Paul Ryan speaks at the National Press Club in 2011. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is now a household name largely because he's Mitt Romney's running mate, but the Wisconsin Republican is no Sarah Palin. Rather than plucking a first-term governor from obscurity as John McCain did in 2008, Romney has picked a seven-term Beltway veteran — offering voters a lengthy record to either love or hate.
Ryan's main focus is on fiscal issues, since the former economics and political science major is chairman of the House Budget Committee. But he has developed a variety of opinions during his 13 years in Congress, including several related to environmental issues. Here's an overview of Ryan's environmental record:
On his website's environment section, Ryan says "a clean environment and strong conservation programs are of the utmost concern to me." The 42-year-old bowhunter and mountain biker calls himself an "avid outdoorsman," and notes that he's an active member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus. (He's also active indoors, thanks to his widely reported involvement in the P90X workout.)
Ryan's opposition to gun control has some fellow hunters swooning, and earned him an 'A' from the National Rifle Association. But when it comes to conserving wilderness where people can hunt or enjoy nature, Ryan's dedication has been lukewarm. In his Path to Prosperity budget plan, he suggests raising money by selling "millions of acres of unneeded federal land," evoking a recent U.K. forest-selling plan that ultimately failed amid public outcry. Critics also point to votes like the following (via OnTheIssues.org), which could raise doubts about Ryan's concern for conservation:
Voted NO on protecting free-roaming horses and burros (2009)
Voted YES on deauthorizing "critical habitat" for endangered species (2005)
Voted YES on speeding up approval of forest-thinning projects (2003)
Voted NO on prohibiting oil drilling and development in ANWR (2001)
Ryan does seem more concerned about some conservation issues, though — especially those related to the Great Lakes, two of which touch his home state. He has supported the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a four-year plan to clean up pollution, fight invasive species and restore the region's wetlands. He's also worried about Asian carp, an exotic fish in the Mississippi River that could wreak havoc if it infiltrates Lake Michigan. He isn't worried about Wisconsin's native gray wolf, however, which he argues is no longer in danger of extinction. He supported the state's successful effort to end federal protection of wolves, allowing them to be legally hunted and trapped.
While Romney often sends mixed signals about global warming, Ryan has made his stance quite clear. In a 2009 op-ed for the Racine Journal-Times, he implied that snow disproves climate change, writing that "economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow." Responding to the since-debunked "Climategate" scandal, he alleged that scientists "intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change." And in 2010, he wrote that "there is growing disagreement among scientists about climate change and its causes," but cited no evidence for his claim.
Perhaps even more telling are the climate-related votes Ryan has cast in Congress, including these three:
Voted YES on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases (2011)
Voted NO on enforcing limits on CO2 global warming pollution (2009)
Voted NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol (2000)
Ryan doesn't spend a lot of time talking about his stance on climate change, and that may be wise for him. While a recent Yale study found that 55 percent of registered voters will consider candidates' views on global warming when deciding how to vote, it also found that "only 4 percent do not believe global warming is happening and will factor a candidate's views into their voting decision."
Ryan isn't a huge fan of renewable energy, consistently voting against federal incentives for solar, wind and other clean-power industries. And that's not because he simply opposes all government support for energy companies, since he has also voted against legislation that would remove federal subsidies for oil and gas firms:
Voted NO on tax credits for renewable electricity, with PAYGO offsets (2008)
Voted NO on tax incentives for energy production and conservation (2008)
Voted NO on tax incentives for renewable energy (2008)
Voted NO on investing in homegrown biofuel (2007)
Voted NO on removing oil and gas exploration subsidies (2007)
As for where that oil and gas should come from, Ryan's record is similarly straightforward. Aside from voting against a 2001 bill to prohibit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he also voted in 2006 to nix a mortorium on offshore oil drilling, and voted in 2011 to open more of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil rigs. He's an advocate for U.S. energy independence, yet also supports the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, which he says "will not only lessen our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, but also create thousands of American jobs." At the same time, he opposes a wind-energy tax credit that supporters say could save 37,000 jobs.
Given Ryan's support of the oil and gas industry — and the industry's support of him — it's little surprise he isn't enthusiastic about mass transit. Amtrak probably can't count him as an ally, for example, at least based on these votes:
Voted NO on $9.7 billion for Amtrak upgrades/operation through 2013 (2008)
Voted NO on increasing Amtrak funding by $214 million to $900 million (2006)
Ryan's priorities are well-established in his transportation voting record, including votes against bills that support public transit or alternative fuels and votes in favor of bills that support roads, airlines and pipelines. In regard to trains specifically, Ryan writes in his Path to Prosperity proposal that "high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services." He doesn't always apply that self-sufficiency test to roads, though — after voting for a major transportation bill in 2005, for instance, he issued a press release touting road-related earmarks for Wisconsin taxpayers, including nearly $10 million for two interstate projects and $3.2 million for a highway bypass.
Although Ryan is still serving in Congress, Washington's election-year gridlock and the demands of campaigning will likely mean his record doesn't evolve much between now and November. And like them or not, his environmental policies have already changed very little over the years — as these videos from 2008 and 2012 illustrate:
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