Obama's Energy Policy Contrasts With Romney's Plan

Melissa Block talks with Steven Mufson, who covers energy for the Washington Post, about Obama's energy policy over the past four years. They discuss its successes, failures and if the U.S. is any closer to energy independence.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We're going to talk now about how Mitt Romney's energy plan lines up with the Obama administration's policies. To help do that, I'm joined by Steven Mufson, who covers energy for the Washington Post. Steven, welcome to the program.

STEVEN MUFSON: Thanks.

BLOCK: And let's start with the big focus of Mitt Romney's plan, which is domestic oil drilling. When you think about President Obama's track record here, you do hear mixed messages. The oil industry says the administration has been slow in issuing new drilling permits. The administration says that's not the case. What is true?

MUFSON: Well, the administration has been cautious about permits on some of the onshore federal lands. And I think one of the big controversies between the industry and the administration has been over permits offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, as their permitting was interrupted by the tremendously large BP oil spill in 2010. So that's a little bit hard to blame the administration for. And drilling there is pretty much back where it was before the oil spill took place.

BLOCK: President Obama does highlight that U.S. oil production is up, that natural gas is up. How much is it up?

MUFSON: Well, it's up substantially. Maybe - I don't want to blame Obama for certain things like permitting. I'm sure he should take credit for the increase either since a lot of those drilling permits were issued under President Bush. The credit for the drilling boom really belongs to some innovations in private industry and the extremely high price of oil, which is a tremendous incentive for people to go out there and drill.

Production is back to the highest level it's been since 1994. It's a little bit over 6 million barrels a day. That's still only a small portion of the oil we consume. We consume in the vicinity of 15, 16, 17 million barrels a day.

BLOCK: We've heard President Obama talk about an all of the above energy policy with a large focus on renewable energy - wind and solar. What has he been able to accomplish in that area and where has he come up short?

MUFSON: Well, he put an enormous amount of money from the stimulus bill into renewable energy projects and it's been a mixed track record, most famously the Solyndra half-billion dollar loan guarantee for the solar panel maker, which went bankrupt. But the amount of money that's gone into projects that have failed is still somewhat less than what was originally forecast for the failure rate in the beginning.

So it hasn't been a spectacular success. It hasn't been a spectacular failure. It's a little early to tell for a lot of these things. And the other problem is that all these technologies, whether they're renewable or nuclear or even coal, are competing against extremely low natural gas prices and that has really rearranged calculations for all other forms of energy.

BLOCK: And tied in with energy policy, what can you say about the Obama administration's record on climate legislation or regulating greenhouse gas emissions?

MUFSON: Well, it's hard to remember, but four years ago, we were all talking about Cap and Trade and climate legislation that would've limited the emissions of greenhouse gases. That failed, so what's left is a patchwork of policies that will still end up lowering U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases and that's succeeding in part because of policies from the Environmental Protection Agency, but also, again, because of low natural gas prices.

Perhaps the most important thing that the Obama administration's accomplished was when they raised the fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and trucks. More than half the oil we use goes into American cars and trucks and more than one in ten barrels of oil produced in the entire globe goes into American cars and trucks.

So increasing the efficiency of those vehicles is very important and maybe one of his most lasting legacies and will also help on the climate front.

BLOCK: Steven Mufson covers energy for The Washington Post. Steven, thank you.

MUFSON: Thank you.

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