Obama, Romney Spar on Energy and Oil, but Climate Change Is MIA

After three hours of Presidential debates, greens are still waiting for the first climate change question.

Which one of these two men will lead us to energy independence? (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)
writes about environment and energy for the NYT, Popular Science, OnEarth Magazine, and more.

If you were hoping that the issue of climate change would finally surface in this presidential election during last night's second debate between President Obama and Gov. Romney, you were disappointed once again. 

But on the subject of America's energy future—if you believe that can be discussed without mentioning climate change—the candidates delivered an energetic and contentious verbal dual which brought the two men within punching distance of each other. 

It all got started with just the second audience question in the town hall style debate at Hofstra University in New York.

"Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?" asked an audience member addressing Obama. 

MORE: Al Gore on a Romney Presidency: 'I Would Fear for the Future of Our Environmental Policy'

Obama argued that ultimately the best way to keep prices at the gas pump low is to reduce demand by investing in efficiency such as the new fuel efficiency standards passed back in August. He also pointed out that U.S. oil and natural gas production had risen under his watch and foreign imports had declined. Obama simultaneously stressed that investing in green energy was absolutely essential for America's future.

Referring to Romney, Obama said:

"He has got the oil and gas part, but he does not have the clean energy part, and if we are only thinking about tomorrow or the next day and not thinking about 10 years from now, we are not going to control our own economic future, because China, Germany, they are already making these investments, and I am not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries."

For his part, Romney accused the President of getting in the way of the fossil fuel industry and called for more drilling, more permits and licensing on federal lands, and immediate approval of the XL Keystone pipeline. 

"What we don't need is the President keeping us from taking advantage of oil coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal," said Romney.

Romney argued that if the president's energy strategy was working, gas prices today would be lower then when he took office. Obama countered by pointing out that the only reason gas prices were that low back in 2009 was because the economy was in free fall. 

"It's conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess," said Obama. 

 Obama also called Romney out over his opposition to continuing the production tax credit for the wind industry.  

"You've got thousands of people right now in Iowa, right now in Colorado, who are working, creating wind power with good-paying manufacturing jobs, and the Republican senator in Iowa is all for it, providing tax breaks to help this work and Governor Romney says, 'I'm opposed. I'd get rid of it.'"

Shortly after the debate, Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, released the following statement:

"Tonight Mitt Romney doubled down on fossil fuels and the dirty energy sources of the past. He said that he would ‘fight for oil, coal and natural gas.’ We couldn’t have said it better."

The Natural Resource Defense Council Action Fund was also quick to respond after the debate.

"Tonight's town hall debate casts in bold relief the clashing priorities of the two tickets on energy policy. The Romney-Paul agenda was written and paid for by the dirty fuels industry, and designed for its own benefit. The Obama-Biden agenda puts people and their well-being first, and it understands that a clean energy policy is also good for our economy. This is a contrast everyone gets," said Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC Action Fund. 

What did you think about climate change not being mentioned at the Presidential debate? Expected it? Disappointed? Something else? Tell us in the comments.

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