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The GOP's All-of-the-Above Energy Policy Is Nothing Like Obama's

Scott Olsen, Getty Images

Energy policy rarely came up in the first Republican presidential debate on Fox News on Thursday night, and when it did, there were no surprises: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed "an all-of-the-above energy policy” while former Florida Governor Jeb Bush argued that as president, “You embrace the energy revolution in our country.” As Slate’s Eric Holthaus saw it, "Jeb Bush and Scott Walker both effectively endorsed President Obama’s energy policy," noting that "all of the above" is "the same language Obama uses."

It's true that Obama occasionally uses the same phrase, but he means something different when he says it. And Bush and Walker endorsed his energy policy only to the extent that it supports the continued development of fossil fuels.

Obama has pitched his "all-the-above strategy for the 21st century" in March 2012, and a 2014 report from the White House stated that "part of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy has been to encourage safe and responsible production of oil and gas resources on federal lands and waters as well." The Democratic Party’s official platform similarly endorses "developing America's many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas." Environmentalists object to this "all the above" strategy because they would rather see clean energy prioritized over oil, coal, and natural gas.

But, as Holthaus later acknowledged on Twitter, that doesn't mean Obama's position is the same as Bush and Walker's. Obama supports above-ground renewable investment and energy-efficiency measures for cars and homes, while Walker and Bush intend to end subsidies for clean energy, largely continue the same century-old tax breaks that remain for fossil fuels, and encourage expanded federal permits for coal and oil extraction. Consider Walker's full quote on Thursday: "One of the best things we can do is get the government out of the way, repeal Obamacare, put in—reign in all the out-of-control regulations, put in place an all-of-the-above energy policy, give people the education, the skills that the need to succeed, and lower the tax rate and reform the tax code." There's no doubt includes Environmental Protection Agency rules in those "out-of-control regulations."

For a better comparison to Walker and Bush's remarks, look to the U.S.'s northern neighbor. On Thursday, Canada held its own debate among party leaders ahead of a general election in October. Prime Minster Stephen Harper, who has overseen a vast expansion of a fossil fuel industry that has led the country astray from its climate change goals, was forced to defended his controversial energy policies. Though he said emissions dropped in Canada (mostly attributable to a recession), it’s clear from his speech that his priorities focus on the tar sands oil industry and natural gas.

“Greenhouse gas emissions have actually gone down and the economy has actually grown—those are the facts," he said, according to a video posted by the CBC. "Mr. [Tom] Mulcair says the projects, various energy projects are going nowhere. No, they are all in an environmental process that is going forward. We make sure that we look at that process and make decisions." Harper criticized his opposition's position on tax incentives to liquefy natural gas. At another point in the debate, Harper argued that a "carbon tax is not about reducing emissions. It's a front" for the government to raise revenue.

One could easily imagine those words coming from Walker and Bush—never from Obama.