Obama, Romney, or Stein: Who Has the Greenest Energy Policy?

White House, Gage Skidmore (Romney), Jill Stein for President/CC BY-SA 2.0

There may be a stark difference between Obama and Romney in their climate change rhetoric (let's turn a blind eye for a second to climate change action), but what about on energy policy? After all, in different degrees both Obama and Romney pay lip service to supporting both fossil fuels and renewable energy. And what about Dr Jill Stein, the presidential candidate from the Green Party?

Let's take a quick look at several key energy issues and what Obama, Romney and Stein propose doing about it.

Fracking: Both the Obama and Romney campaigns support expanded use of natural gas and fracking. Obama has placed much more emphasis on regulation of hydraulic fracturing, while Romney has explicitly stated he would prevent "overregulation of shale gas development and extraction." In stark contrast, the Stein campaign proposes a ban on fracking.

On fracking, Jill Stein solidly gets the green nod.

Expanding Domestic Oil Drilling: The official Obama statements on expanding domestic oil drilling seem positive, highlighting cutting reliance on oil by increasing energy efficiency and imposing limits on drilling ANWR. That said, the President has overseen a dramatic rise in US oil production and given the green light to Shell's plans to explore in the Arctic.

In contrast Mitt Romney states in no uncertain terms that he would further expand domestic oil production and exploration, and open up more areas for onshore and offshore oil drilling.

The greenest option again is that of Jill Stein, who would prohibit new oil drilling and actively work towards eliminating US reliance on fossil fuels "almost entirely."

Tar Sands & the Keystone XL Pipeline: Related, is importing of tar sands oil and building the Keystone XL pipeline. Here, Mitt Romney has explicitly said he would approve Keystone XL as well as other pipeline to bring Canadian tar sands into the US. The Obama administration has essentially punted on the issue of Keystone XL.

The Stein campaign opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.

Considering how dirty tar sands oil is, both from a climate, water pollution and energy intensity perspective, you cannot support expanding tar sands production and have any environmental credibility.

Nuclear Power: Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are enthusiastically supportive of nuclear power, with Obama touting the licensing of the first new nuclear power plant in decades, and Romney vowing to speed up licensing of new nuclear power plants.

That Romney has made such a big deal about governmental support of renewable energy and how unfair that is, it's not just a bit ironic that he overlooks the fact that without significant government help nuclear power would be simply not be financially feasible.

Jill Stein opposes the use of nuclear power.

Coal: Despite Mitt Romney's accusation that President Obama is "waging war on the entire coal industry" the fact of the matter is that Obama has consistently voiced support for coal as part of his all-of-the-above energy strategy—albeit in its so-called clean coal form.

The President proposes a 10 year plan to develop clean coal, with demonstration projects online in 4 years. Romney supports streamlining government rules on coal to "achieve the necessary environmental protection while avoiding job-killing plant closures."

The Stein campaign would phase out the use of coal—the only sensible solution to the use of the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Renewable Energy: The Romney campaign continually tries to make political hay out of the failure of Solyndra—that private investors lost millions and that the government loan program for renewable energy has otherwise been very successful seems beside the point—and proposes concentrating "alternative energy funding on basic research" instead. Romney also says (counterfactually) "the failure of windmills and solar plants to become economically viable or make a significant contribution to our energy supply is a prime example" of wrong-headed "politically favored" approaches to energy development.

In contrast, the Obama campaign touts the genuinely noteworthy expansion of wind and solar power in recent years, and would expand incentives for renewable energy. It's a positive approach to renewables, but not as ambitious as the Stein campaign, which favors a transition towards a 100% renewable energy mix by 2050.

Stein gets the nod on renewables as well.

Stein = Dark Green, Obama = Greenish with Brown Spots, Romney = Dark Brown
It'd perhaps be a surprise if Dr Jill Stein, running on the Green Party ticket, came away with anything other than the greenest energy policy of all the presidential candidates. Indeed, in the broad stroke, Stein advocates for exactly the type of ambition and change we need when it comes to energy in the United States. We need to state overtly that we will be off fossil fuels by a certain date, that ending the use of fossil fuels at any major scale is the ultimate goal, and then work towards that. Not just simply say that it'd be nice to do so and then leave it all to work itself out sometime in the future. Especially not with the pernicious political influence of the hugely profitable and hugely influential fossil fuel industry trying to forward its polluting agenda.

President Obama clearly believes that renewable energy is the future—as he clearly believes that climate change needs to be dealt with and is a grave threat—and supports expanding some of the support and vision needed to bring more and more of it online. But, as with his climate change vision, he's both constrained by the US political system and by an apparent unwillingness to go out forcefully and say (as Stein has) that we need to get off fossil fuels as fast as practical, not as fast as the fossil fuel industry would like. The support of clean coal is a joke environmentally speaking, as is fracking, ditto nuclear power. Obama sends completely mixed messages on oil drilling and tar sands. His energy policy has a greenish tinge in places, has lots of brown spots all over it, and is pretty weak overall.

Romney is clearly the least green option for US energy policy. While the talk of achieving energy independence is noble, he proposes going down the dead end path of continued fossil fuel use to do so—all while loosening regulations on an industry with a proven track record of disregard of existing regulations, with repeatedly tragic environmental consequences. Perhaps not surprising for someone who has made fun of President Obama for trying to do anything about climate change (and sea level rise), instead proposing to help people's families, not realizing that doing everything we can to mitigate the effects of climate change is a huge step towards improving the lives of ordinary families in the not-too-distant future as well as today.

Tags: Clean Coal | Coal | Environmental Policy | Nuclear Power | Oil | Renewable Energy