Rhetoric on EPA, Climate Show Divisions Among Republican Presidential Hopefuls

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By Anthony Adragna

Jan. 26 — One likely Republican presidential candidate called the Environmental Protection Agency “locusts” while another compared climate change to a “sunburn,” exposing a contrast with several other likely contenders within the party who recently acknowledged the role of human activity in climate change.

National Republicans almost universally have opposed President Barack Obama's plan for addressing climate change and how he has used the EPA to achieve those goals, but Senate votes the week of Jan. 19 showed some acknowledge the problem is real even if they disagree about how to address it. Those divisions are slight but important as Republicans consider a 2016 presidential nominee, environmental advocates have said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a first-term senator from Texas, spoke Jan. 24 at the Iowa Freedom Summit of the need to send “the locusts of the EPA back to Washington” just days after he voted against the scientific consensus that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.

“I was once out in west Texas, and I said, ‘You know, the thing about folks from the EPA is, unlike locusts, you can't use pesticide against them' and an old farmer looked at me and said ‘Wanna bet?'” Cruz said.

While most Republicans have expressed concern about the magnitude and substance of many EPA regulations, few have used such fiery rhetoric about the agency. Recent polling found six in 10 Americans back limits on carbon pollution, including half of all Republicans, although respondents were not asked how to do so.

Huckabee Unconcerned by ‘Sunburn.'

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who served as his state's chief executive from 1996 through 2007 and previously ran for president, took aim Jan. 24 at President Barack Obama's recent comments that “no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations” than climate change.

“Not to diminish anything about the climate at all, but Mr. President, I believe that most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn,” Huckabee said, referring to recent beheadings in eastern Syria by the Islamic State group.

The former governor, who once backed mandatory greenhouse gas emissions caps in the U.S. before flipping in 2010, also spoke at the Iowa Freedom Summit as he considers a potential second presidential bid.

Meanwhile, two other potential Republican 2016 candidates—Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.)—backed an amendment on the Keystone XL pipeline bill (S. 1) Jan. 21 that said human activity contributes to climate change, while Cruz and another rumored candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), did not.

Overall, 15 Republican senators backed the amendment while Graham and four other Republican senators backed a separate amendment saying human activity “significantly” contributes to climate change. 

Romney Talks Climate 

Those Senate votes came as 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who may run a third time for the presidency, called for “real leadership” to reduce carbon emissions Jan. 22.

“I'm one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” Romney said at an investment management conference, according to the AP.

Romney has held several views on climate change during presidential runs. In his 2012 presidential campaign, he spoke of the issue rarely and told one gathering: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Congressional observers previously told Bloomberg BNA the Senate amendment votes served an important purpose of beginning an open debate about climate change again while also showing internal divisions within the Republican party about the issue.

Multiple Democrats, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and environmental advocates previously have said they do not believe a candidate who denies climate change can win the presidency in 2016.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

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