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Presidential debate: Romney gives a shout out to Arctic oil drilling

Alaska Dispatch
Gage Skidmore photo

As Mitt Romney tried to win over middle-class America in Wednesday night's presidential debate, he mentioned he would tap oil in Alaska's Arctic. Romney and President Barack Obama, meeting in their first debate of the 2012 presidential election, discussed the economy at the start of the debate.

In his remarks about how he'd revive America's sluggish economy, Romney related twice to Alaska.

First, he mentioned that most new oil development under Obama's watch over the past four years has occurred on private land, presumably referring to the shale oil and natural gas boom across America. He said he'd make sure oil development happened in Alaska and the Arctic.

Romney is already on the record of supporting opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain (the 1002 area) to oil exploration. He also supports drilling in the Arctic Ocean, as does Obama. As the debate unfolded Wednesday, in fact, Royal Dutch Shell had begun drilling in the Beaufort Sea, the first drilling in this area off Alaska's northeastern coastline in more than two decades.

Second, Romney said he supports clean coal technology. Alaskans can relate to this one. Back in the late 1980s, former U.S. Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens of Alaska secured millions of federal dollars to test coal-burning technologies at a new state-owned coal plant in Healy, a coal-mining town south of Fairbanks.

The Healy plant was a colossal failure, with no market for the technology and costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Other than a brief test run in 1999, the plant has never produced electricity.

Later on in the contest, Obama argued that canceling $4 billion in yearly federal subsidies to the oil industry would help reduce the nation's deficit worries. Romney fired back that Obama gave $90 billion in breaks to "green" energy companies.