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By Anthony Adragna and Rachel Leven
April 7 — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a first-term senator known for being unafraid to buck his party on some issues, has rarely strayed from near-universal Republican stances opposing Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
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But some observers believe he has taken a more nuanced position on climate change that could serve him well if he becomes the Republican candidate for president in 2016.
Paul, who announced his candidacy for president April 7 in Louisville, Ky., has opposed EPA regulations to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act and regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and he previously said the agency has “done more harm than good” since its inception.
In 2011, Paul led the charge to the Senate floor to void the EPA's cross-state air pollution rule, calling the final rule “overzealous” and urging a more “balanced approach.” The Kentucky Republican also has pushed legislation that would require all economically significant regulations to gain congressional approval.
Despite those efforts—and Paul's 9 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters—he voted in January for an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill stating that human activity contributes to climate change. While the amendment failed, observers said Paul's support for the measure is evidence of a more subtle approach to environmental issues should he become the Republican candidate for president.
“It’s something that could definitely help him in the general election, but in the primary they could tie him around the neck,” Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on energy issues during his 2008 presidential run, told Bloomberg BNA.
Paul's campaign declined to comment for this story.
Multiple observers told Bloomberg BNA that environmental issues are unlikely to be a major focus for the Paul campaign during the primary phase of the contest. The environment isn’t one of the 17 issues highlighted on his website, and Paul didn’t discuss them in his April 7 speech.
However, Paul did reiterate his opposition to environmental policies that would hurt job creation or other areas of the economy in his website’s “regulation” section.
“Government does have a role in protecting the environment, but we must have a balanced approach that also protects the economy,” Paul said in a video on his website.
Paul has previously received campaign backing from several major energy companies, either through his candidate or joint fund-raising committees.
Notably, political action committees for Duke Energy Corp. and Murray Energy Corp. have backed Paul with donations in 2013 or 2014, donations disclosed in Federal Election Commission filings.
Paul also has received individual donations from leaders in energy companies, such as Wayne Boich, the owner of W.B. Coal Co. Inc. Several senior officials from Murray Energy Corp. donated in 2013 or 2014 to Paul, including owner Robert Murray and Executive Vice President Robert Moore.
Since joining the Senate in 2011, Paul has ardently opposed numerous EPA regulations aimed at addressing air pollution and has supported attempts to void or block them.
In November 2011, the Senate voted 41-56 against a resolution offered by Paul to void the cross-state rule, which aimed to curb upwind states' pollution from power plants to help downwind states meet national ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter.
Paul also has been outspoken in his criticism of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan to address climate change and the EPA Clean Power Plan, which aims to curb carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's fleet of existing power plants.
“President Obama today declared a war on coal, and thus declared a war on Kentucky jobs and our economy,” Paul said in a June 2013 statement after Obama announced the Climate Action Plan. “As a defender of the free market of coal, I will continue to fight back against the EPA and any other federal agency whose goal is to stifle coal production.”
Efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants are “an illegal use of executive power, and I will force a vote to repeal it,” Paul then said in a June 2, 2014, statement upon the proposed rule's (RIN 2060-AR33) release.
He then co-sponsored legislation from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that effectively would have blocked the ability of the EPA to issue the power plant rules without first certifying that they wouldn't hurt the economy or raise energy prices.
Observers have found it harder to decipher Paul's position on climate change, although all agreed his stance was more nuanced in order to appeal to younger voters who generally support action to address the problem.
In January 2015, Paul joined with 14 other Senate Republicans in voting for an amendment to legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline stating that human activity contributes to climate change, although he later voted against another amendment to the same bill, which stated human activity “significantly” contributes to the problem. Both amendments were defeated.
Earlier, in April 2014, Paul said he was “not sure anybody exactly knows why” the climate is changing, while complaining of the “alarmist stuff” dominating the political debate on the issue. In addition, during a separate interview with Bill Maher, Paul pronounced himself in favor of certain regulations, provided they wouldn't cripple the economy or cost thousands of jobs.
“I'm not against regulation,” Paul said. “I think the environment has been cleaned up dramatically through regulations on emissions as well as clean water over the last 40 or 50 years, but I don't want to shut down all forms of energy such that thousands and thousands of people lose their jobs.”
But environmental advocates, lobbyists and other observers think there is little to suggest significant daylight between Paul and other likely Republican candidates who openly challenge the notion that human activity is playing a role in climate change.
“All of this is pandering,” Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund, told Bloomberg BNA. “Climate change—whether we like it or not—is something where serious people need to sit down and get serious. Rand Paul is a caricature.”
Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank, believes many of the perceived differences between Paul and other Republicans on climate policy are overstated, but he also said the Republican primary wouldn't be decided on environmental issues.
“On most issues, he’s basically been in mind with the rest of the Republican Party,” Lehrer told Bloomberg BNA. “I don’t think that any Republican candidate is going to win or lose the primary on the basis of their environmental stances.”
Chris Vieson, a former director of floor operations for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said across most environmental issues, the Republican field is likely to be similar.
“There won’t be too many differences between the candidates right now. Everyone’s for less regulations, for fracking, coal, oil and gas use,” Vieson, now a partner at Public Strategies Washington Inc., said. “I think everyone’s pretty much on the same page there.”
For Paul, being on the same page with his Republican colleagues on these issues won't be a shift from his stances taken as a senator.
Paul has devoted significant time during his time in the Senate to fighting regulations and excessive taxation that he says on his presidential website are making it “unnecessarily difficult for energy developers to take advantage of new and innovative forms of cheap and clean energy.”
One of those repeated efforts has been the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (S. 226), which would subject regulations with an annual impact of $100 million or more on the national economy to an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate.
Paul has consistently moved for EPA authority under the Clean Water Act to be limited.
For example, Paul in 2014 co-sponsored a bill advanced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to limit when the EPA may veto dredge-and-fill permits, legislation that never received a hearing in the then Democrat-held Senate.
He also denounced the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposed waters of the U.S. rule (RIN 2040-AF30), which would clarify which waters and wetlands fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act, calling it “unlawful” and urging the agencies to withdraw it.
Paul even proposed in the 113th and 112th Congress a bill (the Defense of Environment and Property Act) that would block the EPA and corps from developing the rule, which he said would expand Clean Water Act jurisdiction over state waters.
Paul has rarely weighed in on international environmental matters—he does not, for example, appear to have commented on the December international climate negotiations—but he introduced legislation in 2012 that would have prohibited any form of financial assistance to international environmental projects.
However, Vieson said there are a few “nuanced differences” that would set Paul apart from his Republican primary counterparts in environmental policy, including his support for solar and biomass tax credits.
These differences would speak to a younger generation of Republicans and, if he became the Republican nominee, to independents and moderates in the general election, he said.
One area Paul already highlighted when announcing his presidential bid April 7 and which has distinguished him from his counterparts on Capitol Hill is his focus on economic mobility for disadvantaged communities as a key campaign issue. However, his solution could put environmental justice communities in an awkward position, according to statements by the African American Environmentalist Association.
Paul proposed again March 18 the Economic Freedom Zones Act of 2015 (S. 790), a bill to boost jobs and opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas. But to accomplish that goal, the bill proposes to exempt those areas from compliance with certain sections of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
“[A]lthough Senator Paul's desire is in the right place, his mechanism for getting there will put him in direct opposition to the environmental justice community and by association, the environmental community,” Norris McDonald, chief executive officer of the association, said in a March 31 blog post.
“We want industry to reinvest in black communities,” McDonald said. “But we do not want polluting industries relocating in areas that already face a disproportionate amount of pollution from industrial pollution sites.”
Vieson said that if Paul were selected to be the Republican nominee, it could affect the policies of Republicans in Congress because it would indicate broad public support for more balanced positions on the environment. However, he said “congressional Republicans are likely going to wait and not be influenced on policy until they know who the candidate is.”
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