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As attention shifts to Colorado for tonight’s first presidential debate on domestic policy, environmental issues, masked as “energy policy,” are likely to feature in the discussion. A new poll shows that climate change could be the issue that sways undecided voters.
Tonight’s debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney will focus heavily on the economy. With gas prices rising and jobs linked to natural resource extraction, energy policy will likely be a factor. Both the democrat and republican parties have said that all options for domestic energy production are on the table, including coal, natural gas and oil extraction. President Obama’s campaign has been touting renewable energy such as wind and solar, but it seems both candidates’ energy policies will be carbon-intensive.
For his part, President Obama used his nomination speech last month to address climate change saying, “Climate change is not a hoax. More droughts, and floods and wildfires are not a joke.” This may be a calculated move to go after independent voters who, a survey shows, increasingly view climate change as an important issue.
The Yale/George Mason poll showed that 60 percent of undecided voters, coveted by both parties, think global warming is an important issue. 80 percent of likely Obama voters see climate change as important whereas less than 40 percent of likely Romney voters feel that way.
Less likely to make it into tonight’s debate is the candidates’ support for energy derived from Canada’s tar sands. Both candidates view the toxic, corrosive sludge from northern Alberta as a solution to wean America off of foreign oil – the US currently imports 99 percent of Canada’s tar sands exports. President Obama last year delayed a decision on extending the Keystone pipeline, which would transport tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Governor Romney has said that he would approve the controversial pipeline on the first day of his presidency. “I will build that pipeline if I have to myself,” he said.
Other issues, such as fracking for natural gas, the clear cutting of forests and exploitation of coal, are not likely to be discussed in the hour-and-a-half debate that also includes hot button issues like health care. With the third debate dedicated to foreign policy, the candidates will have one more chance on the national stage to enunciate their energy policy – a town hall-style debate on October 16 in which citizens will ask the questions.
As the public becomes increasingly concerned with climate change, and how tar sands contributes to it, elected officials will have to start answering the tough questions.
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