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With energy on 'sideline,' 2016 campaign shedding little light on future policy

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With energy on 'sideline,' 2016 campaign shedding little light on future policy

The political discourse on energy policy has been sparse andpolarized this election cycle, creating an atmosphere that largely precludes compromise,industry observers said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

"[In] the presidential election, energy is really a sidelinetopic, but when it has been raised, it's been overwhelmingly negative, and … it'sso fashionable to be anti-oil and -gas that it's absurd," Tisha Schuller, strategicadviser to Stanford University's Natural Gas Initiative, said at the April 26 eventin Washington, D.C. "When you have presidential candidates having total licenseto say things like 'fracking should be banned'… it has a trickle effect on the compromises we can get done."

Schuller said widespread vilification of the oil and gas industryis a key obstacle to progress on climate goals. A realistic plan for tackling greenhousegas emissions is unlikely to be every party's ideal, but it is imperative to atleast bring all relevant parties to the table to discuss compromises, she said."Success is messy," Schuller added.

The political climate leaves little room for this sort of messycompromise, however. Stakeholders are often not afforded the political leeway tochange their minds and end up backed into corners where they are forced to assumea defensive — rather than collaborative — stance, Schuller observed.

Meanwhile, the presidential candidates have been fairly tight-lippedabout the details of their energy policies to date, said Karen Harbert, presidentand CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy.

"It's important to notice that in the election we currentlyfind ourselves in, energy really isn't a big part of the discussion. You've gotsound-bites here and there, but the candidates in some ways have the luxury of nottalking about it and not defining their differences because of low prices,"Harbert said at the event.

But the absence of discussion can only be detrimental to thevoting public, given that energy policy will have to be a big part of the next president'sagenda, regardless of whether it is revealed in any detail as part of a campaignplatform, Harbert said.

"Over time, they're not going to be able to get away withthat. They're going to have to define themselves in some way … on energy and onthe climate," Harbert said.

She said that while the energy industry has proven itself transformationalin the past several years, the accompanying policy changes have been only incremental,and more will need to be done.

Further, the international community has raised the stakes whenit comes to taking action on climate, Mark Brownstein, vice president of the EnvironmentalDefense Fund's Climate and Energy Program, said at the event.

"Irrespective of whatever administration comes in, thereis now a global expectation that every nation needs to do its part, and the UnitedStates both is and will continue to be thought of as an energy and environmentalleader, and that expectation of leadership will continue to be there … whoever thenext president is," Brownstein said.