Jeb Bush, Seen as Environmental Enigma, Jumps Into Republican Presidential Fray

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By Anthony Adragna

June 15 — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who developed a moderate environmental record as governor but has tilted toward more conventional Republican views in recent years, formally entered June 15 the expansive Republican presidential primary contest.

Bush, who served as governor of the Sunshine State from 1999 through 2007, largely opposed oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida, secured billions to restore the Everglades and led a $1 billion public land acquisition program during his time running the state.

Since leaving the office, though, Bush has voiced strong support for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, wavered on the question of whether human activity is contributing to climate change and expressed support for hydraulic fracturing.

Among many observers though—Republican and Democrat—Bush has changed positions so frequently that it is difficult to identify what he actually believes.

“The Bush family is really, really good at muddying the waters,” Mike McKenna, a Republican lobbyist and strategist, told Bloomberg BNA. “So at the end of the day, you're not really sure what this guy is or is not for.”

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ECR story graphic 6/15/2015

Jeb Bush is the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush. He will lock horns with at least 10 other declared Republican candidates seeking their party's nomination for president.

During his official campaign kick-off event June 15, Bush said he would “undo by act of Congress and order of the president” some of the overregulation undertaken by the EPA and promised the U.S. would be energy independent within five years.

“Federal regulation has gone far past the consent of the governed,” Bush said in Miami. “It is time to start making rules for the rule-makers.”

Conflicting Tones on Climate 

Bush made waves in April when he said at an event in New Hampshire that “the climate is changing and I'm concerned about that” and called for the U.S. “to work with the rest of the world to negotiate a way to reduce carbon emissions.”

Those remarks raised hopes from some environmental advocates, including NextGen Climate. That group, which pushes to elect politicians who favor climate change solutions, said Bush “demonstrated leadership” on the issue and called his remarks a “critical step forward” for Republicans.

Following his comments, some observers said Bush might think of using climate change as a way to show moderation among the Republican field and build a broader base of support.

Their hopes were quickly tampered, though, when a month later Bush said the science wasn't clear about the role of human activity in climate change. 

“For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you,” Bush said May 20. “It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it, even.”

Environmental advocates now say Bush is, in many ways, worse than outright climate change deniers, because the groups aren't sure what he actually believes.

“What he has shown is that he's willing to say anything depending on who is in the room,” Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund, told Bloomberg BNA. “Until he comes out with a vision to address America's real serious problems like climate change, he can't be taken seriously.”

Mainstream on Keystone, Fracking 

Bush voiced strong support for minimal government regulation of hydraulic fracturing during a late January speech and indicated strong support for the “veritable [energy] revolution.”

“Washington shouldn't try to regulate hydraulic fracking out of business,” Bush told the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention in San Francisco. “It should be done reasonably and thoughtfully to protect the natural environment, but it shouldn't be done with the intent of paralyzing it.”

During the same speech, Bush called approving the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline a “no-brainer.”

Bush has said relatively little about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clean Power Plan—the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's plan to address climate change—but recently addressed a gathering of senior executives in the coal industry. Environmental groups called that appearance troubling.

In contrast to some high-profile environmental issues, Bush did distance himself from others in the Republican race by voicing support to ultimately phasing out the renewable fuel standard during an agricultural summit in March.

“I would suggest to you that ultimately, whether it's ethanol or any other alternative fuel, renewable or otherwise, the markets ultimately are going to decide this,” Bush said in Iowa. “At some point we'll see a reduction of the RFS need because ethanol will be such a valuable part of the energy piece of our country. Whether that's 2022 or sometime in the future I don't know.”

Bush called the EPA “a pig in slop” and urged the U.S. to “rein in this top-down driven regulatory system” during the same speech.

Record as Governor 

Some point to Bush's record as Florida governor as reason to hope he would bring a moderate approach to environmental issues as president.

During his time in Tallahassee, Bush secured and spent billions to restore the Everglades.

“I remain fully committed to restoring the water quality of the Everglades at the earliest possible date, and to protecting the valuable partnership of state and federal government required to complete the restoration of this national treasure,” Bush said in a 2003 statement.

In 2001, Bush pressured his brother's Interior Department to halt a proposed lease in December of some 6 million acres off the state's northwestern coast and vowed to continue to oppose offshore drilling in eastern Gulf of Mexico. He did later express qualified support for some offshore drilling in Florida and has strongly supported on-shore drilling efforts.

Other environmental advocates sharply disagree and say the former governor has a limited environmental resume beyond public land acquisition.

“Jeb was bad on climate change, clean energy, clean air and water and he was bad on most Everglades policy,” Frank Jackalone of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club told Bloomberg BNA. The only thing he deserves credit for was land acquisition. If you take a look, holistically, on everything Jeb did [as governor], he wasn’t good on these issues.”

Unease Among Conservatives 

While some of Bush's most recent statements have drawn fire from the left of the political spectrum, various environmental positions from Bush have drawn the ire of conservative groups as well.

“There are definitely inconsistencies between Jeb Bush’s rhetoric and his actual policy positions,” Chris Warren, American Energy Alliance spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA. “He claims to be in favor of free markets, yet he supports renewing taxpayer-funded subsidies for wind energy and maintaining the status quo for the federal ethanol mandate. On these issues, at least, he’s at odds with free market principles and is indistinguishable from other big-government candidates in both parties.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at