Presidential debate references green energy, oil's tax breaks

By Holly Jessen | October 04, 2012

The first debate between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., didn’t contain the words ethanol or renewable energy. Both candidates did, however, address energy, and in Romney’s case, green energy or green jobs.

The debate, held Oct. 3 at the University of Denver, Colo., was the first of four total scheduled before election day. The next two presidential debates are set for Oct. 16 in Hempstead, New York, and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. The vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 11 in Danville, Ken.

Obama, the winner of the coin toss, began the debate with an allotted two minutes. In contrast with Romney’s plan to cut taxes “skewed toward the wealthy,” he listed off the need to invest in education, training, developing new sources of energy in the U.S. and helping small businesses by changing the tax code.

In his response, Romney addressed energy by saying it’s a critical issue. However, he said, the production of oil and gas in the U.S. has increased in spite of, not because of Obama’s policies. While he said Obama cut the number of permits and licenses for natural gas and oil drilling on government land, Romney wants to double that number, access offshore and Alaskan oil supplies and approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He also expressed support for continuing “to burn clean coal,” an industry feeling pressure under Obama’s policies. “I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs,” he said.

Later on in the debate, Obama pointed to his tax plan, which has already lowered taxes for 98 percent of families and lowered taxes for small business, efforts he said would continue. “And the reason this is important is because by doing that, we cannot only reduce the deficit, we cannot only encourage job growth through small businesses, but we're also able to make the investments that are necessary in education or in energy,” he said.

Obama then brought up $4 billion in “corporate welfare” going to the oil industry and said it was an area where a change could help the economy. “Now, does anybody think that ExxonMobil needs some extra money, when they're making money every time you go to the pump,” he asked. “Why wouldn't we want to eliminate that?”

Romney countered that the DOE said tax breaks for oil companies was $2.8 billion yearly, not $4 billion. He called it an accounting treatment that has been in place for 100 years and Obama inserted, “It’s time to end it.” Romney went on to say that Obama provided $90 million in breaks to the green energy world, later referring to green jobs, specifically mentioning solar and wind. “Now, I like green energy as well, but that's about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives,” the former governor said. “And you say Exxon and Mobil. Actually, this $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth.” He then added that if the tax rate were to be decreased from 35 percent to 25 percent the tax breaks for oil companies would not be likely to survive.

The last reference to energy came from Obama, who referenced his efforts to develop American energy. “You know, four years ago, we were going through a major crisis,” he said. “And yet my faith and confidence in the American future is undiminished.”

The Truman National Security Project, a national security leadership institute, released a statement in response to Romney’s comments during the debate. “The military tells us that oil dependence puts money in the hands of our enemies and prevents us from developing the technologies of the future,” said spokesman David Solimini. “Oil money funds terrorism around the world and the CIA says climate disruption is leading to unrest around the world. Thankfully, today we import less oil than we have in 20 years and we’re investing in manufacturing jobs on things like wind turbines. Mitt Romney’s energy plan ignores the advice of our military leaders and doubles down on oil—even as we send a billion dollars a day overseas for it.”

The organization provided a candidate comparison chart that said Obama supports increased research and development spending for renewable energy sources and that Romney wants to cut that funding.

 The American Petroleum Institute followed up with a statement from President and CEO Jack Gerard, saying he was pleased that both Obama and Romney said they saw a need for a national energy policy that expands domestic oil and natural gas. “While both candidates support more domestic energy, actions must match the words,” he said. “The next president must implement a national energy policy and lift existing restrictions on the responsible development of our vast energy resources, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, avoid burdensome regulations that chill economic investment, and resist the urge to regulate the very technologies that have made our energy boom possible.”