When you think about it, Mitt Romney's history on the environment is no different from his history with any major policy issue: checkered and framed in economic terms.
The former Massachusetts governor has stood on each side of the cap-and-trade issue; he has gone from staunch advocate for taking on global warming to a climate change skeptic. He once claimed he was a lifelong hunter, then said anyone who called him a hunter had "mischaracterized" him. He supports clean energy, just not in the form of wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod.
But Romney consistently speaks of environmental issues in the most explicit economic terms possible. He is all for investing in green energy. On oil subsidies, he says he believes in cutting corporate tax rates. Romney has maintained his support of ethanol subsidies and loves touting it on the corn-paved streets of Iowa. He is against the gas tax and for increased domestic oil drilling, especially if it leads to energy independence. Energy and the environment are complicated issues for Romney, but here's a simple breakdown of where he has aligned himself.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported a carbon-trading pact among Northeastern states that, like his health care bill, served as a potential model for a national version. Romney even said of the plan, "I am convinced it is good for business." Of carbon emissions in general, Romney said, "These carbon-emissions limits will provide real and immediate progress." But in just a few short years, Romney's cap-and-trade feelings shifted. "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.'"
On the fundamental question of whether human activity is causing changes to Earth's weather patterns and temperature, Romney is beginning to hedge his statements. After supporting efforts to implement the Massachusetts cap-and-trade deal, the former governor isn't so sure about the environmental rationale behind such a plan. One report frames Romney's new feelings on global warming as "unsure." He now emphasizes that the world's climate has changed throughout history, and says "we should not take extreme measures when we are unsure of human role in global warming."
To be fair, while Romney appears to be waffling on the science behind climate change, he has no problem advocating pro-climate initiatives as long as he can highlight their economic benefits. Case in point: During a 2007 debate in Des Moines, Romney said, "Confronting climate change is going to help our economy because we're going to invest in new technologies to get ourselves off of foreign oil, and as we get ourselves off of foreign oil, we also dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions. That's good for the environment; it's also good for our economy. Because $300 [billion] to $400 billion worth of oil a year from other people who use it against us, that’s bad for our economy; it's also bad for the environment."
When it comes to subsidies for corn-based ethanol as a domestic energy source, Romney has been more consistent. Speaking in Iowa recently, he told a voter "I support the subsidy of ethanol; I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution for this country." For Romney, the endorsement of ethanol subsidies doesn't jibe with his usual "market-based" approach to energy, but as the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner explains, the former governor may simply have to dig in his heels for the sake of staying consistent. "As we've seen with his refusal to renounce his Massachusetts health care plan, Romney is eager to avoid the 'flip flopper' label that dogged him last time, and he's willing to stick with positions that will open him up to attacks. Of course, this doesn't get him off the hook from all of the shifts in his positions in his last campaign, but it does mean that he doesn't want to do anything to reinforce the perception that he's inauthentic."
Drilling and oil subsidies
Romney is generally an advocate for increasing the amount of oil and gas drilling done in the U.S., as long as it leads to energy independence. During a debate at St. Anslem's College in New Hampshire in 2007, Romney said energy independence is justification for increasing all domestic energy production — including drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or ANWR. "We need, as a strategic imperative, energy independence for America. And it takes that Apollo project. It also takes biodiesel, biofuel, cellulosic ethanol, nuclear power, more drilling in ANWR. We have to be serious also about efficiency and that's going to allow us to become energy-independent," he said.
As for continuing government tax subsidies to the five most profitable oil companies, Romney is less clear. The former venture capitalist and founder of Bain Capital first said he hadn't "looked at" the oil subsidy issue. Then he added, "I'm not planning any new subsidies for the oil industry." But when asked if tax breaks should be cut, he responded that corporate taxes, across the board, should actually be lowered. "As the specifics of that industry, I haven't looked at it in sufficient depth." Romney does believe, however, that the oil industry should not be pocketing all of its profits, saying it should put some of that cash into its own assets: "Our refineries are old. Someone said our refineries today are rust with paint holding them up. And we need to see these companies, if they're making that kind of money, reinvest in capital equipment."
Cape Wind and clean-energy investments
While it's not a major national issue, the plan to put wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod has placed Romney in a bit of a bind. Like the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Romney opposes the idea. This is tricky because the winds off Cape Cod are said to be among the best in the country for generating electricity, but there is concern that turbines could spoil coastal views and damage Native American cultural sites. Beyond aligning himself with liberal icons like Kennedy and Kerry, Romney's opposition to the Cape Wind project also undercuts his argument about drilling in ANWR. Those who are against opening up ANWR to oil companies say energy development would ruin the landscape in northern Alaska — much like Romney's position on Cape Wind.
But while Romney is against Cape Wind, he has been bullish on investing in green technology. When he last ran for president, Romney not only said he supported the $4 billion the U.S. invested in green energy, he said we should increase that five-fold. "I think over the coming years we need to increase our investment to become energy-independent from about $4 billion a year to about $20 billion a year," he said. "Obviously, that has got to grow gradually because there are not a lot of places now that do the kind of research we need to do to get ourselves energy-independent."
Romney is currently seen as the front-runner to win the Republican nomination for president in 2012. He has executive experience, private-sector experience and campaign experience. But his lengthy time on the campaign trail — as a Senate candidate, gubernatorial candidate and presidential candidate — has earned him some political liabilities, including several related to his energy and environmental policies. But depending how well he explains himself and how much voters believe him, he may be the man debating President Obama one-on-one in the fall of 2012.
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