Energy and environmental issues, and candidate stances on them, will play a large role in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama’s position on many policy issues may be well known, but for the majority of Americans, the platforms of the Republican candidates are just now coming into focus.
energyNOW! interviewed Mother Nature Network reporter Andrew Schenkel about differences in policy stances on some of the major energy and environmental issues taking shape in the Republican presidential primary. You can watch the full interview by clicking on the video below.
According to Schenkel, the defining energy and environment issue for Republican candidates is whether candidates believe in climate change, but secondary issues like increasing domestic drilling and production, as well as energy subsidies looms large.
Schenkel says candidates have to be concerned with the question of support for ethanol because the first electoral contest is the Iowa Caucus in February, and the imperative to define themselves as smaller government advocates means they must also oppose subsidies.
This conflict means most of the candidates are taking an unpopular political stance, at least in Iowa, because they say they are against continuing ethanol subsidies. The two outliers, as of now, are Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who maintain support for ethanol. Most other candidates are not supporting biofuels and some, most notably Jon Huntsman, are not campaigning in Iowa for that very reason.
This opposition to ethanol does create a contradiction, however, because while most candidates oppose continuing subsidies to corn growers, at the same time support subsidies for oil and other fossil fuel companies. Schenkel says many of the candidates are avoiding having to reconcile those stances by not talking about them.
While the issue of subsidies may create headaches for the candidates, the single most important issue to Republican voters may now be climate change. In the past, the GOP championed conservation and cap-and-trade legislation, but that tide has turned since the 2009 United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen. Since then, the number of climate change skeptics has grown within the party, to the point that Schenkel doubts if a candidate who accepts climate change has any chance of winning the nomination because it is such a polarizing issue.
Of course, any time a candidate is running against an incumbent, the challenge is to draw distinctions against the Oval Office, and that trend will continue in 2012. Schenkel says Ron Paul presents the starkest contrast to President Obama because of his consistent stance of small-government solutions to energy challenges and a diminished role for the EPA. While Paul acknowledges climate change may be an issue, he does not believe it's the government's job to fight it.
If Paul’s positions make him the antithesis of President Obama, Mitt Romney’s may make him the most similar. However, Romney's position on climate change has changed since he was governor of Massachusetts 10 years ago, when he supported cap-and-trade and helped set up the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Now, he wants no part of cap-and-trade, and says Washington should have no part in energy regulation. Schenkel says this reversal holds true for many of Romney’s policy stances, in his attempt to court as many voters as possible.