Jon Huntsman Jr.’s entry into the Republican presidential race brings perhaps the most unique voice to a growing list of contenders. The former ambassador to China and governor of Utah is the closest thing to a moderate that the GOP has to offer. No other policy area underscores this reality than Huntsman’s stance on energy and the environment.

Huntsman does not argue the scientific evidence that supports the existence of man-caused climate change. He joined fellow moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger in an emissions reduction partnership when Huntsman was Utah’s governor and Schwarzenegger was California’s. Huntsman has stood up for energy efficiency, protections for nuclear waste disposal and the phasing out of ethanol and all other energy subsidies. A profile of Huntsman in Time magazine pointed out that, “he is pro-environment, a little too green for many in his party.”

Science is for scientists

Huntsman believes the scientists when it comes to climate change. “This is an issue that ought to be answered by the scientific community; I'm not a meteorologist,” said Huntsman in a May 2011 interview. “All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we'd listen to them. I respect science.”

Loud and proud about climate change stance

Huntsman’s concerns about climate change led him to take on the issue full force during his time as Utah’s chief executive. In 2007, Huntsman joined fellow eco-friendly governors, Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Schwarzenegger, in a commercial that urged Congress to take action on climate change. That commercial, sponsored by conservation group Environmental Defense, included all three governors finishing each other’s sentences. “Climate change is a test of leadership.” began Schwarzenegger. ”Now it is time for Congress to act by capping greenhouse gas pollution,” continued Huntsman.” Schweitzer then interrupted saying, “We are leading,” and Schwarzenegger wrapped it up saying, “Now it’s your turn.”

Huntsman didn’t hold back after the commercial was filmed. The governor’s office released a statement saying, “We are already wrestling with the critical issue of greenhouse gas emissions. This ad is an effort to encourage congressional action, which is imperative to a nationwide, comprehensive approach to clean our air and create new economic development opportunities for our state and nation."

No longer the time for cap-and-trade

While sticking to his guns about the science behind climate change, Huntsman has tweaked his feelings on a market-based mechanism to curb greenhouse gases emissions. As governor, Huntsman led the way to the creation of the Western Climate Imitative. The WCI was a regional cap-and-trade plan championed by Schwarzenegger and pushed through by Huntsman while he chaired the Western Governors’ Association.

But since taking the job as ambassador to China, Huntsman has changed his tune. “Cap-and-trade ideas aren't working; it hasn't worked, and our economy's in a different place than five years ago,” Huntsman explained in the Time interview, adding that his change has been motivated by the shift in America’s economic circumstances. “Much of this discussion happened before the bottom fell out of the economy, and until it comes back, this isn't the moment,” he said.

Roll back energy subsidies

Huntsman has been an outspoken critic of ethanol subsidies. His stance has put him in such a risky spot for the Iowa caucus that he has said he doesn't plan to spending much time campaigning in the corn-rich state. But it’s not just about ethanol for Huntsman. From the sound of it, he isn’t too sold on government subsides for any energy source.

During an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley before a debate in June, Huntsman was asked specifically about rolling back government subsidies for oil companies. “Are you also against oil and gas subsidies? Would you phase those out as well?” asked Crowley. Huntsman replied by saying, "I think phasing out all subsidies — some will have to be done on a faster track than others — but moving towards a phase out of all subsidies is going to be very important for budgetary reasons in this country." 

If Huntsman was saying that he would be in favor of rolling back the billions that go to some of the most profitable oil companies, it may be a shrewd political move. For one thing, it would set him apart from most Republican candidates, and it would align him with 74 percent of Americans who said they are opposed to oil subsidies, according to a May 2011 poll.

Lead on alternative energy, and be skeptical of nuclear waste

As Utah’s governor, Huntsman strongly promoted alternative energy. He vowed to position Utah as a leader to other states when it came to renewables. “We need to lead the nation in finding alternative sources for energy and efficiency,” said Huntsman in 2003. As governor, Huntsman loved intertwining environmental issues with health issues, “I will focus the legislature-dedicated monies for energy research with a future-oriented view to insure that their use is in accordance with a healthy Utah,” he said.

Huntsman used similar tones when he fiercely opposed the dumping of “hotter” levels of nuclear waste within Utah’s boundaries in exchange for increasing the funds directed to the state’s education system. “Some may say that funding education through these 'hotter' waste types would help pay for our education needs. However, we cannot pay for our children’s education by mortgaging their future health and safety,” Huntsman said.

Jon Huntsman Jr. is a wildcard. He has his own opinions that have been shaped by a unique life. He is the son of a man who made a fortune around the invention of the plastic egg carton and devoted his fortune to philanthropy and funding cancer research. By the time Jon Jr. came of age, he deviated from his dad’s path to pursue dreams of being a rock star. That dream ended and a new one began when Huntsman reengaged in public service, eventually going on to be a Republican governor of a deep red state, and then the ambassador to the world’s largest economy for a Democratic president. Now his eyes are on the presidency. If he gets there, it will be because he takes an entirely different path than his contemporaries — a path that is slightly greener.

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Jon Huntsman's environmental record
The former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China looks like the greenest Republican in the presidential race — and perhaps the most interesting.