An ideological chasm — deep and hardened — cuts through the 2012 campaign.
People marvel at how polarized the country has become, how gridlocked the decision making, how rote the political debate. Some fear that public policy — how a nation of diverse interests muddles forward — has been reduced to a partisan playground.
In an occasional series from now until November, The World-Herald will step back from the shouting and highlight some real differences voters can weigh. The goal: to highlight how policy choices can affect people's lives and to hunt for areas where Republicans and Democrats might find common ground.
With the Republican nomination now clinched and school out, two things have begun in earnest: the general election campaign and the summer driving season. It's a good time to talk about energy.
Since “energy crisis” became a catchphrase in the 1970s, Americans have worried that too much of our energy comes from fickle foreign sources.
We worry about price swings. We worry about cutoffs. We worry so much about this lifeblood — which runs our cars and factories, keeps us warm or cool, sustains our economy — that war planners have to think about how U.S. forces might intervene to ensure supplies.
Almost four decades after sweater-wearing President Jimmy Carter dubbed the energy battle the “moral equivalent of war,” Americans still don't agree on solutions, and the discussion remains captive to the partisan divide.
Those right of center say
Maximize use of America's own oil, gas and coal. New technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling have made more of it accessible, giving North Dakota an oil boom. Drilling should be expanded in the Arctic and offshore, and more of our imported oil should come from close allies such as Canada. With maximum domestic production — plus conservation steps both sides advocate such as higher-mileage cars — the U.S. one day can do better than reducing reliance on foreign producers. It can reach energy independence.
Those left of center say
New production technologies aside, fossil fuels remain finite, polluting and globe-warming to produce and to burn. The U.S. should adopt policies to hasten a shift to renewable, cleaner energy sources such as solar, wind and next-generation biofuels. Accelerating that shift now, even if initially costlier, will cushion the inevitable transition from fossil fuels, put America at the forefront of new industries and pay immediate environmental benefits.
Any common ground?
A lot, actually. Both sides hail recent reductions in foreign oil dependence. Oil imports have fallen from 60 percent of what we use to 45 percent over the past six years, the government says. Both sides favor environmentally careful development of domestic fossil fuels. No one favors pollution. Notwithstanding the debate over climate science, most Americans favor reducing greenhouse gases, polls indicate, but don't want the added costs to hamper the economy. Most of all, experts on both sides say, the choices would be clearer and less prone to partisan warfare if the nation had a comprehensive, long-term energy policy — a road map of priorities.
What all this means to me
Short term: Utility bills and gasoline prices — everybody pays them, one way or another. Long term: Government must balance multiple, intertwined demands — for energy, for pollution control, for budget restraint, for limiting greenhouse gases — all as technology is changing. The outcomes will touch almost every part of daily life, from how we get around to how we keep our homes heated and cooled.
Midlands in the spotlight
The Keystone XL pipeline, because its initial route would have run through the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills, put Nebraska at center stage of a national controversy. Despite prodding from pipeline backers in Congress, including Rep. Lee Terry, who led a push to force action sooner, the president says no final decision will be made until after the November elections.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney weigh in:
On oil and natural gas
Viewpoint:Touts an “all-of-the-above” strategy, encouraging development of both domestic fossil fuels and cleaner sources. Has proposed to open 75 percent of potential offshore fields to drilling but says federal subsidies for green energy should continue (making the point recently amid Colorado solar panels and Iowa wind turbines). In answer to subsidy critics, he urges a cutoff of tax breaks for big oil companies, calling them costly and no longer needed to spur oil production.
Viewpoint:Wants to speed domestic production of oil, gas and coal. Says Obama administration rules hinder that by kowtowing to environmentalists. Says Obama used the BP oil spill as a pretext to limit offshore drilling and wastes tax dollars on green-energy subsides to firms like Solyndra (a solar panel maker that went bankrupt after receiving federal aid). Says to keep consumers' costs low, the free market, not subsidies, should guide energy development and says the marketplace favors fossil fuels, not renewables.
Viewpoint: Toughened fuel-economy rules for vehicles, imposed mercury-emission rules on power plants and proposed rules to shift more power plants from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas. Proposes stricter federal rules for fracking, the high-pressure injection of fluids during drilling. His broader cap-and-trade bill for greenhouse gases died in Congress. He shelved a plan to toughen smog rules and angered environmentalists by approving an Arctic oil drilling plan for the waters off northwest Alaska.
Viewpoint: Says federal rules “stifle” coal, oil and nuclear power, crimping supplies and increasing consumers' costs. Would reverse the Obama administration's decision that carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is a pollutant subject to the Clean Air Act. Also would speed research into “clean coal” technologies and speed the licensing process for nuclear plants. Of global warming, he says, “We don't know what's causing climate change.” Says states' current rules on fracking, a process that has expanded domestic natural gas production, are sufficient.
On alternative energy sources
Viewpoint: Has allocated research money and proposed tax credits for alternative-fuel vehicles (electric, natural gas, hydrogen), saying multiple options will best serve consumers in the long run, even if they require startup subsidies. Likewise devoted funds to solar and wind power projects, including aid to specific companies.
Viewpoint: Backs ethanol and favors aid to basic research in alternative fuels but not to specific companies. Says the market best determines which sources suit consumers and the market has determined solar and wind power aren't viable.
On the Keystone XL pipeline
Viewpoint: Says Keystone plans are still being evaluated and mustn't be rushed. Has strongly supported the Oklahoma-to-Texas leg of the pipeline, which doesn't require his approval because it crosses no international borders.
Viewpoint: Says Obama is stalling the Canada-to-Texas pipeline to placate environmentalists even though the tar sands supplying the oil will be developed regardless and can help hold down gas prices.
On gasoline prices
Viewpoint: Says higher U.S. oil production won't be enough to affect gas prices. Has urged a crackdown — more regulators, higher penalties — on oil speculation in financial markets, saying it inflates prices at the pump. Has raised fuel-efficiency rules, which make new cars cost more but gas go further. Defends tapping the oil reserve last summer as necessary to offset a fall in war-torn Libya's oil production.
Viewpoint: Says maximizing U.S. oil production and accelerating the Keystone pipeline are the best ways to restrain gas prices. Also has said that a gradual increase in gas prices is the kind of market-based incentive that will encourage conservation and innovation. Has criticized Obama's tapping of the U.S. oil reserve last summer, saying it's meant for emergencies only.
Compiled by Roger Buddenberg from World-Herald press services and archives