SPIN #4: The Market Rules
This talking point is central to the theme of Romney's entire campaign: That unlike President Obama, he's a savvy businessman who understands how the economy works and who won't interfere in the free market. That's why Republicans continue to make such a stink about Solyndra, the solar company that defaulted on a $535 million federal loan. Romney and his surrogates point to Solyndra as proof that government should leave energy to the oil barons. During his convention speech, vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan singled out the firm for its "gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets."
In fact, Solyndra was encouraged to apply for the federal loan not by Obama but by the Bush administration. In addition, the company – which was backed by $1 billion in private capital – failed because of increased competition in the solar industry, which has been booming ever since Obama's stimulus passed. But that hasn't stopped congressional Republicans from issuing subpoenas for 300,000 pages of Solyndra documents and spending $1 million in taxpayer money on a political witch hunt that has uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing or corruption.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney understood the need to use government money to help jump-start clean energy. In 2003, he created the Green Energy Fund – a $15 million program designed to "provide equity capital, loans and management assistance to Massachusetts-based renewable-energy businesses." That was a sound plan – because in the world of energy, the government already plays a pivotal role in propping up the fossil-fuel industry, providing as much as $52 billion a year in annual subsidies. And that doesn't include the other costs that taxpayers and consumers bear for burning fossil fuels: polluted air and water, damaged crops, increased illness and death. The nation's most respected science organization, the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that burning fossil fuels costs Americans $120 billion a year – not counting the costs related to our changing climate, including increased floods and droughts.
When it comes to climate change, Romney is guided by polls, not science. As governor, he accepted the views of climate researchers (it's real and it's happening); as a primary candidate, he mouthed the views of crazy Tea Party denialists (it's a liberal plot to destroy the U.S. economy); now, as his party's nominee, he has adopted the views of establishment corporate denialists (maybe it's happening, but any action would be premature). The GOP platform brings up climate change only to bash it as a job killer. "We oppose any and all cap-and-trade legislation," the platform states – bluntly dismissing a proven, market-based approach to fighting climate change that the GOP once championed as an alternative to a carbon tax.
SPIN #5: Government Sucks
In mid-August, during a campaign stop in Ohio, Romney surrounded himself with coal miners and operators and accused the Obama administration of "waging a war on coal." In Romney's view, Obama – whom he has called the "antienergy president" – is using the power of federal agencies like the EPA to snuff out the coal industry by regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. If elected, Romney promises to roll back federal regulations that are suffocating the industry. "We have 250 years of coal – why in the heck wouldn't we use it?" Romney said as the miners roared in approval. "We're going to take advantage of our energy resources to save your jobs, to create more jobs."
In fact, Obama is far from an anti-energy zealot. He has called for more offshore drilling, resisted a push to enact tougher federalstandards for fracking, and delayed tighter standards on ozone pollution and other regulatory measures needed to save lives and reduce illness, arguing that the economic impact of the new rules would be too burdensome. Even more telling, domestic oil production has increased under Obama every year he has sat in the Oval Office – making him the first president to achieve such a dubious distinction since Lyndon Johnson.
As for Obama's "war on coal" – well, there isn't one. The coal industry is indeed in steep decline: 124 coal plants have been retired in the past two years, and the percentage of electricity generated from coal has dropped below 40 percent. Things are especially tough in West Virginia, where 2,000 workers have been laid off so far this year, and more mine closures are expected in the months to come.
But the problem isn't that Obama has cracked down on mountaintop removal mining (he hasn't) or passed a tax on carbon pollution (he won't even mention it). The problem is that coal is being killed off by larger economic forces, including the falling price of natural gas and renewable energy, as well as the simple fact that, after 150 years of mining, America's mountains are tapped out. "All the cheap, easy-to-get coal in central Appalachia is gone," says Robert Ukeiley, a noted environmental lawyer in Kentucky. "That's just a geological fact. There is no politician who can change that or scapegoat anybody."
Once upon a time, Romney understood that government regulations are not about killing American industry but about preventing industry from killing Americans. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney fought for environmental controls on a coal plant that was responsible for dozens of premature deaths and 14,400 asthma attacks each year. Announcing the new regulations on coal pollution, Romney declared that he would "not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people."
But now that he's running for president, Romney has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil-fuel industry. In his new view, financed by Big Oil and Big Coal, creating jobs that kill people is apparently the price America must pay to become an energy superpower.
This story is from the September 27th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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