Walker, Staunch Foe of EPA Rules, Seeks Presidency

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By Rachel Leven and Anthony Adragna

July 13 — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has largely refrained from wading into the climate change debate, said July 13 he would enter the crowded field for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

In many ways, Walker's views on national environment and energy policies, such as his concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan, his opposition to a new national ground-level ozone standard and his support for broad energy development, mirror that of other Republican contenders.

However, the two-term governor's state record alone, including his signature on a recent state budget that restricted protections for water, is enough to prompt vehement opposition from environmentalists.

“He views himself on a national stage in front of exactly two people: the Koch brothers,” Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund, told Bloomberg BNA, referring to wealthy industrialists Charles and David Koch. “That makes him dangerous.”

Walker, who announced his candidacy July 10 on Twitter, is the 15th Republican to enter the primaries to become the next president of the U.S.

His campaign didn't respond to messages from Bloomberg BNA requesting comment for this article.

Climate Change 

Walker has made few comments about climate change, an area where many of the Republican candidates have kept their opinions vague or shifted their stances over time. However, his statements regarding other national policies indicate strong opposition to federal environmental regulation related to climate and air issues.

Walker told President Barack Obama in a May letter that complying with the EPA proposed Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), a rule that would set state-specific limits for carbon dioxide emissions, would make it difficult to keep electricity in Wisconsin “safe, affordable and reliable.”

The Wisconsin governor stopped short of formally saying his state would not comply with the regulation once finalized, but wrote “it is difficult to envision how” the state could construct a compliance plan “absent significant and meaningful changes” in the final rule.

Such stances on controversial federal regulations have earned Walker rave reviews from industry groups.

“Governor Walker's vocal opposition to the EPA's power plant regulation could really help him in this race,” Chris Warren, a spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, told Bloomberg BNA. “It's an area where he can separate himself from the candidates who have yet to explain their position on the rule. This could push others in the race, especially current and former governors, to take a public stance on the Obama administration's flagship climate rule.”

Additionally, Walker is one of 11 governors who in March urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy not to revise national standards for ground-level ozone that are currently set at 75 parts per billion.

The governors called the EPA November proposal (RIN 2060-AP38) to lower the standards to between 65 ppb to 70 ppb “an onerous, job-crushing standard,” in line with complaints from industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute.

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Renewable Fuels 

Walker differs from some Republicans in the field in his support for the EPA renewable fuel standard, a requirement to blend biofuels such as ethanol into the fuel supply.

While some said this is a change in his position from when he initially ran for governor, Walker said in March that he hasn't switched his position because he supports phasing out the existing mandate and opposes “putting in new mandates,” according to a Bloomberg Politics report.

“From our standpoint, our position is consistent,” Walker said on a call with Tea Party members, according to the report. “I talked about not wanting a mandate in Wisconsin as governor. We don't have one. I do not support one.”

Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on energy issues during his 2008 presidential run, told Bloomberg BNA the nuanced shift from Walker on ethanol issues likely stemmed from the fact the Wisconsin governor feels he needs to win the Iowa caucuses to remain competitive in the Republican primary.

“I think he is adjusting himself [on biofuels] to make himself more palatable in Iowa,” O'Connell said, noting that the Republican field is “all singing from the hymn book” on most other energy issues.

Walker's state sued the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to block implementation of its clean water rule, a rule that delineates which bodies of water fall under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act.

In the largest energy and environment issue for the Republican race—energy development—Walker appears to have fallen in line with his party's other presidential hopefuls.

Calling the U.S. an “energy-rich country,” Walker said on his website the U.S. can “literally fuel our economic recovery with an ‘all-of-the-above' energy policy.”

Walker's strong record of opposing Obama administration regulatory efforts means he likely won't look to those issues as a way to distinguish himself from the rest of the Republican field, several Republican strategists told Bloomberg BNA.

“A lot of candidates are going to look to EPA bashing as a way to bolster their bona fides,” Mike McKenna, a Republican lobbyist and strategist, told Bloomberg BNA. “He’s going to be able to be a little less bombastic than other folks. He can be more precise, more nuanced.”

State Record 

Walker's state record also provides insight into his views on energy and the environment.

Most recently, Walker signed July 12 a state budget for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 that restricts enforcement of a rule's non-agricultural runoff performance standards, a move that would lower protections for water quality. The same budget also would “defund” state parks and significantly limit funding for a state science research office, Sierra Club Vice President Spencer Black said in an opinion piece on Madison.com.

Walker is also known for signing into law in March 2013 legislation that would speed up permitting and relax environmental protections for ferrous metallic mining, a law environmental groups strongly opposed.

The legislation was largely expected to apply to a $1.5 billion proposed open-pit iron mine by Gogebic Taconite LLC; however, in March 2015 Gogebic Taconite said further investment was “unfeasible” due, in part, to uncertainty regarding the EPA response to the project.

Walker's environmental record during his time as governor shows he would be a “disaster” as president on those issues, Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, told Bloomberg BNA.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Schumann said. “This is how he would approach [the environment] as president. There has been no indication otherwise.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com; Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

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