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Energy Voices: Insights on the future of fuel and power

Debate fact check: Romney stumbles on energy

In Tuesday's presidential debate, energy and energy policy came up repeatedly. At several points, Mitt Romney was right on energy facts but wrong on the context.   

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Romney is right about the gasoline prices, but Obama is right about the larger context. Oil markets, not presidents, set the price of oil. When Obama took office at the peak of the financial crisis, the global economy was shrinking and oil prices plummeted. As the global economy has recovered, so have oil prices.

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Also, electricity prices have not climbed during the administration's first term, as Romney claims. If anything, they're down slightly, if you adjust for inflation.

During the debate, both candidates stressed the importance of making North America energy dependent. That is important in military and strategic terms and, as they correctly pointed out, in helping to create more American jobs. But as several oil analysts have said, unless the United States somehow disconnects from global oil markets, North American energy independence will not set the price at the pump, global oil markets will.

Another contentious point in the debate was the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. That's not energy policy, exactly, but it was the closest the candidates came to debating Obama's direct investment of taxpayer money in companies, especially clean-energy companies. That part of the stimulus program has come under increasing fire as a handful of those companies fail.

Obana: "Number one, I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again. Now when Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt. I said we’re going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry and it’s come surging back. I want to do that in industries, not just in Detroit, but all across the country and that means we change our tax code so we’re giving incentives to companies that are investing here in the United States and creating jobs here."

Romney: "I know he keeps saying, 'You want to take Detroit bankrupt.' Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And I think it's important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommended and ultimately what happened."

Romney did not write the line that the president pins on him. "Let Detroit go bankrupt" was the headline given to a New York Times editorial he wrote in late 2008. Nevertheless, in that editorial, he stated his opposition to a government bailout and called instead for a managed bailout using private investment money, with the federal government providing loan guarantees only for post-bankruptcy financing. Many analysts doubt that strategy could have worked at the height of the financial crisis, when the stock market was plummeting and banks were leery of making loans even to good credit risks. Instead, both automakers probably would have had to shut down.

Obama's far more controversial moves to use stimulus money to fund small, unproven clean-tech companies, which surfaced in the first debate, never came up in Tuesday night's back and forth, even though battery maker A123, which received $250 million in federal grants, and announced bankruptcy on the day of the debate.

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