No Slate, Romney Did Not “School” The President On Science Policy

As a founding member of ScienceDebate, I must politely disagree with Laura Helmuth’s well-circulated Slate piece entitled, “Romney Out-Debates Obama: How the GOP candidate schooled the president on science policy.” That’s a strong declaration, and from a scientific standpoint – an unfair assessment.

It’s true that many of Romney’s answers to the 14 science questions were longer in length than Obama’s. But both sets of responses were too highly variable to claim that anyone “schooled” anyone. Highlighting question 2 specifically, it’s clear that the GOP candidate has a lot to learn about a very critical global challenge:

2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
Barack Obama: Climate change is the one of the biggest issues of this generation, and we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits. Since taking office I have established historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles for the first time in history. My administration has made unprecedented investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants and reduced carbon emissions within the Federal Government. Since I took office, the U.S. is importing an average of 3 million fewer barrels of oil every day, and our dependence on foreign oil is at a 20-year low. We are also showing international leadership on climate change, reaching historic agreements to set emission limits in unison with all major developed and developing nations. There is still more to be done to address this global problem. I will continue efforts to reduce our dependence on oil and lower our greenhouse gas emissions while creating an economy built to last. Mitt Romney:I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences. However, there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue — on the extent of the warming, the extent of the human contribution, and the severity of the risk — and I believe we must support continued debate and investigation within the scientific community.Ultimately, the science is an input to the public policy decision; it does not dictate a particular policy response. President Obama has taken the view that if global warming is occurring, the American response must be to slash carbon dioxide emissions by imposing enormous costs on the U.S. economy. First he tried a massive cap-and-trade bill that would have devastated U.S. industry. When that approach was rejected by Congress, he declared his intention to pursue the same course on his own and proceeded through his EPA to impose rules that will bankrupt the coal industry.Nowhere along the way has the President indicated what actual results his approach would achieve — and with good reason. The reality is that the problem is called Global Warming, not America Warming. China long ago passed America as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Developed world emissions have leveled off while developing world emissions continue to grow rapidly, and developing nations have no interest in accepting economic constraints to change that dynamic. In this context, the primary effect of unilateral action by the U.S. to impose costs on its own emissions will be to shift industrial activity overseas to nations whose industrial processes are more emissions-intensive and less environmentally friendly. That result may make environmentalists feel better, but it will not better the environment.

So I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run. So I believe we should pursue what I call a “No Regrets” policy — steps that will lead to lower emissions, but that will benefit America regardless of whether the risks of global warming materialize and regardless of whether other nations take effective action.

For instance, I support robust government funding for research on efficient, low-emissions technologies that will maintain American leadership in emerging industries. And I believe the federal government must significantly streamline the regulatory framework for the deployment of new energy technologies, including a new wave of investment in nuclear power. These steps will strengthen American industry, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and produce the economically-attractive technologies that developing nations must have access to if they are to achieve the reductions in their own emissions that will be necessary to address what is a global issue.

Read all of their positions here

Obama And Romney Answer Top American Science Questions

In 2007, friends and I launched ScienceDebate – a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative to get presidential candidates to address science and technology issues along the campaign trail. This year we presented both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney with fourteen questions focusing on key science policy issues like energy, climate change, food security, and more. Today we have their answers!

Here’s an excerpt, but make sure to read all of their positions here:

6. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?

Barack Obama:

Since taking office, I have supported an all-of-the-above energy approach that will allow us to take control of our energy future, one where we safely and responsibly develop America’s many energy resources – including natural gas, wind, solar, oil, clean coal, and biofuels – while investing in clean energy and increasing fuel efficiency standards to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

I know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the global economy in the 21st century. That’s why I have made the largest investment in clean energy and energy efficiency in American history and proposed an ambitious Clean Energy Standard to generate 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources like wind, solar, clean coal, and natural gas by 2035. Since taking office, electricity production from wind and solar sources has already more than doubled in the United States. We are boosting our use of cleaner fuels, including increasing the level of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline and implementing a new Renewable Fuel Standard that will save nearly 14 billion gallons of petroleum-based gasoline in 2022. America has regained its position as the world’s leading producer of natural gas. My administration is promoting the safe, responsible development of America’s near 100-year supply of natural gas that will help support more than 600,000 jobs. Because of these actions, we are positioning ourselves to have cleaner and cheaper sources of fuel that make us more energy secure and position the U.S. as a world leader in the clean energy economy.

Mitt Romney:

A crucial component of my plan for a stronger middle class is to dramatically increase domestic energy production and partner closely with Canada and Mexico to achieve North American energy independence by 2020. While President Obama has described his own energy policy as a “hodgepodge,” sent billions of taxpayer dollars to green energy projects run by political cronies, rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline as not in “the national interest,” and sought repeatedly to stall development of America’s domestic resources, my path forward would establish America as an energy superpower in the 21st century.

The goal of energy independence has long proved elusive, but analysts across the spectrum — energy experts, investment firms, even academics at Harvard University — now recognize that surging U.S. energy production, combined with the resources of America’s neighbors, can meet all of the continent’s energy needs within a decade. The key is to embrace these resources and open access to them.

A successful national energy strategy will have a fundamental influence on the well-being of the nation. An expansion in the affordable, reliable supply of domestically produced energy can bolster the competitiveness of virtually every industry within the country, creating millions of new jobs from coast to coast. With fewer energy imports and more exports of manufactured goods, America’s trade deficit will decline and the dollar will strengthen.

The benefits even extend beyond immediate economic growth. The lease payments, royalties, and taxes paid to the American people in return for the development of the nation’s resources can yield literally trillions of dollars in new government revenue. Lower energy prices can ease the burdens on household budgets. And all Americans can rest assured that the nation’s security is no longer beholden to unstable but oil-rich regions half way around the world.

I have put forward a six-part plan for achieving these goals. First, I will empower states to control onshore energy development, including on federal lands within their borders. Second, I will open offshore areas to development. Third, I will pursue a North American Energy Partnership so that America can benefit from the resources of its neighbors. Fourth, I will ensure accurate assessment of the nation’s energy resources by updating decades-old surveys that do not reflect modern technological capabilities. Fifth, I will restore transparency and fairness to permitting and regulation. And sixth, I will facilitate private-sector-led development of new energy technologies.

Throughout this agenda, I remain committed to implementing and enforcing strong environmental protections that ensure all energy development activity is conducted in a safe and responsible manner. But whereas President Obama has used environmental regulation as an excuse to block the development of resources and the construction of infrastructure, I will pursue a course that designs regulation not to stifle energy production but instead to facilitate responsible use of all energy sources — from oil and coal and natural gas, to nuclear and hydropower and biofuels, to wind and solar. Energy development, economic growth, and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand if the government focuses on transparency and fairness instead of seeking to pick winners and repay political favors.

A full white paper describing my plan for energy independence is available at