By Cora Currier and Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica, November 1, 2012
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo linked the storm to a broader change in the weather. “I don’t call it ‘global warming’ because you trigger a whole political debate,” Cuomo said. “But the frequency of extreme weather is going way up.”
President Obama and Mitt Romney have been even more reluctant to utter the words “global warming.” Neither candidate mentioned climate change over four presidential debates and none of the moderators asked about it — the first time that’s happened since 1988.
Obama has barely spoken of it on the campaign trail, while Romney has mocked the president’s earlier promise to address climate change.
As reporters and scientists discuss what role climate change may have played in fueling the storm, we’ve looked beyond the candidates’ rhetoric — or lack thereof — to find out where they actually stand:
In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Romney cited Obama’s 2008 campaign promise on global warming. “My promise,” Romney retorted, “is to help you and your family.” The crowd laughed, then cheered:
Romney hasn’t always been clear, or consistent, about what he believes is causing global warming.
In October 2011 he said, “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.”
This September, he wrote that he believed “the world is getting warmer,” and “human activity contributes to that warming” but that there was a lack of scientific consensus on the extent of the problem. He reiterated his position that regulations meant to combat climate change could hurt economic growth.
Romney’s campaign focuses its environmental platform on “energy independence.”
To get the U.S. exclusively on North American oil by 2020, Romney wants to promote oil and gas production in the U.S. by opening new areas for drilling, and increase imports from Mexico and Canada, including via the Keystone XL Pipeline. Reuters recently profiled “Romney’s energy tsar,” the Oklahoma oilman Harold Hamm, who helped produce Romney’s white paper on energy policy. The plan doesn’t mention climate change, or outline steps to reduce oil consumption.
Renewable energy is mentioned, but Romney supports a hands-off approach to its development, saying that the government ought to support it through reduced regulation rather than “playing venture capitalist” and providing subsidies to green energy projects, like the oft-cited, now-bankrupt Solyndra.
Romney has also pledged to reform and repeal many environmental laws and regulations. For instance, he does not think the EPA should consider carbon dioxide a pollutant and seek to regulate its emission. He’s also said he will renegotiate Obama’s fuel efficiency standards with auto manufacturers.
Some of this goes against Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. USA Today and the New York Times recently ran through some of the initiatives he presided over, like one that enforced emissions standards on power plants for pollutants, including carbon dioxide. He also directed millions in to a state green energy fund and offered tax credits to businesses and individuals for efficiency upgrades. Romney helped draft a cap-and-trade program for New England, but in the end did not sign on to it because he believed it to be too costly. He now says he’s firmly against cap-and-trade.
Back in the 2008 campaign, climate change was one of the few issues that Obama and his Republican rival, John McCain, agreed on. McCain reiterated his support for a “cap-and-trade” system to combat climate change at a speech in Oregon. Obama predicted Americans would look back at the election as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” and said he would make energy and climate change his first priority.
After his election, Obama did make some moves at least related to climate change. His stimulus bill included funds and incentives for clean energy development, and he appointed Lisa Jackson to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has pushed for tougher emissions standards for power plants and automobiles. The White House also recently announced new rules requiring automakers to nearly double vehicles’ average fuel efficiency by 2025.
But a push to hash out a climate change bill died in the Senate. Sen. Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican, had been a key player in crafting the legislation. But he pulled his support shortly after Fox News broke a story citing “senior administration sources” that Graham was seeking to raise gasoline taxes as part of the legislation.
Two months after Graham’s exit, Obama said he knew the votes in the Senate “may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.” But as the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza wrote, “He never found them, and he didn’t appear to be looking very hard.”
Since then, Obama has largely clammed up about climate change.
He has occasionally cited it, including September when he told the Democratic National Convention that his “plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet — because climate change is not a hoax.” But in an unusually candid interview with The Des Moines Register last month that the administration initially insisted remain off the record, Obama sketched out his agenda for a second term, including tackling the deficit and immigration reform. He didn’t mention climate change.