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Almost Every 2012 Republican Has a Cap-and-Trade Problem Almost Every 2012 Republican Has a Cap-and-Trade Problem

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Energy

POLITICS

Almost Every 2012 Republican Has a Cap-and-Trade Problem

Supporting a cap-and-trade approach to greenhouse gas regulation is basically taboo in the GOP these days, but most of the top-tier Republican presidential contenders have backed it in the past.

Just a few short years ago, John McCain supported cap-and trade as a Republican presidential candidate, after he pushed for it in a bill he co-authored with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I/D-Conn. In April of 2007, McCain talked up cap-and-trade in a speech on his energy plan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

 

 

I have proposed a bipartisan plan to address the problem of climate change and stimulate the development and use of advanced technologies. It is a market-based approach that would set reasonable caps on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and provide industries with tradable credits. By reducing its emissions, a utility or industrial plant can generate credits it may trade on the open market for a profit, offering a powerful incentive to drive the deployment of new and better energy sources and technologies; for automakers to develop new ways to lower pollution and increase mileage; for utilities to generate cleaner electricity and capture carbon; for appliance manufacturers to make more efficient products, and for the nation to use energy with maximum efficiency-building conservation into the economy in a manner that produces financial and environmental benefits.

Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Republican who supports the policy, after conservatives railed for two years against "cap-and-tax" as a job-killing government overreach. Backlash against the policy helped Republicans take over the House in November, after House Democrats passed Rep. Henry Waxman's cap-and-trade bill in June 2009 over resistance from the GOP minority. Republican candidates campaigned against cap-and-trade en masse in 2010, and it worked out in their favor.

 



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After all that, Republican White House hopefuls have revised their previously held energy stances.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty supported cap-and-trade in 2007 but has since urged Congress to reject it. He won plaudits from RedState's Erick Erickson for apologizing for his prior cap-and-trade support in the first Republican presidential debate, held last week in South Carolina.

Mitt Romney has incorporated President Obama's support for cap-and-trade into fundraising pitches, but in 2005 Romney supported an early emissions-capping system -- a regional agreement that would require Northeastern states to cut power-plant emissions by 2020.

 

Mike Huckabee told a Clean Air Cool Planet gathering in New Hampshire in 2007, "I also support cap-and-trade of carbon emissions, and I was disappointed when the Senate rejected it." In 2009, as cap-and-trade politics heated up, Huckabee explained that he supported "voluntary" cap-and-trade for businesses that "choose" to be a part of it, but that he had "a great fear of heavy-handed government mandates of cap-and-trade," although the rejected McCain-Lieberman climate bill had included mandatory caps.

Politifact deemed Sarah Palin to have flip-flopped on cap-and-trade, but it's a bit more complicated -- she began supporting it as McCain's running mate. VP candidates generally adopt the presidential candidate's platform when tapped to join a ticket, though Palin continued to differ with McCain on other matters.

Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, told Frontline in 2007 that "I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there's a package there that's very, very good. And frankly, it's something I would strongly support." And he cut a TV ad with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 calling for action on climate change. Since then, he's campaigned against it.

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Does this mean none of these candidates can win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination?

Probably not, and for this simple reason: There's no one around to criticize them. Cap-and-trade flip-flops could pave the way for a second-tier candidate like Herman Cain or former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., but, with so much of the top tier having held the same stances just a few years ago, climate flip-flops are actually the norm in the Republican field. None of these candidates risks getting hammered on cap-and-trade by a gang of substantial and threatening rivals, because no such gang exists.

Palin could stand out as the only Republican who consistently polls in the top five who hasn't flip-flopped on cap-and-trade, if voters grant that her 2008 support was a product of her presence on the McCain ticket.

These changed minds show that a lot has changed in the GOP when it comes to energy policy in just a few short years. In 2007 and 2008, the party's top politicians had reached a consensus that global warming existed, was probably caused by humans, and required an aggressive emissions-regulation scheme to confront it.

Today, they say the opposite.

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