Republican Candidates Turn Hard Right on Environmental Issues

Republican presidential candidates have taken a hard right turn when it comes to environmental issues, as noted in a recent Associated Press article—positions that will likely get a serious showing during the Jan. 31 primary debate in Florida. Until now, environmental topics have taken a back seat in the debates, except where they pertain directly to the economy or jobs, but, they write “That’s likely to change as the race turns to Florida” where topics like offshore oil drilling and restoration of the Everglades are paramount.

And when environmental issues are raised, it’s likely to highlight just how far right the Republican candidates have drifted from their former positions. Take Mitt Romney’s stance on government regulation of car and truck emissions. As Massachusetts Governor, Romney had signed legislation based on California’s carbon emission standards for light duty vehicles. Later, the Obama administration set national standards through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Now Romney has pledged to kill those same standards telling Fox News: “I would get the EPA out of its effort to manage carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles and trucks,” adding that “of all the agencies in Washington, it [the EPA] is the one most being used by this President to try and hold down, crush and insert the federal government into the life of the private sector.”

And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has pushed the idea that increased drilling in the U.S. would lead to lower oil prices, something the Natural Resources Defense Council argues has clearly not panned out following a year of intensified drilling. “Under the Obama Administration, companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of 2011,” the NRDC writes, “the highest number in almost 30 years. That’s nearly double the amount drilling the same period last year, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009. Yet none of this expanded drilling made a difference to the global price of oil.” Most famously, Gingrich appeared on a 2008 TV spot with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to present a united front against climate change. He now vocally regrets that decision, calling it “the dumbest thing I’ve done in the last couple of years, and more recently has called the EPA a “job killer.”

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator, has meanwhile said that there is no place in the U.S. that should not be opened to drilling, including the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. During an interview with the editorial board at the Des Moines Register, Santorum referenced the pro-natural gas drilling stance in Pennsylvania and asked: “We’re drilling oil and gas wells in people’s backyards in Pennsylvania around children and that’s OK, but we can’t drill where there’s a caribou that walks by there every other year? I mean that makes no sense at all.” The Register writes that: “The U.S. Geological Service estimates the tundra contains a relatively small amount of oil, roughly 7 billion barrels of oil – about one year’s worth of American oil consumption – and it’s located in small, scattered pockets.”

The pro-drilling, anti-regulation stance adopted by Republican candidates would seem to have direct link to the campaign donations coming from the energy sector. The Associated Press reports that: “An analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found about $2.8 million in campaign donations were made by those in the energy and natural resources sector, according to Federal Elections Commission data, with about 84 percent of it going to Republicans.”