A look at the issues: How Romney could impact upstate New York

Apr 13, 2012

For the first time in a long time, political observers had been eyeing New York’s Republican Presidential Primary - wondering if it might actually have an impact on the 2012 race for the White House.

But as New York’s April 24 primary draws near, it appears the nominee has all but been decided before a single ballot is cast. 

With Mitt Romney now the only major candidate left in the race, we look at how his stance on key economic issues could affect upstate New York.

Energy

In a matter of days, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue new rules regulating air pollution by the natural gas industry.

The regulations could hamper companies hoping to start hydrofracking in upstate New York. Mitt Romney says that’s bad energy policy.

“I look at the effort by the EPA, for instance, to step in the way of fracking and to eliminate the potential in some states to have our access to natural gas and oil,” Romney said on Fox News, “and say, Look, this is all an effort to say, ‘Let’s just go solar and wind.’

“We all like the renewables,” Romney added. “But renewables alone are not going to power this economy.”

At a recent Wall Street Journal economic conference, Romney advisor Jim Talent also attacked the nation’s current energy policy. Talent said the Obama administration’s approach to oil production is driving up the price of gasoline. 

“They’ve used the regulatory powers of the government, the control over the western lands and the Gulf, as well as EPA regulations, to increase the price or to deny access to oil,” Talent said.

But the campaign rhetoric is missing the point, says Karen Moreau, head of the New York State Petroleum Council.

“Energy policy is not something you do overnight,” says Moreau.

Moreau says energy companies just don’t know what to expect. She says the nation needs a more stable energy plan that doesn’t fluctuate with the political seasons.

But Edward Kokkelenberg, professor emeritus of economics at SUNY Binghamton and a longtime advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy, says both Romney and Obama should be talking more about using less.

“Most economists think the way to handle this is to either increase the gasoline tax, or to have cap-and-trade, or to have a carbon tax,” Kokkelenberg says. “None of those are politically palatable at the moment - and they certainly won’t be during the political campaign.”

Environment

Energy conservation and environmental issues don’t usually resonate with primary voters, especially in a tough economy. So there hasn’t been a lot of discussion on the campaign trail. 

But in a video of a town hall meeting posted by liberal blog Think Progress, Romney appears to be calling for changes to the Clean Air Act.

“We have made a mistake, is what I believe, in saying that the EPA should regulate carbon emissions,” Romney said. “I don’t think that was the intent of the original legislation, and I don’t think carbon is a pollutant in the sense of harming our bodies.”

Romney has gone on record saying carbons - and humans - do contribute to global warming, but he has since backed off those comments.

“The Republican candidates have all really been engaging in a race to see who can backpedal on climate policy as far and as fast as possible,” says Pete Wilcoxin, head of Syracuse University’s Center on Environmental Policy and Administration.

Manufacturing

But environmental issues aren’t the only topics Romney has not dwelled on on the campaign trail.

Nabil Nasr, director of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says manufacturing isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

“Giving companies some tax breaks, addressing some regulation - in my mind, that is not enough at all to address the challenges that we face,” Nasr says.

Manufacturing accounts for more than ten percent of the Rochester area work force, and Nasr says the nation needs a balanced industrial policy.

“The role of government, the role of policy here, is far more needed today than it has ever been before,” Nasr says.

But out on the factory floor of Rochester’s Certified Grinding and Machine, president Bob Rock says strong industrial policy or not, he’s doing pretty well.

“We’ve been in business for 50 years and 2011 was our best year in the last ten,” Rock says, above the din.

When asked if the Obama administration’s efforts to boost manufacturing are helping, Rock is clear: “No.”

Rock says rising Chinese labor costs and other market forces are to blame for his company’s strong 2011.

Rock says he’ll probably vote for Romney - in hopes of even better things to come.

Marie Cusick, Ryan Delaney, Matt Richmond and Daniel Robison contributed reporting.