Republican nominee Mitt Romney lobbed the first zinger of the second presidential debate, saying of President Obama: “This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal.”
It’s not clear how much of a political advantage it would be to claim the title of “Mr. Coal,” but Romney’s riposte came in the course of an argument that he would do a better job of exploiting fossil fuels than Obama. The president, he charged, has cut energy production on federal lands and is responsible for high gas prices, which he said a Romney administration would bring down.
“Talk to the people that are working in those industries,” he said. “I was in coal country. People grabbed my arms and say, ‘Please, save my job.’ ”
However, Obama, hardly shrinking from the “Mr. Coal” sash, said he had overseen an increase in oil, gas and coal production, but had also made strides in green energy through expansion of wind and solar production and encouragement of more gas-efficient vehicles.
“Now, I want to build on that,” Obama said. “And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make a -- it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years’ worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas. And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficient energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand, and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.”
The exchange between the two candidates grew testy at points, with both insisting the other was misstating the record.
At one point, Romney charged, “In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.”
Obama shot back: “Not true, Gov. Romney.”
“So how much did you cut them by?” Romney said.
“It’s not true,” Obama repeated.
“By how much did you cut them by, then?” Romney insisted.
Obama did not precisely answer the question, but explained that while oil and gas production had increased on federal lands, the numbers of permits and licenses had declined because “you had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using.” He said the government took away the leases under the idea that “you use it or you lose it.” The government was in the process of re-leasing the same land, he said.
Romney, however, insisted that oil production was down 14% this year on federal land and gas production down 9% -- figures Obama insisted were false.
Those figures have come up before. The nonpartisan fact checker PolitiFact examined the oil production figure and rated the claim “mostly true.” It added, however, that while production had declined this year, production was up during two of the first three years of the Obama administration, and was up overall during Obama’s presidency.