In Part 1 of this series, we explored the overall environmental issues that are facing the U.S., mostly as a part of coordinated attacks by politicians in Washington. In the next few articles, we’ll take a look at what each candidate has said or done in regards to both environmental and energy issues.
At this point in the race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, a title that will become official after the Republican convention in August. Because Romney previously served as a governor, we have the benefit of looking at what he’s actually done when placed in charge, not just committee votes or proposed legislation.
And just like his record on other issues, Romney’s environmental record is one that has constantly changed to fit the political landscape. He has somehow managed to take both sides of virtually every major environmental issue, with his recent positions being more in line with that of the extremist, climate change denying branch of the Republican Party.
But the shift in ideas and rhetoric for Romney (which has quickly become his trademark as a candidate) is actually also in line with that of other major Republican candidates.
Before the 2008 election, Republican Senator John McCain had been a very vocal critic of the Bush administration's lackadaisical, and often hostile, approach towards the environment. He was the first member of Congress to put forth legislation to actually address climate change, and he was a vocal proponent of action on climate change via StopGlobalWarming.org.
But things changed when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, and his campaign began touting the ridiculous line “Drill baby drill.” His positions on environmental issues moved further to the right, and his past accomplishments became overshadowed by his newfound desire to please the dirty energy industry and appeal to the Tea Party base of the Republican Party.
It appears that Mitt Romney is following in McCain’s disastrous footsteps.
During his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s environmental record is something that he should be proud of, for the most part. He established a state fund for green, renewable energy projects; approved bills that would set aside land for solar power harvesting stations; and understood that investing in clean energy technology would be an economic boon to the state, in both dollars and jobs.
His green energy fund began with a $15 million investment from the state, a modest amount, but at least it was a start. But just seven years after he touted the state’s involvement in green energy investing, Romney took a shot at President Obama’s similar initiatives, telling Republicans that the government “should not be in the business of steering investment toward particular politically favored approaches.”
And what about Romney’s admission as governor that investing in clean energy would create jobs? Today, this is what he says about that issue: “To begin with, wind and solar power, two of the most ballyhooed forms of alternative fuel, remain sharply uncompetitive on their own with conventional resources such as oil and natural gas in most applications.”
The flip-flops don’t end there, either. While governor, Romney touted the benefits of cap and trade systems, and implemented a plan that he hoped would serve as a blueprint for the rest of the nation. But as Mother Nature Network points out, this is what he’s now saying on the campaign trail about cap and trade in America: “We're going to move our new facilities from the U.S. to China, where they don't have those agreements. You end up polluting and putting just as much CO2 in the air because the big energy users go there. That's why these ideas make sense, but only on a global basis. They don't call it 'America warming.' They call it 'global warming.'”
His positions on oil drilling have remained constant, but that doesn’t make them good ideas. He’s typically always been in favor of increased domestic and offshore oil drilling, and he’s a staunch supporter of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. As Think Progress reports, if elected president, Mitt Romney would open up virtually every piece of federal land for oil drilling, including national parks and wildlife preserves.
On the big issue – whether or not he agrees with scientists and rational people that anthropogenic climate change is occurring and that it’s a threat – he has no idea. In the past, he acknowledged that climate change was real and that it was caused by man, but today he’s singing a different tune. While he freely admits that scientists agree climate change is real, he also says that there is plenty to be skeptical about. Here’s what Romney said in March 2010 about climate change:
“Scientists are nearly unanimous in laying the blame for rising temperatures on greenhouse gas emissions. Of course there are also reasons for skepticism. The earth may be getting warmer, but there have been numerous times in the earth’s history when temperatures have been warmer than they are now. Climate cycles with great variations in temperature predate the greenhouse gas emissions of the past three centuries, and they even predate the rise of human populations. In fact, climate change has been going on from the beginning of the world; it is certainly not a new phenomenon. Even the apparent unity among scientists is not a sure indicator of scientific fact.”
Once again, Romney is trying to have it both ways on the issue. He hopes to woo those who believe in science with one hand, while embracing the fringe climate change deniers with the other. He believes that if he stays close to the middle and refuses to take a clear stance, he’ll gain everyone’s support. 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry can tell you how well that strategy works in national elections.
When not running from his own record on environmental and energy issues, he’s been busy attacking President Obama over his. In early May of this year, Romney told supporters that the President’s policies were hindering oil and gas development, and therefore causing the spike in gas and energy prices that was affecting most Americans. Later that month, Romney took to the airwaves, courtesy of Fox News, to again make the debunked claim that President Obama was the one responsible for the spike in gasoline prices.
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, his constant flip-flopping on environmental and energy issues has not proven to be a payday for the candidate. Sure, the multi-millionaire isn’t hurting for campaign cash, but the dirty energy industry has been less than generous so far in the 2012 cycle with Romney. To date, the industry as a whole (oil, gas, mining, electric utilities, etc.) has only pumped $2.9 million into Romney’s campaign, a relatively small amount in a post-Citizens United America that allows for unlimited amounts of corporate cash in elections.
Overall, Mitt Romney isn’t one that should be trusted on environmental issues, based mostly on his rhetoric, not his actions. Eight years ago he would have been considered and environmental champion, but today, he’s just another politician trying to have his cake and eat it, too.