Why Romney’s Energy Independence Pledge Is Half-Baked

Mitt Romney promises to make the U.S. energy independent by 2020 by increasing domestic oil and gas production. But without dealing with consumption, he's only tackling half the problem.

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Evan Vucci / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event at Watson Truck and Supply in Hobbs, N.M. on Aug. 23, 2012.

Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations, as he often does, has a level-headed take on Mitt Romney’s new energy plan. Romney announced in a policy paper (PDF) and a speech in New Mexico on August 23 that he would make America energy independent by 2020—or at least only dependent on North American sources—chiefly through streamlining new oil and gas exploration in the U.S. and supporting further development in Canada and Mexico. “This is not some pie-in-the-sky kind of thing,” Romney said in Hobbs, New Mexico. “This is a real, achievable objective.”

Levi noted that some of Romney’s plans—like shifting power over drilling from the federal government to the states and generally streamlining environmental reviews—made sense, and indeed would continue the growth of domestic oil and gas production that has occurred under President Obama, if not always because of him. But there are a few things missing, as Levi identified:

But the Romney plan promises far too much as a result of these policy shifts. It extensively cites recent Citigroup research to back up its claims its contention that North America could eliminate all imports by 2020 as well as to support its claims about jobs and economic growth. Yet that study is not just about oil supplies — it assumes that the United States will continue with strict fuel economy standards that lower its oil demand. Romney, though, has argued that such standards are the wrong way to go, and proposes no alternative scheme in his energy plan.

I’ve said it before—you can’t be serious about reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil unless you’re also serious about reducing U.S. consumption through energy efficiency and the cultivation of alternative sources. Romney—and indeed just about the entire Republican party—sees energy and oil only through the lens of supply. President Obama, to his credit, has tried to tackle demand as well, pushing through a long overdue increase in the automobile fuel efficiency standards. Romney has some smart ideas about increasing the impressive growth in domestic energy production, but that alone won’t make the U.S. energy independent—and it won’t do much to reduce the price of gas as long as we remain tied to the global commodity that is oil.

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