Newt Gingrich trounced Mitt Romney in South Carolina, ensuring that the race for the GOP nomination will likely continue for weeks to come. The Republican establishment may have settled on Romney, but voters keep throwing their support behind the anti-Romney -- whichever candidate of the moment sounds as different from the supposedly "moderate" Massachusetts governor as possible.
Right now, Gingrich is the one generating all the passion. But if one goes by their campaign statements, Gingrich differs from Romney more in style (and personal life) than in substance. Gingrich has more spit and fire in him, but he and Romney share many views, including their similarly outdated approach to energy development.
We've heard the same tired ideas during the primaries, and we will hear them again in the Republican response to the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night: candidates offer plenty of attacks on Obama, but no new vision for America's energy future.
Gingrich may be the man who wrote the book, Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less: A Handbook for Solving Our Energy Crisis, but Romney is just as eager to rely on the same fossil fuels we've been using for the past 100 years. Romney's energy blueprint, included in his "Believe in America" economic plan, calls for flinging open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy companies, sinking wells into the deepwater, and expanding fracking in the Marcellus Shale, despite a long list of environmental and public health concerns (not to mention small earthquakes).
Neither Romney nor Gingrich has a fresh plan for an energy future built on innovation and cutting-edge technology. Neither one talks about how better-performing cars are putting 150,000 Americans to work right now and helping slash our oil addiction at the same time. Neither one trumpets the fact that American engineers are already making breakthroughs in the next generation of solar technology. And neither one of them urges America to lead what has been estimated as the $243 billion global clean energy market.
Instead, both Romney and Gingrich seem to view renewable technologies as a wasteful distraction. This despite the fact that the Department of Defense -- the nation's largest consumer of energy -- has pledged to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 because of national security concerns.
The candidates like to demagogue about energy independence, but they have no plan to achieve it besides doing more of the same -- an approach that hasn't worked so far. We saw it in Gingrich's acceptance speech in South Carolina: "I want America to become so energy independent that no American president ever again bows to a Saudi king." That is a fine aspiration, but instead of encouraging Detroit to build more fuel-efficient engines or farmers to grow sustainable biofuels, he called for expanding offshore drilling and approving the Keystone XL pipeline.
When your home has 1.6 percent of the globe's proven oil reserves and you consume 26 percent of the world's supply, there is a limit to how much you can influence supply. That's not politics; it's geology.
And building a pipeline from a friendly ally won't help much when the pipeline operators routinely say in the Canadian press that a primary goal of Keystone XL is to access Asian markets. The same operators have refused in Congressional testimony to commit to selling the majority of their oil to the United States. Instead, they are rerouting it out of the Midwest and into the "Foreign Trade Zone" in Port Arthur, Texas, where companies get incentives to export from of the United States.
Approving a pipeline to help dirty tar sands oil get to Asia is not a long-term plan for America's energy system. Opening more ocean waters to drilling won't position us to lead the next generation of energy breakthroughs. But that doesn't stop Gingrich and Romney from singing the same old song again and again.
President Obama recognizes that America's energy leadership will be built on clean technologies. Last week he kicked off his presidential campaign advertising with an ad devoted to the economic power of clean energy. I expect he will highlight it again in the State of the Union.
Here is how I expect the GOP candidates to respond: They will criticize Obama's clean energy programs and sprinkle in fossil fuel buzzwords like Keystone and drilling. But their complaints can't cover the fact that they have no fresh ideas, no innovation, and no groundbreaking vision for America's energy future.