Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) will not be returning to the U.S. House in 2012, but he will be returning to the presidential campaign trail. The Texas Libertarian is in it to win it, and if he pulls it off, he will bring to the White House one of the most interesting energy platforms in recent memory.
True to Libertarian form, Paul generally wants the government to take a hands-off approach to energy and environmental issues. Paul has had a lukewarm relationship with the oil industry; he remains unconvinced that climate change is an issue that demands government attention, but he does think “something is afoot” with the planet. He has consistently sponsored legislation to incentivize greener behavior through tax credits, but he generally values energy independence over environmental concerns.
Ron Paul is his own man, and President Paul’s energy and environmental policies would be unique as well. Here’s where Paul has stood on the issues throughout his career:
Opposition to all energy subsidies — sort of
Anyone who has read Paul’s books knows that he doesn’t like it when the government interferes with free markets. This is a defining principle behind his opposition to government subsidies for the energy sector. But while Paul is known for his straight talk — which often gets him in trouble with the Republican establishment — he has drawn a distinction between a government subsidy and a tax break.
In a 2008 Freakomics interview, Paul was pretty darn clear. “We should start by ending subsidies for oil companies. And we should never, ever go to war to protect our perceived oil interests. If oil were allowed to rise to its natural price, there would be tremendous market incentives to find alternate sources of energy,” Paul said. We will revisit that statement about alternative energy in a moment, but for now, let’s stick with this business about oil subsidies, because Paul has changed his tune a bit.
Speaking to an audience in New Hampshire in June, Paul explained what he says is the difference between a tax credit and a subsidy:
“With tax credits and deductions, industries, business, and individuals simply get to keep more of the money they have earned. Ideally, the tax code should not be used for social engineering, but, until we have true tax reform, I will always support tax credits and deductions that keep more dollars in the private sector where they are spent, saved, or invested,” said Paul. This new definition has allowed Paul to justify his strong and consistent opposition to ethanol subsidies, while supporting the NAT Gas Act, which would give tax breaks to companies that transform cars and trucks to drive on natural gas. Interestingly enough, Paul didn’t mention the “oil subsidies” he was so against in 2008. In fact, Paul’s congressional website has removed the page that stated Paul was against continuing the government subsidies to Big Oil. That link was used in a Grist story, which outlined his old platform in 2007.
Against the 2005 Energy Policy Act
For environmentally minded voters, the 2005 Energy Policy Act is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in recent memory. Ron Paul felt the same way. Paul voted against the final version of the bill, which among other things, gave about $22 billion to polluting energy sources, granted royalty exemptions for onshore and offshore gas development, shielded polluters from lawsuits and granted just 6 percent of its tax breaks to clean energy sources. The bill also exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Clean Water Act. At the time, the bill included broad support in the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Ron Paul was one of the few Republicans in the House of Representatives voting against the bill. On the Senate side, then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for the measure.
Drilling in Alaska and bolstering domestic oil production
Ron Paul is in favor of developing oil resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). During debates in New Hampshire earlier this year, Paul reiterated his feeling that the more energy we produce domestically the more we save by not having to deal with the Middle East. This has been Paul’s justification for his desire to streamline the process for building more oil refineries. Paul’s Refinery Streamlined Permitting Act of 2007 called for, “the Secretary of Energy to offer assistance to enable states to assign responsibilities delegated to them regarding construction or expansion of a petroleum refining facility in a coordinated and expeditious manner.”
While that bill never became law, Paul has continued to push for similar measures. In 2007, Paul sponsored the Affordable Gas Price Act, which also called opening up ANWR to oil and gas production. Paul’s congressional district lies on the coastline between Houston and Rockport, Texas, which made him a powerful voice against President Obama’s offshore drilling ban in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Paul has consistently pushed for more development offshore, citing energy independence as the main justification.
Alternative energy and hemp
That desire to make the United States more energy independent has also led to his support of domestic green energy sources. In the 110th Congress, Paul was the co-sponsor of HR 198, which would have extended tax breaks for clean electricity facilities through 2013. He also sponsored HR 550, which would have extended the investment tax credit with respect to solar energy property and qualified fuel cell property, and HR 1772, which would have provided a credit for residential biomass fuel property expenditures. While none of Paul’s bills made it to President Bush’s desk for signage into law, many of these tax breaks came to be — in one form or another — through president Obama’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he signed into law shortly after taking office.
Paul was also the man behind the Industrial Hemp Farming Acts of 2007 and 2009, which would have removed industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. This would have allowed for the production of domestic hemp oil. In a somewhat related note, Paul has recently teamed up with liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D- Mass.) to introduce a bill that would legalize marijuana and provide a mechanism to tax it.
Tax cuts for green behavior
Ron Paul loves saying it is rare for him to find a tax credit he doesn’t like, and he especially loves credits for green behavior. He has supported bills that would make bicycle commuters eligible for the transportation fringe-benefit tax credit. He also supports a tax deduction for those who pay to use public transportation. If you want to move your business into an energy-efficient building, Paul has a tax credit for you. But when it comes to the government mandating a national standard for increasing fuel efficiency, Paul says that goes too far. Going back to 2001, Paul has consistently voted against increasing U.S. fuel-economy standards.
In all, Ron Paul has one of the lengthiest records on energy policy in Congress. You’ll get that when you serve for the better part of the last 40 years and run for president a few times. During those years, he has earned about a 25 percent voting score from the League of Conservation Voters. It’s the Republican primary voters who he will have to convince now.