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Issue-by-Issue: Romney and Obama on Sustainability

by Daniel Farber, published

It’s no secret that the two presidential candidates disagree about energy and environmental issues. Romney is much more enthusiastic than Obama about expanding the use of fossil fuels.  Obama advocates action on climate change, which Romney opposes. A detailed comparison of Obama and Romney on energy and environment issues also reveals some other important facts.

One key point of difference involves green jobs. Obama touts the economic benefits of renewable energy, while Romney dismisses the possibility. Not surprisingly, Obama favors much more aggressive support for renewables.

Another important issue involves the regulatory system. Romney favors sweeping reforms in regulation, including a “regulatory cap” that would block some regulations even if they pass cost-benefit analysis. Romney also wants to give companies a grace period of several years before they need to comply with any new regulation. Obama doesn’t address these proposals directly but expresses satisfaction with major regulations during his Administration.

These differences and others can be found in the table below. In order to avoid any questions about changing issues or ambiguous language, the table is based only on the candidates’ websites and their acceptance speeches. In other contexts, both candidates have addressed other environmental issues. But by picking these issues for such prominent mention, the candidates are signaling that these are the positions they consider most important.

Obama and Romney on Energy and Environment: Side by Side




Regulatory process

Ensure that environmental laws properly account for cost; revisit Obama-era regulations; impose a regulatory cap of zero dollars on all federal agencies; require congressional approval of all new “major” regulations.

Air Pollution and Fossil-Fuel Use

Praises new fuel efficiency standards designed to nearly double the fuel economy of cars and light trucks; praises national standards for mercury emissions and other toxins from coal- and oil-fired power plants; other programs intended to cut oil imports in half by 2020 and support new jobs in natural gas.

Prevent overregulation of fracking; reexamine recent EPA toxics regulations (MACT rules); Clean Air Act needs to be overhauled; approval Keystone XL pipeline and favor additional pipelines with Canada and Mexico; by 2020, North America will be energy independent by taking full advantage of fossil fuels and other energy sources.

Climate Change

Investment in carbon capture and sequestration projects; will “continue to reduce the carbon pollution” because climate impacts are  “a threat to our children’s future.”

Amend Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide; criticizes Obama for addressing sea-level rise.

Renewable Energy

Praises existing programs to foster development of renewable energy; emphasizes green jobs; develop off-shore wind power

Concentrate alternative energy funding on basic research. Utilize long-term, apolitical funding mechanisms like ARPA-E for basic research; green jobs are a “myth”; 

Fossil fuel production

Opening of public lands for investments in clean energy; have “opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years” but will not endanger coastlines.

Drilling should be allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelves, Western lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and off the Alaska coast.Impose deadline for resource development reviews; states should be primarily in charge of regulating fracking.


Provide multi-year lead times before companies must comply with new regulations.


Part of “all of the above strategy.”

Expand NRC capabilities for approval of additional nuclear reactor designs.Streamline NRC processes reactors on or next to existing sites.

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