As the youngest of the major candidates for president, Sen. Marco Rubio portrays himself as a leader for the future. But the energy policy he has outlined is stuck in the past, relying on the dirtiest fuels and playing to energy industry campaign donors at the expense of jobs, public health, consumers, the environment and global security. It is a backward approach that fails to recognize the importance of renewable energy and the clear threat of climate change, and it would be particularly harmful to Tampa Bay and Florida.
Rubio's penchant for saying one thing and doing another was on full display during his energy speech earlier this month in Ohio. The Republican candidate faulted Democrat Hillary Clinton for an "outdated" energy strategy even as he called for expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, rolling back the Obama administration's clean air rules and blocking any international effort to combat climate change. His campaign appearance at a company that manufactures pumping equipment was aimed at promoting hydraulic fracking — the practice of pumping water and chemicals underground to release natural gas buried deep in rock formations. He promised to allow the Keystone XL pipeline, and he would permit more oil and gas drilling. He would reverse the Obama administration's limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and he would essentially cancel the outgoing president's efforts to reach an international agreement on combating climate change.
This is a backward approach from a politician who continues to fan the myth that the energy sector is under attack and that new investments in renewable energies are too expensive and threaten too many jobs. U.S. oil and gas production is expected to remain robust for years, even as demand is constrained in part by new fuel economy standards. Rising costs for new fossil fuel resources and dropping prices for renewable technologies are expected to boost market demand for clean energy solutions. In the Tampa Bay area last week, the defense giant Lockheed Martin became the latest company to announce a massive solar project that is expected to save the firm $400,000 annually in electricity costs.
With renewables expected to account for more than one-third of all new generation capacity over the next two decades, the presidential candidates should be acknowledging the benefits to consumers, potential for jobs and improvements to public health that will come by moving away from burning fossil fuels. Already, rising seas related to a warming climate spill over the roads during high tides in Rubio's hometown of Miami.
Rubio also is wrong to ignore America's security interests in leading the global effort toward a climate agreement. The world's poorest nations will face the most dire impacts as a warming climate threatens crops, coastal flood defenses, the drinking water supply and other critical necessities of everyday life. The United States can address the issue now or manage the crises later. But the energy challenge is serious. It already is reshaping the market for labor and consumers. What it hasn't shaped is a forward-looking energy policy from all presidential candidates.