The policy platforms adopted by both the Democratic and Republican parties are not binding on their candidates or on the eventual winner. Nonetheless, they offer clues to the next administration’s priorities. Now that both conventions have ratified and released their party platforms, one thing is clear: both parties support an “all of the above” energy strategy. Unfortunately, that is where agreement ends and partisan bickering begins.

As in all policy prescriptions, the devil is in the details. Regarding the phrase “all of the above,” each party assigns a distinct and very different meaning. Republicans have accused Democrats of supporting all energy sources as long as they come from “above” the ground, thus ignoring coal, oil and natural gas. Democrats, on the other hand, accuse Republicans of exclusively focusing on fossil fuels and ignoring renewables, energy efficiency and global climate change.

The GOP policy document states: “Republicans advocate an all-of-the-above diversified approach, taking advantage of all our American God-given resources. That is the best way to advance North American energy independence.”

Democrats claim to support an “all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas.”

Natural Gas and Traditional Energy Sources

The Republican platform calls for more use of coal (“more state-of-the-art facilities”) and nuclear power (“through advanced reprocessing technologies”) in electricity generation, increased production of oil and natural gas both on and off shore, and approving the Keystone XL pipeline to transport additional Canadian oil sands derived crude to the U.S. Further, the GOP’s plan would provide states with more authority to control federal lands located in their borders and reap a larger share of drilling revenues from future production. Specifically, the platform endorsed the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (H.R. 4480), passed by the House June 21, that would streamline drilling permits on federal lands and would require a review of environmental regulations that may impact fuel prices

The GOP would cede significant power to individual states, proclaiming that “[L]egislation to restore the authority of states in environmental protection is essential.” Hydraulic fracturing would be left to the states to regulate as well. Finally, the platform calls on Congress to return federal land to private ownership for ranching, mining and forestry.

Democrats call for the increased use of natural gas, especially as a transportation fuel, even as the party remains divided on the role natural gas and hydraulic fracturing should play in energy development: “[Democrats] will continue to advocate for the use of this clean fossil fuel, while ensuring that public and environmental health and workers’ safety are protected.”

Renewables and Efficiency

The RNC platform does express limited support for renewable energy, but takes a swipe at President Obama by stating “taxpayers should not serve as venture capitalists for risky endeavors which generated bankruptcies rather than kilowatts.” Under the Republican vision, renewable energy would be developed in a “market-based approach” leaving the work to partnerships between traditional energy industries and emerging renewable industries. Finally, states’ new authority over oil and gas drilling on public lands within their borders would extend to the development of renewable energy.

Democrats have gone further in supporting new, nontraditional forms of energy. The Democratic platform calls for “making America the world’s leader in building a clean energy economy by extending clean energy incentives,” and by emphasizing that “President Obama has encouraged innovation to reach his goal of generating 80 percent of our electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.”

Regarding energy eff iciency, and in a break from the past, this year’s GOP platform contains no mention of eff iciency. The change comes amid a backlash against eff iciency measures, such as new light bulb standards.

On the other hand, Democrats maintain some commitment to eff iciency by proclaiming, “[w]e can further cut our reliance on oil with increased energy eff iciency in buildings, industry, and homes.”

Climate Change

After 20 years of at least some recognition of global climate concerns, the GOP platform now opposes any government action aimed at addressing the issue. “[Republicans] also call on Congress to take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations that will harm the nation’s economy and threaten millions of jobs over the next quarter century,” the document states. Gov. Romney has also called for stripping EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and other sources. The party even takes aim at the Obama administration’s inclusion of climate change in the 2010 National Security Strategy, a key military strategy document, contending that it is pulling attention away from more important defense issues. The Democratic platform maintains strong support for government action to address climate change.

The Democratic platform states: “The national security threat from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation – an economic, environmental, and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, [and] commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change.”

Looking Ahead

Four years after promising to reboot America’s approach to energy issues, the Obama administration has failed to enact cap and trade, isn’t likely to create f ive million new jobs in clean energy in a decade, and won’t get one million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015. But by several key measures – raising fuel economy standards, boosting electricity from renewable sources and investing in energy R&D, the “smart” electric grid and a more eff icient federal auto f leet – President Obama has met his goals.

Republicans have seized on energy policy as a clear way to distinguish themselves from this Administration, and their party platform ref lects sharp contrasts that would certainly mark a decidedly different approach and reshuff le the federal government’s focus on many energy issues.