Candidate Kasich Says Climate Change Cause Unclear

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By Rachel Leven and Anthony Adragna

July 20 — Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who has stated that he recognizes possible environmental harm from climate change, is expected to announce July 21 his candidacy for president of the U.S.

Kasich, governor of Ohio since 2011, said as recently as this month that he still isn't sure of the causes and science behind climate change. Under the two-term governor, the state environmental agency has opposed the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan by arguing that it is illegal and unworkable.

Kasich's state record—delaying renewable energy mandates and barring oil and gas drilling in certain areas—is mixed, resulting in the feeling that his policies “could have been worse,” Julian Boggs, global warming program director for Environment America and former director of the group's Ohio state chapter, told Bloomberg BNA.

“He’s defined compromise as ‘we didn’t gut the existing bill as much as we could have' or ‘we didn’t cave to the most extreme parts of party,' ” Boggs said of Kasich's actions as governor. “It’s a really bizarre version of compromise.”

Kasich, who received a League of Conservation Voters lifetime score of 27 percent for his environment and energy actions taken during nearly two decades in Congress from 1983 until 2001, will become the 16th Republican to toss his name into the presidential fray.

His campaign didn't respond to Bloomberg BNA's messages requesting comment. Similarly, several Republican lobbyists, industry organizations and right-leaning groups, such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, either declined to comment or didn't respond to messages for this article.

Addressing Climate Change

Kasich has said that he believes that climate change is real and a problem. However, it is unclear the extent to which he acknowledges that humans are part of the problem or how concerned the governor is regarding finding solutions.

In an interview with the Financial Times released July 13, Kasich said humans should not “worship” nature in response to a question about Pope Francis's recently released encyclical on the environment.

“Of course we've got to be concerned about it [climate change], but we shouldn't worship the environment,” Kasich said. “And I wouldn't want to create any dramatic economic change of policy because I'm still not sure—I don't know that anybody is fully sure—of all the causes and all the science.”

While Boggs said that climate change policy likely wouldn't be an issue in the Republican primaries, he questioned whether Kasich's views on how to appropriately address climate change would evolve because of the value the governor places on his faith and morality.

Room for Evolution

“[H]is faith seems to be a thing that really emboldens him to buck the party,” Boggs said, citing divergences from party lines on issues such as Medicare.

Other environmentalists were less hopeful than Boggs, with Daniel J. Weiss, senior vice president for campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters, telling Bloomberg BNA that Kasich is still a “climate denier.”

“Gov. Kasich seems less extreme than some other presidential candidates because he couches his views on climate change with uncertainty rather than disagreement,” Weiss said.

“Questioning climate science is like questioning the link between smoking and lung disease,” he said.

In the meantime, under Kasich's watch, Ohio's state environmental agency opposed some federal efforts to address climate change. The state agency told the federal EPA that its Clean Power Plan rule (RIN 2060-AR33) that would set limits for carbon dioxide emissions by state “is technically flawed, not legal and unworkable in its current form.”

Chris Warren, a spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, told Bloomberg BNA that it's surprising that Kasich himself hasn't come out strongly against the Clean Power Plan, considering how reliant his state is on coal for electricity.

“Americans are increasingly concerned about EPA overreach and it's not clear whether Gov. Kasich is willing to rein in the agency and protect the public from higher electricity rates,” Warren said.

Ohio Record

Kasich's state record is mixed, according to Boggs, who emphasized that when considering the Republican candidates he is already “grading on a curve.”

Kasich signed legislation (Am. Sub. S.B. 310) last year that delayed for two years renewable energy mandates, despite more than 50 companies such as Honda Motor Co. Ltd. saying there would be significant economic benefits by moving forward on the mandates.

The state was the first, according to several environmental groups, to walk back renewable energy standards. Weiss said this action “may be difficult to explain when he’s campaigning in Iowa since Republican leaders there strongly support incentives for wind energy”.

On the other hand, Kasich effectively blocked oil and gas drilling in state parks. A spokesman for Kasich told The Columbus Dispatch in February 2014 that the governor opposed this type of action, “because the governor doesn’t think we have the policies in place yet to properly do it.”

The governor also issued in July 2012 an executive order barring oil and gas drilling in Lake Erie. The order essentially duplicates law passed by Congress that already bars drilling in the lake but is a fail safe if Congress changes its mind, Kasich said at the time.

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

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