A Guide to the Presidential Candidates’ Energy Policies

Compare and contrast Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s stances on climate change, coal, fracking, domestic oil drilling and clean energy.

Where do Barack Obama and Mitt Romney differ on energy issues including climate change, coal, domestic drilling and renewable energy technologies? The stances of both candidates stick largely to party lines. Romney has poked fun at Obama’s concern for the environment, and favors a free-for-all approach to domestic energy production that lifts federal regulations on fossil fuel industries.

President Obama stresses an “all-of-the-above” plan that reduces fossil fuels to just a few small parts of a comprehensive energy strategy, emphasizing the need for clean energy. But Obama’s own statements on climate change, domestic oil drilling and other energy issues haven’t always gone over well with environmentalists. Here’s a rundown of each candidate’s viewpoints.


The candidates’ positions on climate change have everything to do with the way they see energy policy, and how the effect of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment will shape the solutions they support. Unfortunately, climate change is far less of a focus in the lead-up to the 2012 election than it was in 2008, when then-candidate Obama frequently cited the reduction of greenhouse gases as one of his biggest goals as President. The issue only just came up again during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. But there are definite discrepancies between each candidate’s viewpoints.


“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet. My promise… is to help you and your family.” – Mitt Romney, August 30th, 2012, Republican National Convention

Romney has gone back and forth on the issue of climate change, just in the space of the past year. In June 2011, he said “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe that the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that… And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”

But by October 2011, he had changed his tune. “My view is we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Romney’s official website doesn’t mention climate change at all.


“And, yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. more droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future. And in this election you can do something about it.” – President Obama, September 6th, 2012, Democratic National Convention

At the official White House website, President Obama has laid out a series of steps that his administration has taken to reduce the emissions that lead to climate change, including international leadership, clean energy, monitoring emissions, adapting to the inevitable effects that we’re already beginning to experience and supporting climate change science and education.

However, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” don’t appear on his candidate website, BarackObama.com.


Both candidates support coal power to varying degrees, and both have softened previous statements against the polluting effects of coal mining and coal-fired power plants in apparent election-year ploys to avoid alienating residents of coal country states like West Virginia.


As Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney once stood beside a coal-fired power plant in Salem and said “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant, that plant kills people.” But his views have changed considerably since 2003. Romney wants to revise the Clean Air Act to eliminate greenhouse gas restrictions, giving coal power plants the ability to play an even larger role in America’s energy production.

Romney’s energy plan sets a goal for America to be energy-independent by 2020 – through increased extraction and use of domestic oil, gas and coal.


Since 2008, Obama has pledged support for the spurious concept of “clean coal,” and seems to be treading lightly on the issue in 2012. But rather than pushing coal as the main source of domestic energy, President Obama includes as just one of a range of energy technologies that can power America. His administration pushed for cap and trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, but after the legislation failed in the Senate it settled for allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enact regulatory measures instead.

Along with pushing “clean coal,” Obama has invested in carbon capture and sequestration through the Recovery Act, and has implemented initiatives to improve miner health and safety.


Here we are four years after the last Presidential election, and cringe-worthy echoes of “Drill, Baby, Drill” still ring through our ears. While the Republican candidates, both in 2008 and 2012, favor a frenzy of domestic drilling, President Obama has been slightly more cautious, considering the environmental impact of each project.


“In the midst of the energy revolution taking place on state and privately-held lands across America, oil and gas production on federal lands somehow plummeted last year. This was no accident. President Obama intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda.” – Mitt Romney’s Energy Policy White Paper, 2012

Romney’s energy plan calls for giving states the right to oversee the production and development of all forms of energy within their own borders, pointing out that “At least sixty-two percent of known oil resources on federal lands are off-limits.” Those federal lands include environmentally sensitive, protected wildlife areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Romney wants to establish a new five year offshore leasing plan that “aggressively opens new areas for development beginning with those off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.” He would also approve the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil into the U.S. market.

Romney also wants to lift back federal regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” the process by which natural gas is extracted from the earth.


“We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we’ll open more. But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers.” – President Obama, September 6th, 2012, Democratic National Convention

Domestic oil drilling has actually increased on President Obama’s watch, but he stresses that drilling should only be a small part of America’s energy strategy, saying “we’ll do it while protecting the health and safety of the American people.” The Obama administration stepped back on a plan to open more of the coastline to oil drilling after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, but in his State of the Union address in January 2012, Obama said he aims to go ahead with those plans.

President Obama approved the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline in March 2012 after previously declining to approve the permit for the northern portion, saying Congress hadn’t given him enough time to review the environmental impact.

While Obama pledges to take every step to develop domestic natural gas resources, he has stressed the importance of safety regulations. In his 2012 State of the Union address, the President said “I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”


The words energy innovation mean very different things to the two Presidential candidates. Mitt Romney’s energy policy refers to “the revolution in U.S. energy production,” but he’s talking about a surge in oil and natural gas drilling, not alternative energy. On the other hand, President Obama supports a broad range of clean energy technologies, considering them to be a crucial part of America’s energy future.


“In place of real energy, Obama has focused on an imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy. This vision has failed… as president, I will unleash American innovation and productivity to make full use of our natural resources.” – Mitt Romney, March 5th 2012

Five years ago, Romney was singing a different tune. While the candidate supported domestic oil drilling and coal, he also called for the use of alternative sources of energy including biodiesel, ethanol, wind power and solar power. But Romney’s current energy platform barely mentions renewable energy at all, except to disparage President Obama’s efforts to bolster these industries.

Mitt Romney’s official website reads, “As the Obama administration wages war against oil and coal, it has been spending billions of dollars on alternative energy forms and touting its creation of ‘green’ jobs. But it seems to be operating more on faith than on fact-based economic calculation. The ‘green’ technologies are typically far too expensive to compete in the marketplace, and studies have shown that for every ‘green’ job created there are actually more jobs destroyed. Unsurprisingly, this costly government investment has failed to create an economic boom.”


“We can’t have an energy policy for the last century that traps us in the past. We need an energy strategy for the future – an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.” – President Obama, March 15th 2012

The Obama administration’s investment in clean energy is the largest in American history, nearly doubling the generation of technologies like solar, wind and geothermal power production. America’s first-ever offshore wind farm is expected to produce enough clean energy to power more than 200,000 homes. The administration has also approved the construction of 16 commercial-scale solar facilities, five wind and eight geothermal projects on public lands. Together, these projects are expected to power about 1.3 million homes and support 12,500 jobs.

President Obama also supports a Clean Energy Standard that would double the share of electricity from clean energy sources to 80 percent by 2035.

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Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.