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Mitt Romney's Energy Plan: Of The Fossil Fuel Lobby, By The Fossil Fuel Lobby

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Barack Obama has given "billions of taxpayer dollars to green energy projects run by political cronies," according to an ambitious new energy plan rolled out last week by the president's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

It's a tired and demonstrably false charge that Romney and his supporters nonetheless continue to make -- and here it is deployed as a way of setting Romney's energy vision somehow above and apart from such favor-peddling.

In a nutshell, the Romney energy plan calls for a loosening of federal environmental regulations and a great unleashing of oil, gas and coal development -- including expanded drilling off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas, and on protected federal lands everywhere.

Toward that latter ambition, Romney, whose coronation as the Republican Party's nominee for president is unfolding this week, would undo decades of federal stewardship over the nation's parks, giving over development decisions to individual states.

The words "climate change" and "global warming" are nowhere to be found in the 21-page document. The term "greenhouse gas" appears just once, in a passage decrying the Obama administration's efforts to curb noxious emissions from the nation's coal-fired power plants.

Sure, the Romney energy plan was drafted in close consultation with the candidate's allies and supporters in the fossil fuel industries -- including his chief energy policy adviser, the billionaire oilman Harold Hamm. But that's not cronyism, right? It's just ... policymaking.

Needless to say, the arrival of such a fair and balanced energy plan was broadly welcomed by those who stand to benefit from it.

"The Romney plan demonstrates a very clear understanding of how America's oil and natural gas companies, like mine, work," said Virginia Lazenby, chairwoman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a trade group, and chief executive of Nashville-based oil and gas company, Bretagne, LLC, in a prepared statement. "It unleashes the potential of America's independent producers, which will result in millions of jobs, revenues to federal, state, and local governments and a more secure United States."

For just about everyone else -- environmental groups, climate activists, and even moderate supporters of oil and gas development in the United States -- the plan's silence on climate, and its near-silence on newer, cleaner forms of energy, was baffling.

"The plan promises independence for big oil companies," Dan Weiss, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a left-leaning advocacy group in Washington, said in an emailed statement. "Big oil would become independent from paying its fair share of taxes, safeguarding public health from its pollution, and competing with new, cleaner energy technologies."

Rob Sisson, the president of ConservAmerica, a group working to re-connect the Republican party with its roots in environmental stewardship, said he supports careful development of America's oil and gas industry. But he was particularly distressed with Romney's plan to give over the nation's public lands to individual states, where they would almost certainly be rapidly exploited by fossil fuel prospectors.

"Public lands belong to all Americans and have been dedicated for the use and enjoyment of all Americans since the days of Theodore Roosevelt," Sisson said in a document circulated to the press. "These lands do not belong to individual states, any more than the Grand Canyon belongs to Arizona or Yosemite belongs to California.

"We Republicans must listen to the young conservatives in our ranks who understand the science of climate change," Sisson added, "and who are fighting for cleaner energy sources to ensure a safer, cleaner energy future for our country."

To the extent that the Obama administration has pursued such goals -- and the president has plenty of critics who say he hasn't done enough -- Romney and his supporters cry cronyism.

Meanwhile, working alongside oil and gas industry executives to draft a plan that rolls back protections for clean air and water, expands oil and gas production on protected lands and in coastal waters, and otherwise doubles-down on fossil fuels -- and doing all of this while giving short-shrift to climate change and the still-embryonic renewable energy industry -- well, that's just aimed at "the well-being of the nation," according to Romney's energy plan.

No special favors here.

Indeed, the justification for Romney's oil and gas intensive energy policy in the United States is ostensibly twofold: jobs -- more than three million new ones are at stake, the candidate claims -- and that elusive thing called "energy independence."

These seem laudable goals on their face, but as Michael Levi, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, noted recently, they are distractions. The United States is likely to remain deeply integrated in -- and subject to the price fluctuations of -- the global oil market for decades to come, Levi points out. And while a domestic oil and gas boom will certainly create jobs -- it already is, in fact -- those dividends would diminish as the economy recovers and oil and gas jobs begin to come at the expense of others.

"[W]e can't drill our way out of America's job crisis," Levi wrote.

Two weeks ago, as Romney and his team were drafting this new American energy policy, roughly 90 workers were laid off at a Pueblo, Colo., wind tower manufacturing facility. Vestas, the global wind energy leader and the owner of the Pueblo factory, announced 30 more layoffs this week at another plant two hours north, in Brighton. The company pointed to federal lawmakers, who continue to squabble over an expiring tax credit that supports wind power production.

The sun is scheduled to set on that benefit at the end of the year.

The Vestas layoffs come on the heels of hundreds of others across the American wind power industry in Oklahoma, North Dakota, Arkansas and elsewhere, as the uncertain future of the tax credit causes potential investors to get jittery, and project financing to wither.

The American Wind Energy Association, the industry's main lobby group, suggests that as many as 37,000 jobs could be lost if the tax credit is not renewed. That prediction is, of course, hard to verify, but there's no question that the stakes are high and that a large number of workers will find themselves jobless should Congress fail to act.

Romey's apparent take? Expand oil and gas development, roll back environmental regulations, leave lucrative tax subsidies for fossil fuel interests in place -- and kill the wind production tax credit.

That last bit would help to "create a level playing field" in the energy market, a Romney campaign spokesman said last month.

Uh-huh.

Below, the top recipients of oil and gas industry donations in the 2011-2012 election cycle so far, as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
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"Meanwhile," Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress said of the Romney energy plan, "middle class families would remain dependent on an industry that makes record profits due to higher pump prices, exposes children to dangerous pollution, produces carbon pollution responsible for climate change, and desecrates wild places vital for hunting and fishing."

But at least such a future would come to pass fairly, and in a free market untouched by cronyism, right? Right.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the corrupting influence of money on our politics Aug. 30 and Sept. 6 from 12-4 p.m. EDT and 6-10 p.m. EDT. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.

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