Neither. The other night, President Obama and Governor Romney, had their third and final debate leading up to the November 6th election (which at the time of writing this article is only 13 days away). The intended focus of this debate was Foreign Policy, though it’s not as top-of-mind these days as the shaky state of the economy, is a very important topic. It’s important because at a fundamental level it relates to the security of the American “way of life”. As much could be determined by listening to the discussion points that dominated the debate: the nature of anti-American sentiment in Libya, the future of a war in Afghanistan, how do we prevent Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear program, etc. etc.
Appropriately, both candidates brought the discussion closer to home and expressed the importance of a strong domestic agenda in strengthening the U.S.’s ability to protect its interests and support its allies abroad. Energy policy is, of course, a critical part of this agenda, and much of the debate conversation that covered energy policy focused on reducing oil imports, to provide greater energy independence, and developing clean energy technologies, to also provide greater energy independence. However, when the topic is energy policy, these are the points that candidates ALWAYS talk about (when they’re not talking about rising or falling gas prices).
It turns out, though, that America’s “need” for energy independence is terribly OVERSTATED. To hear them talk, one would think that all of our energy is produced by Saudi Arabia and that we are doomed for destruction by some distant potentate. Firstly, the U.S. produces over 80% of its own energy, and is in fact the second largest producer of coal in the world, behind China, and coal is actually responsible for roughly 55% of power generation in the U.S. We also have more nuclear power plants than any other country in the world. Over a quarter of all nuclear power generated in the world is generated in the United States! We’re also the leading natural gas producer and the 3rd largest crude oil producer. The U.S. actually imports less than half (46%) of oil consumed in this country, and of that that is imported, 52% comes from the Western Hemisphere (22% from the Middle East – you thought this was 100% didn’t you?). Furthermore, when you take into account declines in domestic consumption, improvements in energy efficiency, increased use of biofuels, and increased domestic production, our dependence on imported oil is declining.
All of this is to say that politicians, on BOTH sides, have been known on more than one occasion to make something sound like more of a problem than it is so that their well thought out solutions will be sought out by the electorate. There are few topics that are more complicated, and wrought with more misconceptions, than energy policy, and so it becomes a perfect platform for breeding confusion and allowing the candidates to wrap themselves within a pseudo-expertise. However, it is not the candidates’ responsibility to provide transparency to their arguments, but OUR responsibility to look behind the veil.