Now that climate change is on the agenda, is it time to be scared of a Romney Presidency?

Should People be Scared of a Possible Romney Presidency?

By DBL Partners
November 5, 2012

See the full Pando Daily arti­cle from the day before the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion here.

In the US, Hur­ri­cane Sandy’s destruc­tive power was largely focused on the East Coast. But it has also had a sig­nif­i­cant effect at the national level, espe­cially because the coun­try is get­ting ready to vote for a Pres­i­dent. In short, it has thrust cli­mate change back onto the polit­i­cal agenda. That point was high­lighted when Mayor Bloomberg gave Obama a sur­prise endorse­ment in the wake of the hur­ri­cane, cit­ing cli­mate change as his rea­son. That means we should now expect more scrutiny of clean energy, a sub­ject close to the heart of the tech com­mu­nity, as a polit­i­cal issue. So, given the Repub­li­cans’ cli­mate change skep­ti­cism and sup­port for, and from, the fossil-​​fuel indus­try, does that mean peo­ple should be scared of a pos­si­ble Rom­ney Presidency?

Not nec­es­sar­ily.

One promi­nent Sil­i­con Val­ley investor who has expe­ri­ence work­ing under both Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­tic admin­is­tra­tions says clean energy pro­po­nents shouldn’t fear a Rom­ney Pres­i­dency all that much. His past record as Gov­er­nor of Mass­a­chu­setts and the grow­ing draw of green jobs mean it would be polit­i­cally inex­pe­di­ent for him to turn his back on clean energy.

Rom­ney has crit­i­cized spend­ing on clean energy projects, specif­i­cally in the pres­i­den­tial debates, when he sug­gested that gov­ern­ment should stay out of invest­ing in clean-​​tech com­pa­nies such as clean-​​car star­tups Tesla and Fisker. Accord­ing to his pol­icy plat­form, he would end pro­duc­tion tax cred­its for wind projects, and he’s against Obama’s fuel effi­ciency stan­dards. Per­haps most mem­o­rably, in his speech to the Repub­li­can National Con­ven­tion, he mocked Obama for want­ing to slow the rise of sea lev­els. In the wake of Hur­ri­cane Sandy, the group Fore­cast­The­Facts spliced those com­ments and the audience’s cheer­ing with footage of the dev­as­tat­ing effects of the hur­ri­cane into avideo ad that it posted to YouTube. The video so far has more than 600,000 views.

But Rom­ney, accord­ing to Nancy Pfund of DBL Part­ners, is likely not as ambiva­lent about clean energy as his rhetoric would sug­gest. The fact that some of the most promi­nent Repub­li­can gov­er­nors pre­side over states where green jobs are grow­ing the fastest sug­gests that Rom­ney wouldn’t neglect clean energy, says Pfund, who sits on the boards of a num­ber of clean energy com­pa­nies, such as Primus Power, SolarCity, Solaria, and Eco­logic, and is an advi­sor to Tesla.

I think that he just has to bal­ance the fact that he has a lot of sup­port from the tra­di­tional incum­bents, from fos­sil, from coal, from nuclear, so he’s obvi­ously going to wave those flags very, very high,” she says. “But I don’t think he’s going to turn his back on renew­ables. It’s just not polit­i­cally smart.”

In the 1980s, Pfund was an appointee to the National Advi­sory Coun­cil for Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy and Tech­nol­ogy under Pres­i­dent George HW Bush, and in 1999 she was appointed to Pres­i­dent Clinton’s Web-​​Based Edu­ca­tion Com­mis­sion. So she has a fair idea of how each party thinks about issues such as clean energy. She notes that on both sides of the aisle there is sup­port for decreas­ing US depen­dence on off­shore oil, and for less­en­ing the country’s impact on the climate.

She also points to a recent DBL report that shows in eight out of 10 cases, green jobs are grow­ing the fastest in Repub­li­can or swing states. Energy is key to job cre­ation, and renew­ables rep­re­sent a grow­ing part of energy. “Increas­ingly you want see as much of a par­ti­san lock on renew­ables, because they’re going to be every­where,” she says. “No politi­cian wants to trash an indus­try that’s employ­ing a bunch of his or her constituents.”

At the same time, how­ever, Rom­ney wants to increase non-​​renewable fuel pro­duc­tion in the US, Canada, and Mex­ico, in part to achieve North Amer­i­can energy inde­pen­dence by 2020. He’s also a big sup­porter of nuclear, which he calls a “win-​​win.” Given today’s par­ti­san polit­i­cal cli­mate, he is also likely to be held in check but the most immod­er­ate ele­ments of the Repub­li­can party, who range from the House mem­bers who put for­ward the “Stop the War on Coal” bill to cli­mate change deniers such as Sen­a­tor Jim Inhofe.

Pfund says the increas­ingly bit­ter par­ti­san­ship has been a fea­ture of pol­i­tics since the time she was on the com­mis­sion under the first Pres­i­dent Bush. In those days, the mod­er­ate part of the Repub­li­can party was much stronger and much more vocal, she says, and there was more of a tra­di­tion of bi-​​partisan cre­ation of laws. “There was more of a ‘Let’s get this done, let’s not trash each other’ ethic,” she says. “These days, you see much less work­ing together and a lot more crit­i­cism of the other party.” But that, she says, goes beyond clean tech. “It’s just unfor­tu­nately what our two-​​party sys­tem has devolved into.”

Who­ever wins the Pres­i­dency tomor­row, then, we can prob­a­bly look for­ward to more fight­ing over America’s clean energy future, even as Hur­ri­cane Sandy still rings loud in our ears.