us to invest in our future-all those things are designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination is… is channeled, and… and they have an opportunity to succeed."
Here are some energy-related quotes from Mitt Romney:
"My plan has five basic parts. One, get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about four million jobs … Energy is critical, and the president pointed out correctly that production of oil and gas in the U.S. is up. But not due to his policies-in spite of his policies. Mr. President, all of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private land, not on government land. On government land, your administration has cut the number of permits and license in half. If I'm president, I'll double them. And also get the… the oil from offshore and Alaska. And I'll bring that pipeline in from Canada.
"And by the way, I like coal. I'm going to make sure we continue to burn clean coal. People in the coal industry feel like it's getting crushed by your policies. I want to get America and North America energy independent, so we can create those jobs. … But you make a very good point, which is that the… the place you put your money makes a pretty clear indication of where your heart is.
"You put $90 billion into… into green jobs. And… and I… look, I'm all in favor of green energy. Ninety billion (dollars)-that… that would have… that would have hired two million teachers. Ninety billion dollars. And these businesses-many of them have gone out of business. I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they've gone out of business. A number of them happened to be owned by… by people who were contributors to your campaigns.… but don't forget, you put $90 billion-like 50 years' worth of breaks-into solar and wind, to… to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I… I had a friend who said, you don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers. Alright? So… so this is not… this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy-secure. "
Early news polls and "spin" seemed to indicate that Mitt Romney's performance disproportionately benefitted his campaign among the important undecided demographic. President Obama's performance was characterized as relatively unengaged. Locally, Denver media outlets invited undecided voters to view the debates in their studios. Most of these voters are still undecided. The next four weeks will make all the difference.