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Our "Independent" Dependence: Why Romney's Plan Doesn't Add Up

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Update (6:04PM EST 9/4/2012): The Energy Information Administration's 2012 Annual Energy Outlook forecasts on page 170-171 that North America can produce 3 million barrels per day of liquid fuel from unconventional sources such as energy crops, coal, natural gas and bitumen (oil sands). This will add another 1.1 billion barrels per year of production, still leaving the USA and its territories .6 billion barrels short of projected demand (7 billion barrels) in 2020.

That means, even if the USA consumes all the oil produced in North America in 2020 from conventional and unconventional sources, we would still need to import .6 billion barrels from overseas.

If Mexico and Canada's consumption is included (roughly 1.7 billion barrels), then we would need to import 2.3 billion barrels, or 33% of our oil from overseas.

That's why a fossil-fuel only energy strategy doesn't add up.

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In Governor Romney's nomination acceptance speech, he referred to a five-point plan for America. The first point calls for making the U.S. "energy independent" by 2020. I've read the "Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class: Energy Independence." It just doesn't add up.

The Romney plan would still have the U.S. relying on imported oil -- from Mexico and Canada -- to meet our projected oil needs in 2020. However, according to the Energy Information Administration 2012 Annual Energy Outlook, the total U.S., Mexico and Canada combined annual oil production from conventional sources (roughly 5.3 billion barrels) is still 1.7 billion barrels short of estimated U.S. projected consumption in 2020 (roughly 7 billion barrels). Furthermore, the Annual Energy Outlook projects that the total petroleum production from conventional and unconventional (energy crops, coal, natural gas and oil sands) sources will total 6.4 billion barrels per year in 2020. This is still .5 billion barrels short of the total demand of the U.S. and .6 billion barrels short of the U.S. and it's territories. If the oil consumption of Mexico and Canada is to be met with North American production, we would be 2.3 billion barrels short, requiring us to import 33 percent of our oil from overseas. Not exactly energy independence.

If that bad math doesn't disqualify the Romney "energy independence" plan, its simplistic "bet-the-farm" reliance on fossil fuels surely does. Oil takes hundreds of thousands of years to form. But with his plan, it won't take very long at all to burn up our children's and grandchildren's natural resource inheritance. Future generations probably won't be better off with fossilized, business as usual policies.

President Obama's plan -- not just proposed but underway as we speak -- emphasizes energy efficiency and conservation. It utilizes natural gas as a potentially good bridge to alternatives including nuclear and renewable energy. Whereas Romney's plan reads like a potpourri of delicious treats for the Big Oil lobby, President Obama is actually working with industry to make progress with his "all of the above" energy strategy. Just last week the administration and automakers established a new fuel economy standard for 2025 of 54.5 mpg. And the much-maligned Obama "stimulus" program for energy is laying the foundation for lightweight, hybrid and electric vehicles. These policy and technology innovations allow cars to go farther on a gallon of gasoline, helping to close the gap between North American oil production and consumption, thus making our energy use sustainable. So how can Mitt Romney blame President Obama for high gas prices and do it with a straight face?

The critics may have been too hard on the Republicans when they said last week's convention failed to produce clear messages about what the party wants to do and a clear portrait of its nominee. I think it's clear. Whether it's the Romney promise to "empower states to control on-shore energy development," or letting the states decide if poor people get health care through what is now Medicaid or how to best compete with China and India, to mention two, in educating our young people, there's a very simple way of explaining it. It's just outsourcing by another name. But as President of the United States, you can't outsource leadership. The person occupying the Oval Office must implement a comprehensive energy strategy that is focused on achieving energy security and a cleaner environment. This will require a stable, national energy policy.

Kristina M. Johnson is the former Under Secretary of Energy, United States Department of Energy and currently CEO of Enduring Hydro, a clean energy company focused on hydropower.

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