Doubly Dishonest

New Obama campaign ad makes dubious energy claims

April 3, 2012

President Obama’s latest campaign advertisement makes a number of questionable claims about domestic energy production under his watch.

The television ad, which was unveiled on Monday and is set to air in five swing states—Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia—claims that the Obama administration is "doubling renewable energy," citing the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) as its source.

That claim, however, is deeply misleading, according to the EIA’s most recent report.

The report, released on Mar. 24, 2012, shows that domestic production of renewable energy—defined as hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass—rose from 7,205 trillion BTUs in 2008 to 9,159 trillion BTUs in 2011, an increase of just 27 percent.

President Obama’s statement is only true if one goes all the way back to 1973—the earliest year for which data is provided—when production was 4,411 trillion BTUs.

The ad seems to imply that Obama has doubled renewable energy consumption. The president has made this claim before.

"Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it," he said in his State of the Union address on Jan. 24, 2012.

That claim is not supported by the data. According the EIA figures, total renewable energy consumption, or "use," rose from 7,190 trillion BTUs in 2008 to 9,059 trillion BTUs in 2011, an increase of 26 percent.

Even the ad’s more nebulous claim that Obama is "doubling renewable energy" does not hold up to scrutiny. It only works if the EIA’s projections through the year 2035 are taken into account, nearly two decades after the end of a theoretical second Obama term.

For example, one chart in the report shows the "primary energy production" of renewable sources—comprised of hydropower, biomass, and "other renewable energy"—rising from 7,500 trillion BTUs in 2009 to a projected 15,540 trillion BTUs in 2035.

Another has the percentage of "primary energy consumption" of renewables (including liquid biofuels) increasing from 8 percent in 2010 to a projected 15 percent by 2035.

At best, it would appear that Obama is trying to take credit for projected increases that, if correct, would not occur until well after he has left office.

Perhaps a more accurate reflection of the president’s direct impact on the renewable energy sector is the dramatic increase in federal subsidies under his watch.

According to another EIA report released in August 2011, federal subsidies for renewable energy have nearly tripled in recent years, from $5.1 billion in 2007 to $14.7 billion in 2010.

Much of the increase is a result of the 2009 stimulus package, which included tens of billions of dollars for renewable energy programs, some of which has yet to be spent.

Faced with mounting concerns over record gas prices, Obama has continued to call for more federal spending on renewable energy. In this year’s State of the Union address he pledged to "double down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising."

His fiscal year 2013 budget requested $2.3 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, an 80 percent increase compared to the previous year.

And yet, despite this massive increase in federal funding under the president’s watch, neither production nor consumption of renewable energy is close to "doubling" anytime soon.

The Obama campaign ad is essentially identical to a web video released last week by the Democratic National Committee that was subsequently scrutinized by the Washington Post’s "Fact Checker" website.

The DNC video earned an overall rating of "Three Pinocchios"—defined as containing "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions"—for its dubious charge that GOP president candidate Mitt Romney had been "bought" by the oil and gas industry.

The Post, however, failed even to consider the video’s claim that the president was "doubling renewable energy."

Both ads also note that "under President Obama, domestic oil production’s at an eight-year high."

The claim, while technically true, is also highly misleading.

A recent study prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that the increase in domestic oil production between 2007-2011 took place almost entirely (96 percent) on non-federal land beyond the president’s control.

The EIA reported in March that oil and natural gas production on federal land had declined 40 percent over the past decade and 14 percent in 2011 alone.