Both candidates profess to support all types of energy and the goal of making the country energy independent. But they diverge widely from there.
Obama said he supports energy production -- from fossil fuels to renewable forms -- as long as it is environmentally safe. He said he's opened up new lands to drilling, and that the production of wind and solar energy doubled between 2008 and 2011.
"We've got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years' worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas," Obama said during the presidential debate Oct. 16 at Hofstra University. "And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we've also got to continue to figure out how we have efficient energy, because ultimately that's how we're going to reduce demand and that's going to keep gas prices lower."
Romney and his supporters say Obama favors new forms of energy while demonizing those that are tried and true. Romney said he would increase the number of drilling permits and licenses issued on federal lands and extend the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast to transport tar sand to be refined into oil.
"Look, I want to make sure we use our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables," Romney said at Hofstra. "I believe very much in our renewable capabilities -- ethanol, wind, solar will be an important part of our energy mix. But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas."
The two candidates have had few substantive conversations about the environment, but their party platforms are starkly different.
Differing strategiesDemocrats say they will fight subsidies for Big Oil and promote job growth in the clean energy economy. Republicans oppose subsidies for clean energy resources, saying the private market should decide production methods.
Democrats say they will protect sensitive federal lands from exploration, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf of Maine. Republicans want to explore in the Arctic and support opening up offshore drilling on the East Coast.
"I think this is an election where we've seen the biggest contrast on energy and environment agendas in a long, long time," said Jeff Gohringer, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters, a national advocacy group.
In campaign literature, Obama touts setting new fuel efficiency standards to cut carbon pollution from cars and establishing standards on mercury and toxic emissions from power plants.
He wants to cut foreign oil imports by 50 percent by 2020. He supports investment in clean energy and wants 80 percent of American energy to come from natural gas, clean coal, wind and solar production by 2035.
Romney's campaign website has no section on the environment, but his policies on the topic can be found in those about energy and the economy.
Under his "Believe in America" plan, Romney would order federal agencies to begin the repeal process for all Obama regulations that "unduly burden the economy or job creation."
Romney says he would prevent overregulation of shale gas development and extraction, known as fracking, and focus alternative energy funding on basic research.
He said he wants to rein in Environmental Protection Agency rules and amend portions of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts to ensure that cost is factored into the regulatory process so that it doesn't stymie energy production, kill jobs and hurt the economy.
As Massachusetts governor, Romney was instrumental in forming the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate group focused on reducing power supplier emissions by 10 percent by 2018. Romney, in office 2003 to 2007, never agreed to join the pact. Instead, Gov. Deval Patrick enrolled Massachusetts in 2007, two years after most governors had signed on.
"He created it and walked away from it," George Bachrach, president of the advocacy group Environmental League of Massachusetts, said of Romney.
But Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said the governor believed the initiative would do more harm than good.
"Governor Romney studied the issue carefully and learned that the potential costs of the initiative would outweigh the benefits," Williams said in a statement. "He understood that RGGI would be bad for ratepayers and bad for business in Massachusetts, so he refused to sign on to it."
"As far as energy policy is concerned, we are fearful of what a Romney administration will do to air, water and land resources," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We can develop energy resources and protect the environment by adhering to existing federal regulations and not throwing them out the door as Romney wants to."
Advocacy group chooses But the former governor has the support of the Energy Alliance of America, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group focused on energy and environmental policy.
Its president, Thomas J. Pyle, said the Obama administration has delayed and stalled permits. Pyle said any oil and gas production increases are due to activities on state and private land, not on federal properties. Pyle believes fossil fuel production is incorrectly portrayed as finite. Pyle said renewable energies receive large government subsidies while the energy produced is less than that of traditional forms of energy.
"Governor Romney is unproven," Pyle said. "We don't know what he's going to do. We're not betting the horse on him, but we can see an understanding of the benefit of domestic production . . . I think he understands the politics in Washington have peddled this myth of scarcity far too long."
Long Island environmental and energy activists say Obama and Romney aren't talking enough about renewable energy.
"Listening to President Obama and Mr. Romney talk about our energy problem, you'd think they live on another planet," said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island.
"Given the global climate progression it was surreal to me to hear them talk about who would burn more coal, oil and gas," Raacke said. "It's sort of an afterthought. What we really need is an energy plan that transitions our economy from pollution to clean energy politics."
-- Will invest in clean energy economy, with goal of 80 percent of electricity coming from clean sources by 2035.
-- Committed to reducing pollution that causes climate change.
-- Will cut subsidies to large oil companies and promote job growth in clean energy industry.
-- Cut foreign oil imports in half by 2020.
-- Supports safe and responsible development of U.S. natural gas supplies.
-- Wants costs factored into environmental laws and regulations.
-- Amend Clean Air Act to exclude regulation of carbon dioxide.
-- Supports construction of a pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the United States.
-- Will permit drilling when it can be done safely in the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast, Alaskan Coast and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
-- Will prevent overregulation of shale gas development and extraction, known as fracking.
-- Will streamline and fast-track permits for energy exploration and development.