“Presidential” energy debate in Denver

Obama campaign: Use every weapon in fight for energy independence, including reduced demand

Romney campaign: Drill on public lands, and slam Solyndra

By Seth Masia

Federico Peña

During the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, little was said by either candidate regarding energy policy or climate issues.

The resounding silence was partially filled a week later, when the Denver Metro Chamber hosted a one-hour “Presidential Energy Surrogate Debate,” with former Secretary of Energy Federico Peña, representing President Barack Obama, facing off against former Colorado Governor Bill Owens, representing Mitt Romney. Political reporter Eli Stokols, of the local Fox 31 TV station, moderated.

An audience of about 150 turned out for the early morning session, many of them wearing Romney/Ryan lapel stickers.

Bill Owens

Before entering politics, Owens worked as executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Association and as executive vice president of the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association. Today he is managing director at Front Range Resources, a Denver-based land and water development firm, and sits on the boards of a number of energy development companies.

Peña was a Denver attorney before entering politics. After serving two terms as Denver’s mayor, he was appointed Secretary of Transportation, and later Secretary of Energy, by President Bill Clinton. Since leaving Washington he has worked for the investment firm Vestar Capital Partners, where he is a managing director.

Owens capably represented the Romney campaign view: “Obama was elected based on what he said he would do,” Owens said. “If elected he would cut the deficit in half and change the culture of Washington. He hasn’t done either of those things,” and is not likely to do them in a second term, either. On energy specifically, Owens characterized Energy Secretary Steven Chu as “a brilliant physicist with little experience relevant to energy production.” The critical issue for Owens: oil production on public lands has dropped 6 percent since 2008. Owens claims this is due to a consistent policy of opposition to fossil fuels development within the Obama administration.

Peña said that Secretary Chu has done a great job and so has Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “President Obama has focused on energy policy very broadly,” he said. Pena called the Romney energy strategy narrow, focusing purely on development of domestic fossil fuels with no mention at all of demand reduction. The main goal for the Obama administration, he said, has been energy independence as a national security priority. He called that policy a success thus far, noting that

  • Domestic oil and gas production have risen each year of the Obama administration, after falling steadily during the Bush years.
  • Oil imports have dropped 18 percent from their peak of 10.4 million barrels per day in August, 2006.
  • Domestic oil provides 39 percent of American consumption today, up from 32 percent in 2006.
  • Cars and trucks are using less fuel, thanks to new efficiency standards calling for 54mpg fleet average by 2027. This will save 2.2 million barrels of oil per day.
  • Electricity prices have fallen during this administration.
  • Wind and solar capacity has increased dramatically.
  • The use of coal for electricity production has fallen from 50 percent to 42 percent and is on the way to 39 percent – due to the availability of cheaper natural gas and not to any Obama “war” on the coal industry. Coal production has, in fact, increased during the Obama administration as coal companies exploit export markets.

“If you believe that energy independence is a national security imperative we should use all the weapons we have available,” Peña said. That includes renewable energy and demand reduction.

Owens decried Federal investment in renewable energy, citing the Solyndra bankruptcy several times. He called fossil fuel subsidies “normal business tax deductions.” He pointed out that increased oil and gas production is due to new drilling and fracking technologies, developed with private capital. Peña countered that Department of Energy R&D funding supported fracking research beginning in 1976, and said the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program has had more than a 90-percent success rate.

“Every president since Nixon has promised to reduce dependence on foreign oil,” Peña said. “Obama is the only one to succeed.”

Also see the Denver Post report by Howard Pankratz.


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