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August 30, 2012

Radically Different Visions for America

With Mitt Romney preparing to accept the Republican nomination and with the ink still wet on his energy plan, this might be a good time to ask how far apart the two presidential candidates are on energy (and, by extension, environmental) issues. They aren't in different rooms; they're on different planets. Never have two candidates openly presented such fundamentally disparate visions for America's energy future. Here are five ways that a Romney presidency would take the U.S. down a different road.

1. Protect Polluters, Not People. Obama has strongly backed the Environmental Protection Agency in its mission to enforce the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other environmental protections. During the past four years, the EPA has delivered big time on mercury, soot, acid rain, and carbon pollution safeguards that will save many thousands of lives, dramatically clean up the environment, and help move the U.S. to clean, renewable energy.

Romney believes that the EPA is "completely out of control" and opposes safeguards against both mercury and carbon pollution. His close ties to billionaire polluters are well documented, starting with the Koch brothers and including many of his advisors on energy policy.

2. Put the Brakes on Renewable Energy. Obama has been by far the strongest supporter of clean, renewable energy ever to occupy the White House. Stimulus dollars from the Recovery Act were the single largest investment in clean and renewable energy in our nation’s history and helped create thousands and thousands of new jobs in the clean energy economy nationwide. U.S. wind power has doubled during the past four years, and solar has grown by a factor of five. Not satisfied, though, Obama has called for "doubling down" on renewable energy. Obama supports extending the production tax credit for the wind industry.

Romney says he likes wind and solar "as much as the next guy." That’s only true if the "next guy" is the CEO of an oil company. Romney has attacked clean energy investments and opposes extending the wind production tax credit, even though it means the loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs. He does not believe that we should do anything to improve our country’s competitive position in the clean energy economy, but instead should revert back to policies that prioritize fossil fuels above all else. Romney’s energy plan would be innovative if we were living in the year 1912, not 2012.

3. All-in on Oil. Presidents have been bemoaning our dependence on oil for decades. But Obama is the first one to actually do something truly significant about it -- two rounds of stronger vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. By 2030, the two standards combined will cut our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day. That's the amount of oil we currently import from the entire Persian Gulf and Venezuela combined. They'll also create jobs, as we continue developing the automotive technologies required to meet fuel-efficiency goals. According to a recent study by the Blue Green Alliance, the new standards for cars and light trucks sold from 2017 through 2025 will create 570,000 new jobs across America by 2030.

Romney opposed the fuel standards and believes that the U.S. should continue relying on oil. That means more drilling in the Arctic, offshore, and on our public lands. To facilitate this, Romney would leave it to individual states to decide whether to drill on public lands. Unfortunately, state officials are often beholden to local mining and drilling interests -- with disastrous consequences (see #5).

Lastly, Obama has repeatedly called for an end to taxpayer subsidies of oil companies, which are among the wealthiest corporations on the planet. Romney, who is heavily supported by the oil industry and whose chief energy adviser is the billionaire CEO of an oil company, sees no reason to end subsidies.

4. Do Nothing about Climate Change. Obama acknowledges that climate disruption is a problem and accepts the overwhelming scientific consensus that it's caused by carbon pollution. More importantly, he has done something about it. Stronger fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, in addition to helping move us beyond oil, are the biggest action any president has taken to address climate disruption. Once implemented, these standards will cut U.S. carbon pollution by 10 percent.

In fact, during the last four years, carbon emissions in the U.S. have steadily declined and are potentially on track to meet the goal that Obama promised in Copenhagen -- 17 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020. Bottom line: In spite of fierce resistance from the fossil fuel lobby and its political supporters, we have been making real progress on the climate issue.

Romney, however, doesn't accept that climate disruption is caused by carbon pollution, nor does he believe we can or should do anything about it. On the contrary, he believes that the U.S. should work to increase its use of the dirtiest and most climate-polluting fossil fuels: coal and oil.

5. Make Parks and Public Lands Pay. One of Obama's first acts as president was to sign the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which was the most important lands protection legislation in decades, safeguarding millions of acres of new wilderness, protecting hundreds of miles of rivers, and expanding trails. In addition, more than 1 million acres in the Grand Canyon watershed have been placed off-limits to new uranium mining.

Romney has questioned whether public lands serve any purpose beyond their potential for mining, drilling, and other extractive industries. And it's not just lands that currently aren't protected that would be at risk. At least five national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Teton parks, could be threatened under Romney's energy plan.

If you’ve read this far, you know that there are plenty of other differences, but these might be the most important. Which road -- which future -- we choose is up to us.

Paid for by the Sierra Club Political Committee ( and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. 


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Michael Brune

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