Romney's Ever-Changing Coal and Climate Policies
If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, the implications on energy and the environment could be far-reaching. But figuring out what he actually believes is a challenge -- or whether he is just a drifter who shifts with the political winds and hopes to land in the Oval Office.
As governor of Massachusetts, he started out leading as a moderate-to-liberal Republican, at least until the time came to take his political skills to a higher level. Around 2005, he began moving to the right in an effort to get beyond his Northeastern base and into the more conservative national realm where he would seek his party’s 2008 presidential nomination.
His positions are “evolving,” causing skeptics both within the party ranks and outside of them to question whether he has a core belief system and whether he would govern as a moderate or a conservative. Setting aside the whole Romney-Care health package that he once ushered in with great fanfare, there’s also his apparent flip-flop on climate change and on coal. Once an advocate of tighter controls, now he is not.
“The same policies that protect the climate also promote energy efficiency, smart business practices, and improve the environment in which our citizens live and work,” Romney wrote in a 2003 letter prefacing a 52-page plan, in a story that appeared in the National Journal.
Consider that in his first term as the Bay State’s governor, Romney initially supported a regional agreement in which the state would establish controls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006 -- two years before his 2008 presidential bid -- he changed his tactics. Instead of the cap-and-trade program, he supported modest penalties for coal-fired power plants that release harmful emissions.
As for coal, Romney has been extremely critical of President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency and what he says are the excessive regulations that the administration is putting out. The impact on coal and the utilities that burn it is adverse and if elected, he will work to reverse such actions. Those attacks are occurring in few battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado where the coal issue could tip the scales.
But Obama is not taking these broadsides sitting down. Just recently, his campaign released footage of Romney giving a talk in front of angry miners -- a 2003 speech in Massachusetts in which he is vowing to shut down a single coal plant there that he says is “killing” people.
Today, Romney says that he is the only remaining White House aspirant who truly supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy -- as opposed to President Obama who has a vengeance for the fossil fuels, and who endorses “crony capitalism.”
“Our extracting industries have become so effective in remediating lands after they have been mined for coal, for instance, as well as making sure that we are not polluting the air,” Romney says, on the stump. “We really don’t have to say to ourselves that we can’t afford to have oil, coal and gas as part of our energy mix.”
Romney continues, noting that he cannot say for sure whether global warming is a naturally-occurring event or whether it is man-made. He does say that any resolution to the phenomenon is the responsibility of the international community and that this is not something that this country should undertake alone, emphasizing that it would damage the United States’ competitiveness.
The positions on climate change and on coal-fired electricity are widely held within the Republican ranks. Those positions are, in fact, separating the two political parties and are giving voters a true and honest distinction. What’s less clear, though, is whether Romney actually believes his words or whether he is just doing what he must so that he can be president.
And while politicians and lawyers are known for prostituting themselves, the nomination process revealed that many Republicans would prefer a candidate on whom they could count through thick and thin -- not one who will change sides during the heat of the battle. For better or worse, former presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorium has always been consistent.
“There’s a big difference between the Northeast and the rest of the country on these issues,” says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advised Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and is now president of a conservative think tank called American Action Forum, in the National Journal story.
Those of presidential timber are able to mature and transform. But the electorate typically prefers the tried and true and not the fickle and fain. Now, though, Romney must stick with the side that got him to where he currently stands -- a position that will undoubtedly move closer to the center as the fall campaign heats up.
EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.