One would expect Mitt Romney to have a fundamentally different approach to energy policy than President Obama. So, when I opened up Romney’s newly-minted energy plan today, I was hardly surprised - the main highlights are a “drill, baby, drill” program for extracting fossil fuels anywhere they can be found (the environment and public health be darned), and a snarky, virtually fact-free attack on green jobs (of which there are quite a few in the United States).
One thing that did surprise me is this: the Romney plan includes not one word – not one – about energy efficiency.
Now, on one level, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was Republican members of the House of Representatives, after all, who led a failed attempt to keep inefficient, energy-wasting light bulbs on store shelves –a move that would have overturned a bill signed by that noted radical environmentalist, George W. Bush.
But I lived through Mitt Romney’s reign in Massachusetts and would have thought he knew better. After all, he is the guy who, in 2006, pushed an energy plan for the Commonwealth that proposed new energy efficiency programs for homes and businesses, pricing mechanisms to encourage smarter energy consumption, energy efficiency measures for state buildings, and an incredibly creative plan for vehicle fuel economy incentives that was a policy wonk’s dream. (And I mean that in a good way, for once.)
It was very much a conservative’s approach to addressing our energy and environmental problems – fiscally frugal and chock-a-block with pricing schemes and market-based mechanisms.
But that was then – a time when leaders of both parties (at least in my neck of the woods) acknowledged that dependence on fossil fuels and the environmental and public health impacts of that dependence were real problems. The great irony is that energy efficiency policies – many of them similar to those proposed by Romney in his earlier incarnation – are playing an important role in stabilizing energy demand and reducing emissions right now. They're working.
I hope that Romney’s omission of efficiency from his energy plan is just a misprint – that it didn’t make the cut only because it did not have value as a political attack mechanism, not because he has disavowed its importance. My fear is that the opposite is true. And that would be a great tragedy.