UPDATE (8/24/12): Reuters revised its report to say: "The White House faulted Romney's plan for relying too heavily on fossil fuels," without noting the implications for climate change. The new version does not include Romney advisor Oren Cass's false claim that wind industry "growth has slowed."
Today Mitt Romney unveiled an energy plan that he claims will enable North America to achieve energy independence by 2020 by expanding domestic oil and gas production. Reuters' Steve Holland was quick to report on Romney's lofty aspirations, but he left out several key details in the process.
Although Romney advertises his plan as a "comprehensive energy strategy," it focuses almost exclusively on developing fossil fuel resources. His proposal would expand offshore oil leasing, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and allow states to control drilling on more federal lands, all while weakening environmental protections. If these policies are enacted, they could have serious consequences for our air, water and climate.
But the Reuters report glossed over these repercussions, saying only:
Romney's energy policies are heavily tilted toward increased production of carbon-based resources, oil, gas and coal, that environmentalists blame for global warming.
Holland was wrong to attribute these concerns solely to "environmentalists" when the vast majority of the world's leading climate scientists and major scientific bodies affirm that human activity is driving climate change. It is this kind of rhetoric from the media that leads many Americans to wrongly believe that manmade climate change is still a matter of scientific debate.
On renewable energy, Holland noted that Romney opposes the production tax credit for wind power, but overlooked the impact of this stance on the growing U.S. wind industry. He uncritically quoted Romney advisor Oren Cass's claim that "the wind industry has lost 10,000 jobs and growth has slowed." In fact, the production tax credit has spurred enormous growth in the wind industry and enabled wind power to be competitive with natural gas. According to the Department of Energy, total U.S. wind capacity recently passed the 50-gigawatt mark -- enough to power 12 million homes annually -- and accounted for 32 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity added in 2011. But despite the tax credit's success, Congress has repeatedly allowed it to lapse, halting the industry's progress in the U.S. Wind manufacturers are already announcing layoffs because of the uncertainty surrounding the production tax credit, and the American Wind Energy Association estimates that up to 37,000 jobs could be lost if it is allowed to expire at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Romney's plan maintains tax breaks for oil companies, which have disproportionately benefited from permanent subsidies for decades. According to a 2011 study from venture capital firm DBL Investors on inflation-adjusted energy subsidy spending, "federal commitment to [oil and gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each subsidies' life." But the Reuters article makes no mention of Romney's preferential tax treatment for oil companies.
Holland's report also failed to challenge Romney's ludicrous assertion that we can drill our way to energy independence in eight years. Aside from the fact that it takes years for new offshore leases to produce oil, experts say that even if all drilling limits were removed, the U.S. would still need to import oil to meet our energy needs.
Furthermore, experts say that energy independence is a "fundamentally misguided" goal because the only way to achieve long-term energy security is to reduce our demand for oil. A recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office stated that increased domestic production would "probably not" improve energy security because other oil-producing countries would respond by reducing production, "thereby diminishing or eliminating the effect of such U.S. actions on the world price of oil." According to the Energy Security Leadership Council, "the best policies are those that reduce the economy's exposure to oil price volatility" by reducing "the oil intensity of the U.S. economy over time."
Economist Greg Mankiw -- who has advised Romney -- has said that "politicians from both political parties often proclaim the importance of energy independence as a policy goal ... but they often leave economists scratching their heads."