AFPM Q&A '12: US election outlook and industry implications

SALT LAKE CITY -- With only a month to go before the 2012 election, the results (from the presidential election to down ballot Congressional races) are far from certain. 

To address these various uncertainties, Brendan Williams, AFPM’s vice president for advocacy, shared his inside the Beltway perspective during Tuesday morning’s general session.

Mr. Williams cited a RealClearPolitics general election poll that shows President Obama leading Governor Romney, 48.9% to 44.9%. Meanwhile, polling data regarding the direction of the country shows that 37.6% of respondents believe the US is moving in the right direction, while 56.3% say things are going in the wrong direction. And in news that shocked no one, Mr. Williams shared a poll that indicated only 17% of Americans have a favorable impression of Congress.

“I think Ahmadinejad might have a higher rating than Congress,” Mr. Williams quipped.

The electoral college. Moving on to electoral college mathematics, the current electoral map shows Mr. Obama at 265 electoral votes and Mr. Romney at 191. 270 is magic number required to win the presidency. Within this context, key swing states include Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, while former swing state Ohio appears to be strongly trending toward Obama.

Karl Rove.
In order for Mr. Romney to win, Karl Rove has proposed a “3, 2, 1 strategy.” Mr. Rove says that for Mr. Romney to tally 270 in the electoral college, he will need to not only win all the states that Senator McCain won in 2008, but also pick up Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. He also needs to grab the large swings states former President Bush won in 2000 and 2004: Ohio and Florida. Finally, in Mr. Rove’s scenario, Romney needs to win either New Hampshire or New Mexico to push him over the 270 threshold.

Other keys to the election. Mr. Williams said that voter intensity will be crucial.

“Whichever side can most energize their base is likely to win the election,” he said.

Demographic turnout is going to be big, according to Mr. Williams. The key demographics both sides are seeking include white women, Latinos and the “young people” vote. Latinos are important this election cycle because of the changing demographics of the US. In 1980, the electorate was 12% non-white. In 2008 the country’s electorate was 27% non-white and this trend is expected to continue to grow in 2012.

The Senate.
Mr. Williams said that this is a really weird year as far as Senate campaigns go.
“Historically Senate races track Presidential races,” he said. “This year it really isn’t the case.”

Polling projections show the Senate with 48 “ sure” Democrats, 43 “sure” Republicans and nine tossup races.

“Out of the nine tossups, it looks like an uphill climb for the Republicans ,” Mr. Williams said. “You could see another 50-50 Senate when all is said and done. What this also tells you, though, is that nothing is going to happen [legislatively] in the Senate. Since you need 60 votes to make anything happen, the Senate is going to be a difficult environment to get any legislation moving.”

House races.
House Republicans are projected to lose seats but still maintain control. Overall, things do not look good for congressman and senators.

“Historically, people used to hate Congress but love their congressman,” Mr. Williams said. “But now, 56% of Americans say they would “defeat and replace” all of Congress,” meaning that constituents love of their particular congressman has faded.

One other interesting polling item that Mr. Williams shared is that middle class voters appear to be breaking big for Mr. Romney. The latest polls show him with a 13 point margin among middle class voters.

How will the election affect the HPI?
There are many challenges on the regulatory front that will drastically alter look of industry. Will the so called regulatory “train wreck” continue? Mr. Williams says there are a blizzard of stationary source regulations that threaten refining operations. These include:

· Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations: New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD)
· Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are coming in 2013
· The final rule on Particulate matter (PM) 2.5 NAAQS is slated for December 2012
· Refinery “residual risk” rule is coming in late fall 2012
· Environmental justice issues.

The combination of these factors will make already lengthy permitting delays even longer and more costly. Plus, stationary source regulations exacerbate burdensome requirements on fuels and chemicals.

AFPM is also concerned that current chemical policies are hampering growth and security. A few hot button issues on this subject:

· The EPA is eroding chemical information protection through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
· Bipartisan TSCA modernization talks are ongoing, with the non-governmental organization (NGO) community and some legislators looking to advance a REACH-like program (REACH is the European Community’s regulation on chemicals and their safe use) legislatively
· The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program is under attack, as a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal report raised questions about the integrity of the program, which has led to extensive Congressional oversight.

The fuel policy debates are also heating up. These are some items to watch:

· The EPA is set to advance Tier 3 gas standards in the “near future”
· An independent study predicts four to six potential refinery closures and a 9-25% gallon cost increase
· Loud calls are emerging for Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) reform
· The recent drought has led eight states to request or support waivers for the RFS
· Restaurant, environmental and food groups are also calling for the RFS repeal

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