During last week’s Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire, CNN’s John King, who served as moderator, asked questions about jobs and taxes, but not climate change. CJR reader and helpful heckler Jeff Huggins pointed out the omission in a recent comment.
Indeed, the word “climate” never came up, but the candidates created their own opportunities to take pot shots at the Obama administration’s energy policy. When King asked a question about how quickly he could “grow the economy,” former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum complained about “Obamacare” and “oppressive regulation,” adding:
Throw on top of that what this president’s done on energy. The reason we’re seeing this second dip is because of energy prices, and this president has put a stop sign again — against oil drilling, against any kind of exploration offshore or in Alaska, and that is depressing. We need to drill. We need to create energy jobs, just like we’re doing, by the way, in Pennsylvania, where we’re drilling 3,000 wells this year for gas, and gas prices are down — natural gas prices are down as a result.
Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty quickly followed up with the banal observation that “We need to have a pro-American energy policy.” Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that the Obama administration is an “anti-American energy destructive force.”
CNN’s King, deaf to the need for a follow-up question, left that task to local journalists in the audience. John Distaso, a reporter for the Union Leader in Manchester, pointed to a bill under consideration in the state legislature that would restrict governments’ ability to seize land for power plants or transmission facilities.
“Should governments at any level be able to use eminent domain for major projects that will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil?” Distaso asked Mitt Romney, pointing out that the former Massachusetts governor is a property owner, but also supports reducing dependence on foreign oil. Romney said eminent domain should not be used to give land to private enterprises, and then basically echoed Santorum’s admiration of fossil fuels:
Now, the right answer for us to have energy independence is to start developing our own energy in this country, and we’re not doing that. We — we have a huge find with natural gas; 100 years of new natural gas has been found. More drilling for oil, natural gas, clean coal. We have coal in great abundance, nuclear power ultimately, and all the renewables. But it’s time for us to have a president who really cares about finally getting America on track for energy security.
Josh McElveen, an anchor at a local TV news station, asked Santorum about the Senate abolishing government subsidies for ethanol (which it later did on June 16). Santorum replied that he supported doing so, but added that he would use the savings to “help expand distribution for E-85 [a high ethanol blend of fuel] in other areas of the country” over a period of five years.
If none of the presidential candidates mentioned climate, it is likely because they have already made it abundantly clear that they are unconcerned with the issue. Pawlenty, who endorsed a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while governor of Minnesota, was one of the first to stir up headlines. In late March, he said on the Laura Ingraham Show that his support for cap-and-trade was “a mistake.” He repeated the line during the first Republican debate of the campaign season on May 5 in Greenville, South Carolina.
“I’ve said I was wrong. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry,” Pawlenty told the Fox television audience. “You’re going to have a few clunkers in your record, and we all do, and that’s one of mine. I just admit it. I don’t try to duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away. I’m just telling you, I made a mistake.”
On May 9, Politico noted that “unlike Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich,” who appeared alongside Democrat Nancy Pelosi in a 2007 ad for Al Gore’s Repower American Campaign, “makes no apologies about his past advocacy on climate change. That may be so, but less than a week later, he was certainly backpedaling, telling The Telegraph in Macon, Georgia that while he acknowledged the reality of global warming, he was uncertain about humans’ contribution.
“The planet used to be dramatically warmer when we had dinosaurs and no people. To the best of my knowledge the dinosaurs weren’t driving cars,” he said.