Rhetoric or Reality: Do the candidates differ on energy?

Oct 18, 2012

During this week's presidential debate, President Obama challenged Mitt Romney’s assertion that oil drilling on public lands was down by 14 percent. Almost as soon as they cleared the stage, a flurry of fact-checking revealed that while the rate did drop in one year—mostly due to the moratorium on drilling after the BP oil spill—drilling has increased on public lands during Obama’s tenure. 

University of Wyoming Natural Resources law professor Lawrence MacDonnell says he was surprised Romney chose to make the case that the Obama administration has not been supportive of energy development on federal public lands.

"That’s certainly not the perception that I think is generally shared out there. My feeling is that while the Obama people will tend to be looking for places where that development can go forward without causing a significant loss of other benefits, they are still very much supporting energy development on federal public lands, including oil and gas, coal and other resources."

Indeed, Obama touted his progress in the renewable energy sector, while Romney vowed to bolster domestic oil production.  Despite the contention, MacDonnell says the candidates’ agendas are actually fairly similar in some respects.

"I do think you see a difference in emphasis. I would characterize the administration’s position is—we  are here to encourage responsible energy development wherever we believe it can be done and protect the other interests that these lands hold. I’m not sure Gov. Romney would have a different  view of that."

Romney’s energy plan attempts to go even further, and would give states more authority to make energy production decisions in national forests and on BLM lands. MacDonnell says that while industry might want less regulation and more drilling, Romney’s energy plan does not specify how much more can be done. 

"To what degree really any kind of very significant constraints can somehow be removed is not real evident."

MacDonnell says that the change would require an act of congress and, if passed, would be unlikely to affect the amount of drilling in those areas.