Where do the Republican Presidential hopefuls stand on environmental issues?

Dear EarthTalk: Where do the Republican Presidential hopefuls stand on environmental issues?

Susan Wollander, Raleigh, NC

In recent decades, Republicans have certainly been less sympathetic to environmental causes than their counterparts across the partisan aisle, and this year’s batch of candidates for the party’s Presidential nomination is no exception.

donald sml 400x267 Where do the Republican Presidential hopefuls stand on environmental issues?
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump calls global warming a “hoax.” Credit: Gage Skidmore, FlickrCC

Frontrunner Donald Trump has remained skeptical of environmentalists and the issues they care about. In 2012 he tweeted that the Chinese created climate change to suppress the American economy. More recently, he called climate change “a hoax” on Fox News. He is also notoriously supportive of getting rid of any tax on oil, “the lifeblood of the economy.” While Trump may look bad on climate change, at least he has a track record of working well with environmentalists on some of his development projects.

Meanwhile, Ben Carson rejects the significance of climate change, deeming it distracting and irrelevant. He does support some development of alternative energy sources, but only so much as it reduces our dependence on foreign oil. Likewise, he supports drilling both offshore and in Alaska to both create jobs and put economic pressure on Middle Eastern terrorists. Despite his lack of climate concern, Carson does feel strongly about conservation, pointing out in his 2012 book America the Beautiful that “mindless consumption” leads to unnecessary pollution and that we should all take care to protect the health of the planet for future generations.

For his part, Marco Rubio isn’t a fan of government intervention, and would prefer to see the free market dictate how we protect the environment. On the issue of climate, he publically stated in 2014 that human activity is unrelated to the naturally warming climate trend, such that any laws would be ineffective and deadly for our economy. His plan to keep energy prices low consists of continued exploration of existing and potential domestic energy sources. While he supports expansion of wind and solar energies, he also favors increasing production and consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Jeb Bush started out his political career with a negative view on regulations to protect the environment, but when he was re-elected governor of Florida in 1998 he changed his tune to say that conservation is the purview of the states (not the fed). He is well known for spearheading a $2 billion program to protect and restore the Everglades, and opposes any oil drilling in his home state. While continued consumption of oil is still a major part of his strategy, he would also like to see Americans derive 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

The leading female Republican candidate, Carly Fiorina, also supports continued enlargement of the energy sector, including clean alternatives, maintaining that every potential energy source should be explored (including nuclear and “clean” coal). And while she may support the development of alternative energy resources, she believes the best strategy for cutting carbon emissions remains global action. Conveniently, this position makes any federal action by the U.S. pointless. In keeping with her antipathy for big government, Fiorina would like to see the EPA downsized and its role in helping dictate policy diminished.

Ted Cruz’s signature on the “Contract from America” makes clear his stance on the environment and many other issues. First off, he rejects any cap-and-trade regulation, claiming such strategies have no proven effect on lowering global temperatures. His energy plan focuses on exploring the known energy reserves to keep prices low. This includes his ardent support of opening up the Gulf of Mexico to drilling. Cruz also voted no on the Whitehouse Amendment, accordingly challenging efforts to protect ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. In regards to the development of clean energy, Cruz came out against the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, saying the government should not pick “winners and losers.” Instead, he thinks no federal subsidies would let free market competition determine the result.

Chris Christie has released a relatively balanced stance on energy consumption, recognizing the importance of oil to the American economy while also pushing green energy sources. Specifically, he supports the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, while also seeking to incentivize clean energy businesses. His record as governor of New Jersey also shows a respect for wilderness areas, particularly his 157 million dollar budget for expanding wildlife areas.

According to Jim Gilmore, America’s best hope for energy independence is nuclear. In the meantime, consumption of oil should be supplemented by America’s “greatest resource”: coal. His stance on oil exploration is also unclear, as he came out against offshore drilling in 2005, but had changed to pro-marine drilling by 2008.

Lindsey Graham’s voting record from the last 15 years speaks more than any of his rhetoric in recent debates; he has consistently chosen to contest proposals that increase regulation of oil consumption and CO2 production. The League of Conservation Voters, an important member of the environmental movement, gave him a rating of 5 percent based on his voting record. While he has said he does not oppose combating climate change or protecting areas, his caveat is this action must not hurt the economy.

Mike Huckabee’s ardent support of energy independence comes primarily from his concern for national security, as he thinks our dependence on the Middle East “ties one hand behind our backs” in foreign policy. To become independent, he supports the development of all alternative energy sources. He has also publically quoted a Boy Scout principle to explain his views on the environment: leave it better than we found it.

Describing climate change as a “Trojan Horse,” Bobby Jindal believes environmental issues are being manufactured to increase regulation. Instead, he supports the development of any and all energy sources, including more drilling. Accordingly, he supports both the Keystone XL pipeline and offshore drilling, as they foster job growth with low risk. Along similar lines, he opposes cap-and-trade regulation to limit carbon emissions, as it would send more jobs internationally. He also has showed no ambition to protect wilderness areas, even voting against authorized critical areas for endangered species.

By supporting a tax on oil, John Kasich seeks to slow the consumption of oil while also increasing state and federal revenues. He has also come out strongly in support of the environment, saying it must be protected and preserved for future generations. Contrary to many Republican candidates, he insists economy and environment are not rivals, rather should be developed in a partnership.

George Pataki is very aware of the dangers of climate change, his intended response being incentives for green businesses. He even came out in support of reducing greenhouse gas emissions back in 1998. However, in 2015 he opposed the Renewable Fuel Standard, which seeks to blend alternative fuels into gasoline to both increase the renewable fuel sector and limit dependence on foreign oil.

Blaming government intervention for the current energy situation, Rand Paul desires the free market to be the only limiting factor. Accordingly, he supports the Keystone Pipeline while fighting against the EPA, an unelected department which he believes should not limit greenhouse gas emissions. He also voted against protecting important wilderness areas, while also claiming “wetlands” is a made-up term that the EPA uses whenever it wants to protect an area.

Rick Santorum is a passionate supporter of oil consumption, backing the Keystone Pipeline as a job stimulus and fracking as a source of natural gas for the next century. He even blames the oil moratorium as a leading cause of economic problems. He did support the Renewable Fuel Standard, as it both promotes energy independence and rural jobs. However, the League of Conservation Voters graded him a zero percent for his stances on environmental issues.

No doubt, if any of these candidates make it to the White House, Americans should buckle up for a wild ride that could include approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian tar sands oil across U.S. soil, a potential pull-back from any carbon emissions reduction commitments made by the Obama administration at the upcoming Paris climate talks, and a weakening of federal powers when it comes to environmental oversight of air and water quality and conservation initiatives in general.