The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC election poll found very few people who are undecided about their choice for president, which means the fight to win swing states will be ferocious. Could energy issues play a role in the outcome?
Clean energy advocates say the possibility has become a reality in at least one of those states – Iowa – and it promises to influence undecided voters elsewhere, as well.
“Certainly, economic issues will be front-and-center,” Jeff Gohringer, national press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters, told Breaking Energy. “But energy will continue to be a focal point, as well.”
The July 24 poll found that 92% of registered voters already know their presidential selection. And an earlier, AP Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (apnorc.org) survey – “Energy Issues: How the Public Understands and Acts” – found that party affiliation predicts consumer energy views more reliably than any other factor.
But that finding may be less applicable in states with significant renewable-energy generation, manufacturing, and/or feedstock farming.
Iowa is one such state, and its senior senator, Chuck Grassley (R), recently joined Democrats in a Senate Finance Committee vote that will send a one-year extension of the wind-energy tax credits to the full Senate. The tax credits, which are strongly supported by President Obama, passed 19-to-5.
Head Scratching, Jobs and Tax Credits
But four days before the Aug. 2 vote, a spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney told the Des Moines Register that, as president, Romney would “allow the wind credit to die.”
In an interview with The Hill, Grassley said he had previously reached out to the Romney campaign to “help them” with ethanol, biodiesel, and wind energy issues, which resonate strongly in Iowa. So, the unexpected remarks from the Romney campaign “left Grassley dumbfounded,” said Gohringer.
“Romney,” Gohringer added, “is wildly out of step with Iowa’s entire congressional delegation and their constituents. And his radical position on the [production tax credit] for wind energy is causing a stir in every state with jobs that depend on it. His position would actually kill an estimated 37,000 jobs across the country.”
Sara Chieffo, legislative director at the League, told Breaking Energy that there are 500 facilities across 44 states manufacturing wind turbines or their hardware, adding that “this is a huge footprint and a big driver for our economy. There isn’t any doubt in the public’s mind that clean energy will play a big role in helping create jobs.”
Chieffo also pointed out that the Finance Committee’s endorsement of the PTC (and the associated investment tax credit) demonstrates the strength of bipartisan support for renewable energy incentives in Congress.
We’re already ‘drilling-baby-drilling right now,” Marston, Environmental Defense Fund
For example, a Washington Republican, Dave Reichert, and an Oregon Democrat, Earl Blumenauer, have jointly offered House legislation to extend the PTC – and there are 25 Republicans among the 110 members co-sponsoring the bill (H.R. 3307), Chieffo said.
The AP/NORC survey, which was released in June, found that 78% of Republicans support policies allowing more drilling as compared with 47% of Democrats. That may herald a reprise of the “drill-baby-drill” school of energy rhetoric. But it will probably be less strident than it was during the run-up to the 2008 election, and there are two reasons why.
The first is that domestic oil production, as Chieffo pointed out, has ascended to an eight-year high – a reality also noted by Jim Marston, who heads the Environmental Defense Fund’s national energy program.
“We’re already ‘drilling-baby-drilling right now,” Marston told Breaking Energy. “In Texas, where I live, they’ve drilled 10,000 [mostly gas] wells in the eight-county area around Dallas-Fort Worth in just the last five years. In south Texas, they have 8,000 wells and that’s soon to be 12,000. The obstacle to drilling is not regulations. It’s a rig shortage. But we know that we cannot drill our way out of our environmental or economic problems.”
Given the surge in oil and gas production, it’s a little more difficult for Republican candidates to accuse Democrats and the Obama administration of stifling energy extraction.
But the second reason clean fuels may be more on voters’ minds than they were in 2008 is that the consequences of climate change – widely blamed on a critical increase in atmospheric carbon levels – “are painfully visible to people right in their windows, whether it’s drought, wildfires or extreme temperature swings,” Gohringer said.
In fact, heat and drought have had devastating impacts on agricultural states, and “the people are going to want to know how congressional and presidential candidates will address that,” Gohringer added.
Chieffo pointed out President Obama “has been touting during his term – and now you’re hearing it on the campaign trail – the pending EPA standard to limit carbon pollution from new power plants and the historic standard increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles.
“A couple of years ago,” Chieffo continued, “the House passed a very broad and strong energy package, and the reality is that Congress could do it again. But it’s going to take new voices and people who believe in science and common sense measures to address climate change.”
The AP/NORC survey found that 62% of the public believes that the government should be “extremely or very involved in finding solutions to this country’s energy problems.” If enough of the public is persuaded that climate change is real, and energy-related, then campaign speeches addressing carbon emissions and clean energy could bring some of those “new voices” to Congress.
Read additional Breaking Energy coverage of the EPA coal plant regulations here.
Chieffo pointed out that a clear indication of public support for climate change regulations is illustrated by the response to EPA’s pending carbon-emissions standard. “There were more than 2.5 million favorable comments submitted to the docket, and that’s an utterly record-shattering number for any standard proposed by EPA.”