What can climate hawks expect from the first presidential debate?
Later today, we will be treated (if that’s the word) to the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, on the topic of domestic policy. What can climate hawks expect?
In a word, little.
I feel pretty confident that moderator Jim Lehrer will not ask a question directly and specifically about climate change, despite environmentalists’ petitions. In fact I’d wager on it. (I hope to be pleasantly surprised!)
If climate is mentioned at all, I expect it will be muddled in with a policy question about energy. Remember, neither candidate particularly wants to talk about climate, so even if climate isn’t muddled with energy in the question, they’ll muddle it themselves. Romney will mumble something about how he’s not a scientist and then attack cap-and-trade. Obama will briefly acknowledge that climate change is real and then talk about fuel-economy standards.
Energy, on the other hand, will definitely come up. It’s been one of the headline issues on both sides throughout the presidential campaign. Even if Lehrer doesn’t ask about it, both candidates will deliver at least a short shtick on it.
Energy is one part of Romney’s hilariously vague five-point economic plan. He’ll talk about his energy plan in terms of “North American energy independence,” unleashing America’s oil and gas reserves, and approving the Keystone pipeline, all of which jobsjobsjobs. If this is one of the subjects upon which he has uploaded a zinger to his RAM, he might take a dig at Obama about Solyndra. In fact, I think I’ll be playing a Solyndra drinking game.
Obama will do what he’s been doing all during the campaign, which is reaffirm “all of the above” happy talk. He’ll boast about increased oil and gas production and reduced oil imports. Then he’ll double down on “a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.” In his convention speech, he got a little feisty:
I will not let oil companies write this country’s energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers.
I suspect that was red meat for Democrats and he won’t be as scrappy before a national audience.
There are a few things within the realm of possibility, however, that would pleasantly surprise me.
One would be Obama making hay out of Romney’s tasteless joke about climate change at the Republican convention. This has real punch. Even voters who aren’t sure about climate change can see how laughing it off is crass.
The second is Obama going after Romney on wind power. Romney supports letting the wind production tax credit (PTC) lapse, the threat of which is already killing jobs in swing states and will only kill more if it comes to pass. This election hinges entirely on a fairly small set of votes in those states, and seeing local jobs evaporate is a powerful signal. Even Republicans in wind states support the PTC. This could work as a wedge issue if Obama chooses to push it.
Anyway, it’s always a good bet in these hyper-controlled-and-scripted events that there will be few surprises. I’d be shocked if I heard anything I haven’t heard before. Despite that, you can be sure I’ll be live-tweeting the sh*t out of it.