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Renewable Energy Gets Brief Mention During 2012 Presidential Debate

Wednesday night was a dry one for those playing renewable energy-themed drinking games during the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In the course of the entire 90-minute debate, which focused specifically on domestic issues with the economy and health care taking front and center, not a single mention was made of global warming or climate change by either candidate.

There were, however, sparing mentions of renewable energy sprinkled throughout the evening’s discussion, but not nearly enough to satisfy those who view it as a critical election year issue. Obama was the first to make mention of it, citing his administration’s commitment for continued investment in renewable energy. In his opening statement, Obama said, “I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America.” He went on to stress the importance of reducing the national deficit “in a balanced way that allows us to make these critical investments.” 

In contrast, Romney’s opening statement stopped short of calling for the need for expanded investments in clean energy, instead citing energy independence as the first of his five-point plan to generate job recovery throughout the United States, where the current unemployment rate is estimated at 8.3 percent.

“My plan has five basic parts,” Romney said. “One, get us energy independent, North American energy independent. That creates about 4 million jobs.” Critics of Romney’s approach to energy independence say that his plan would call only for increased use of fossil fuels and a likely scaling back of financial support for the wind and solar power industries.

Later in the debate, Obama touched briefly again on renewable energy when he said, “Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we've got to boost American energy production, and oil and natural gas production are higher than they've been in years. But I also believe that we've got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.” 

To date, the Obama administration has ramped up support for clean energy programs, investing some $40 billion into renewable energy companies. Obama has also proposed a Clean Energy Standard, which would mandate a majority of the country’s electricity – 80 percent – to be generated by non-carbon sources such as wind and solar power by the year 2035. 

Romney later criticized the Obama administration’s investments in clean energy. “In one year,” Romney said, “you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green energy world.” He went on to say “I like green energy too” but held up Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar manufacturer, as an example of why he prefers the idea of privatization in renewable energy.

That there was little mention about renewable energy during Wednesday night’s debate may be greatly attributed to its overall tone, which saw both candidates sparring back and forth as each attempted to clarify his stances against the other’s allegations. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer was later criticized for failing to keep the candidates in check as they continuously exceeded their allotted response time limits. 

Possibly the last opportunity for voters to press both candidates on their plans to combat global warming and climate change will arrive on October 16, when Obama and Romney are planned to square off in the second of three scheduled debates. Taking the form of a town hall meeting, the candidates will answer questions directly from audience members on a number of issues ranging from foreign to domestic policy.

Lead image: American silouhette via Shutterstock

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