Oh, That Climate Hoax Thing? Nevermind, Trump Campaign Says

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By Rachel Leven and Dean Scott

Sept. 27 — Remember how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said climate change was a hoax? Actually, forget that. That’s the message Trump and his campaign are sending as of this week’s presidential debate.

The day after Trump inaccurately denied ever saying that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by China, his campaign manager told CNN he believes in “naturally occurring” climate change. And his running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), went further, telling CNN that the vice presidential candidate believes there is “no question” human activity affects the climate.

But what do these shifts mean, really? In the most practical sense, his chosen advisers, which include folks who believe that carbon dioxide emissions are good for the environment, are still the same and his environment and energy policy proposals appear to be the same before his climate flip. But it also doesn’t seem to have won him more friends among environmentalists or Democratic lawmakers, many of whom appear skeptical, if not entirely disbelieving, of the reversal.

“Donald Trump continues to lie about things he said,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told Bloomberg BNA. “His campaign people again today said it’s not caused by human activity. So he’s a danger—a clear and present danger on climate.”

The First Debate

Trump denied that he ever claimed that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, speaking during one of the few exchanges related to environmental issues at the Sept. 26 presidential debate with Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton.

He was immediately fact-checked.

For example, in a November 2012 tweet, Trump wrote: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

In other tweets and statements Trump has more broadly mocked the idea of global warming amid major snowstorms and called climate change baseless. Some of his recently chosen advisers for the campaign are also climate skeptics.

Meanwhile, at the debate, Trump’s denial of his climate change “hoax” statements didn’t appear to change his policies, as he repeated that he’s a “great believer in all forms of energy” but called domestic energy policies a “disaster” that have been “putting a lot of people out of work.” He also chided the U.S. government’s investment in a solar company that lost significant funds, likely referring to the solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc.'s bankruptcy five years ago.

Campaign Follows Suit

On Sept. 27, Trump’s campaign followed his lead to moderate previous stances on climate change. Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, told CNN that Trump believes in “naturally occurring” global warming—climate change that isn’t caused by human activities.

But Pence told CNN separately on Sept. 27 that there is “no question” human activities affect the climate. Pence also attempted to walk back Trump’s allegation from the 2012 tweet that climate change is a “hoax,” saying on CNN that Trump meant the hoax “is that bureaucrats in D.C. can control the climate.”

In line with Trump’s continued stance that domestic energy policies need to be revamped, Pence said that their opposition is to President Barack Obama’s climate agenda that “is killing jobs in this country.”

“There’s no question that the activities that take place in this country and in countries around the world have some impact on the environment and some impact on climate,” Pence said on CNN. “But Donald Trump and I say, ‘Let’s follow the science, but for heaven’s sakes, let’s not go rushing into the kind of restrictions on our economy that are putting Americans out of work and, frankly, are driving jobs out of this country.’ ”

Not Making Friends

But Trump’s comments may not beget him new allies.

Environmentalists such as the Sierra Club appeared ready in statements following the debate to harness the momentum of catching Trump in a lie, rather than try to coax the candidate to a more climate-friendly stance. And Senate Democrats, including Boxer, seemed unmoved by Trump’s awkward shift in policy stance.

“I think that it is beyond belief that a major political party—the Republican party—is running for president a candidate who denies virtually all of the scientific evidence” on climate change, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters Sept. 27. “No serious person debates that. It is inconceivable that we would elect a president who denies that reality.”

The friendliest statement came from the somewhat skeptical Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who caveatted that Trump doesn’t have strong credibility on issues like climate change or a predictable line of thought.

“If Donald Trump can find religion on the origin of the place of Barack Obama’s birth, then maybe there’s hope for climate change,” Carper told Bloomberg BNA. “My hope is that if Donald Trump ends up as president, he’ll get religion on [climate change], as well.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com and Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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