Gas prices hover around $4 a gallon in many parts of the nation. With just more than a month to go before Americans head to the polls, energy policy is taking on increased importance.
The campaigns seem to have caught on. Gov. Mitt Romney, who so far has shied away from policy specifics, broke from that trend and released a comprehensive document outlining his energy vision—a plan largely in concert with manufacturers’ priorities. President Barack Obama touted his achievements during his nomination acceptance speech, citing the growth of renewables and decline of oil sourced from abroad.
Energy is the ultimate pocketbook issue, so its prominence on the campaign trail is no surprise. And, just as the public is attuned to the cost of energy, so too are manufacturers. After all, manufacturers use one-third of the energy consumed in the United States, so energy prices have a major impact on our bottom lines and ultimately the prices consumers pay for the goods we produce.
Yet, despite the overwhelming importance of secure and reliable energy to voters and our economy, the United States lacks a clear energy strategy. Republicans and Democrats have set forth bold visions—think energy independence—over the years, but have not achieved their ambitions. Who sets energy policy in the United States? Depending on whom you ask, you’ll probably get a different answer.
When the chief justice swears in our next president on Jan. 20, manufacturers want a leader who will commit to an energy strategy that puts economic growth and job creation over political agendas. President Obama and Gov. Romney have both committed to an energy future that meets the needs of a growing economy, though they would get there through different approaches.
Here are three guideposts for the next president to follow to get our economy—and manufacturing—back on track:
1. No More Missed Opportunities
American energy policy of late has been a catalog of missed opportunities, one of the biggest being the failure to grant approval for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline is a sure job creator and will provide the United States with secure energy supplies from Canada’s oil sands. There’s simply no excuse to continue the delay. In addition to accessing these oil supplies from Canada, the United States must also explore and develop its own oil resources, such as those on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The United States has also missed opportunities to expand its energy portfolio as a result of misplaced priorities. Instead of seeking ways to expand the nation’s energy portfolio, the current administration has frequently targeted the oil and gas sectors with tax increases, even though the economy relies and will continue to rely on these energy sources. Tax increases would cost jobs, increase consumer costs and make achieving North American energy independence an even steeper challenge. Policymakers can’t let their preference for specific energy sources crowd out valuable initiatives in other areas.
2. Energy Policy by Legislation, Not Regulation
When Congress is gridlocked, the natural tendency is for the regulators to fill the void, and that is exactly what has happened over the past few years. During this administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken an increasingly aggressive regulatory approach and has at times found itself at odds with Congress and the courts. The next president must rein in the agencies by working with Congress to craft legislative solutions to our energy challenges. This includes not only making specific regulations less burdensome but also exploring real reforms to the regulatory process.
3. “All of the Above” Means “All of the Above”
Both President Obama and Gov. Romney have declared their support for an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, but their visions contrast. A true “all-of-the-above” policy embraces all energy forms—that means oil, coal, nuclear and natural gas. It also includes alternatives and renewables like wind and solar. It also means a strong commitment to energy efficiency.
Manufacturers want a president, Republican or Democrat, who will demonstrate leadership on energy policy by utilizing this country’s incredible resource wealth to improve our competitiveness.
Of course, as President Obama knows and Gov. Romney may find out, advancing one’s policy priorities is no easy task. Whoever wins the White House must use his bully pulpit to promote policies that encourage energy development and production, putting the advancement of competitive, pro-growth and pro-jobs policies before the appeasement of narrow special interest political constituencies.
Jay Timmons is President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the nation’s largest manufacturing association.