Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate may help shore up support from the Republican party's conservative base and quell skepticism of Romney's shifting positions on the environment and climate change, observers told BNA Aug. 13.
But Ryan's skepticism of climate science and votes to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and to block more stringent standards to curb air toxics emitted by industrial sources also could help spark increased turnout from younger Democratic voters who thus far appear less enthusiastic in supporting President Obama than they were in the 2008 campaign, Jennifer Duffy, who follows campaigns for the Cook Political Report, said in an interview.
While Duffy stressed that environment and energy policies are unlikely to emerge as top issues “in an election that is all about the economy,” Ryan's selection could help Romney boost turnout from conservative Republican voters who expressed concern with some of his actions while governor of Massachusetts, including limits on power plant greenhouse gas emissions and a tough stance on a coal-fired power plant along Boston's North Shore (110 DER C-1, 6/8/12).
The League of Conservation Voters has rated Ryan one of the most conservative House members based on his 2011 environmental votes, giving him a score of three out of a possible 100 on key energy, climate change, and environmental votes--lower than even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who scored 11 out of 100.
Duffy said there are essentially only two high-profile energy and environment issues important to conservative Republican voters--the building of the Keystone XL pipeline and eliminating regulatory barriers for coal mining--and Ryan is clearly in their camp on those two.
“The question is, in picking Ryan, has Romney made this an election about turning out the respective bases” of the Democratic and Republican parties, Duffy said, which would be an election similar to 2004, when President Bush defeated Democratic candidate John Kerry largely due to the Bush campaign's success in getting a record turnout from Republican voters.
Romney's selection of Ryan “calms people down” within the Republican base by moving the ticket rightward, she said.
Ryan's voting record on energy and environment is consistent with the records of many House Republicans, particularly following the influx of conservative Republicans in the 2010 election that helped the party recapture control of the House.
Since his first election more than a dozen years ago, Ryan has repeatedly voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; voted in support of a bill to restrict EPA's ability to strengthen air toxics limits for industrial boilers, incinerators, and cement kilns; and voted to bar the Agriculture Department from implementing a climate change adaptation plan to prepare for increasing global temperatures and rising sea level.
He also voted for a Republican proposal to block funding of key White House advisers on climate change and energy, including the assistant to the president for energy and climate change.
Ryan detailed his positions on climate change in a December 2009 op-ed published in the Racine, Wis. Journal Times in which he expressed skepticism of what he called “unilateral” limits on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions under the Democrats' climate bill, which he labeled a “job-killing cap-and-trade scheme.” Such limits were a “tough sell” during Wisconsin's winter given that “much of the state is buried under snow and, more importantly, unemployment” in the Racine area that then topped 14 percent, he wrote.
He also joined other climate science skeptics who in late 2009 were questioning whether leaked emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) suggested the researchers were manipulating data to support what Ryan termed “a predetermined conclusion” linking climate change to human activities.
Those emails, Ryan wrote in the op-ed, suggested they used “statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” A British investigation later cleared the researchers of any scientific wrongdoing.
On occasion, however, Ryan has also taken what environmental groups view as pro-environment votes in voting for broader Clean Water Act protections; voting against efforts to shield from liability the manufacturers of MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl, a gasoline additive which leaked into groundwater; and for an amendment to an appropriations bill to give EPA staff more flexibility to protect bogs and other “isolated” water bodies.
Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Action Fund, said Romney already moved rightward during the Republican primary and thus there is now little “daylight” between the presidential candidate and Ryan on environmental and energy issues.
Romney has argued that the Obama administration's approach of using EPA rules to limit carbon dioxide will devastate the economy and that the president has embarked on an “expansive and destructive regulatory agenda,” including proposed regulations for coal-fired power plants and other emitters.
The NRDC Action Fund director said environmental groups will have an easier time branding the Romney-Ryan ticket as a threat to the environment and public health, noting that Ryan's voting record is comparable to that of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who ran against Romney in the Republican primary. “And last time I checked, she didn't do so well in the primary with her own base,” Taylor-Miesle said. “I doubt Ryan will do any better with his radical stances.”
Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said he considers Ryan a supporter of “market conservatism” who has generally opposed federal mandates in the energy and environmental arena. Segal said Ryan consistently has opposed subsidies for alternative fuels--which Ryan has labeled “boutique” fuels--and called for more drilling of fossil fuels.
Ryan “also seems to be opposed to manipulation of the tax codes for purposes of picking winners and losers,” Segal said, noting the Wisconsin Republican's opposition to Obama administration clean energy funding. Several of those companies ultimately failed, including Solyndra LLC, a photovoltaic solar panel manufacturer, which was awarded $535 million in loan guarantees only to go bankrupt in 2011.
“To my eye, I don't think Ryan is any further to the right on those issues than the Romney campaign has positioned itself,” Segal said.
Ryan's positions on energy and environmental issues are likely to take a back seat, Segal said, to the House Budget Committee chairman's proposals to curb the budget deficit and revamp Medicare.
But Ryan's signature proposal, the fiscal year 2013 budget resolution the chairman titled The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal, outlined a broad energy policy that focuses on “unlocking” domestic supplies of oil and gas, including support for opening new U.S. petroleum refineries.
“Too great a percentage of America's vast natural resources remain locked behind bureaucratic barriers and red tape,” according to the plan.
Ryan's plan also called for streamlining “the outdated regulatory process for clean technologies like nuclear power” and for ending “discriminatory distortions” in the tax code. But it defended current tax subsidies for oil and gas exploration and production because eliminating them, it said, would “raise taxes on energy producers” and families.
Environmental groups said they are relishing Romney's selection of Ryan because of his support for increased domestic oil and gas drilling and his defense of tax breaks for the industry. “Of course, Mitt Romney could not add a Big Oil or Big Coal executive to his ticket, but by picking Paul Ryan, he's done the next closest thing,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in an Aug. 11 statement.
“From rejecting the reality of climate disruption to attacking good-paying clean energy jobs to trying to gut the EPA's ability to protect our air, our water, and the health of our families, Ryan operates out of the dirty energy playbook,” Brune said.
By Dean Scott
The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal is available at http://budget.house.gov/uploadedfiles/pathtoprosperity2013.pdf.
The LCV National Environmental Scorecard is available at http://www.lcv.org/scorecard/.
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