3 Energy Issues to Watch During the Presidential Debate

The presidential candidates face off Wednesday night--here's a look at energy issues that might come up.

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Wednesday night's face-off between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama could be one of the final opportunities for the candidates to hammer home their visions for the country, especially when it comes to energy policy.

While they both promote some type of an "all-of-the-above" energy plan, when it comes to specifics Romney and Obama have locked horns over nearly every issue. That should give debate moderator Jim Lehrer a host of opportunities to delve into the chasm between the candidates' competing energy strategies.

Here's a look at some key energy issues that could arise during the debate:

Oil and gas production. While Romney has made increased permitting of federal lands for oil and gas exploration a central component of his campaign, underscoring the energy industry's role as a key job creator, Obama has emphasized much more the importance of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.

The Keystone XL pipeline and its long approval process is another topic that could come up during the Romney-Obama duel. While the Obama administration has left the door open for eventual approval of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Romney campaign has consistently criticized the president for vetoing the project earlier this year and allegedly killing the creation of thousands of jobs.

"I think Romney will bring that up [along with the fact] that we're competing with China now for that oil because Canada has allowed Sinopec to invest in a pipeline that goes from Alberta west," says Chris Faulkner, CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Oil and Gas.

Energy subsidies. Another hot-button issue between the candidates is the future of energy subsidies and loan guarantee programs that support various industry sectors. While Obama has campaigned hard for the renewal of the wind production tax credit, saying it keeps thousands of Americans employed across the country, Romney has championed the idea that the markets—not the government—should decide which companies survive in the energy industry.

Meanwhile, while gas prices have been going up for consumers, Obama has consistently called for the end to "taxpayer subsidies on an oil industry already making a lot of profit." Instead, he's called for investing more in new, clean energy sources.

"Especially with the fact that Romney has said he'll let the wind production tax credit expire, it sets up a good debate over energy subsidies," says Nick Loris, energy policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

If he can manage it, Romney will also likely bring up the Solyndra loan guarantee failure as a poster child for everything that's wrong with the government "picking winners and losers."

Regulation. Romney has long hammered Obama on EPA and other regulations that he says are destroying jobs and unnecessarily hindering economic growth. Obama has countered by saying regulations are important to protecting the environment, public health, and balancing the costs and benefits of energy production.

On that front, the two candidates aren't likely to find common ground, especially when it comes to the coal industry, a topic the candidates have traded a hefty number of barbs about. Although it's unlikely, climate change could come up in the course of environmental regulation discussions.

"It's kind of a wild card," Loris says.

Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.