“Come on Congress. Let’s get moving … cap greenhouse-gas pollution now,” Pawlenty urged in the spot.
He also unveiled another round of energy and climate initiatives, including a state Energy Security Office and a proposed Carbon Market Planning Authority to prepare the state to trade emissions credits.
“While it’s still too early to know exactly how the carbon-credit market will develop, it’s not too early to prepare for the emergence of markets,” Pawlenty said.
At the National Governors Association conference in February 2008, Pawlenty prodded his fellow state leaders to find consensus on ways to encourage renewable energy and cut carbon emissions. To spur the discussions, he invited Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, which was a member of the influential cap-and-trade advocacy group U.S. Climate Action Partnership.
But resistance to those ideas from within his own party was intensifying. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour likened the cap-and-trade proposals to a carbon tax and called them “stupid.”
As 2008 wore on, Pawlenty backed away from the recommendations of his state’s climate panel. Record-high gasoline prices dimmed support for a policy that Republican strategists easily succeeded in labeling a tax. He lost the vice presidential nomination to Sarah Palin and hosted a Republican convention in St. Paul that became most famous for its rallying cheers of “Drill, baby, drill.”
By 2009, it was clear that a rising conservative tide, which would ultimately turn into the tea party juggernaut, was now driving the Republican Party. Pawlenty became almost silent on clean-energy and climate issues—not to be heard from again until this year, when he went on the airwaves slamming the climate work he had once championed.
In January, Pawlenty denied on Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace that he had even signed a bill to promote cap-and-trade policies.
“We never did sign a bill relating to cap-and-trade or putting that into Minnesota,” he told Wallace. That was false. The Next Generation Energy Act that Pawlenty signed in 2007 specifically required state agencies to recommend a “regulatory system that imposes a cap on the aggregate air-pollutant emissions … and allows for market-based trading” of emission allowances.
In the Republican presidential candidates’ first debate earlier this year, on Fox, Pawlenty abjectly apologized for his old positions. “I was wrong; it was a mistake, and I’m sorry,” he said. “Nobody’s perfect. We all, and everybody here and everybody else who’s going to be running for president … if you’ve been in an executive position, you’re going to have some battle scars. You’re going to have a few clunkers in your record. We all do.”
Some GOP strategists say that Pawlenty risks losing more by abandoning causes he appeared to believe in deeply than he would by sticking to his positions and alienating ultra-conservatives.
“He’s been involved enough in the issue to truly understand the realities of it,” said David Jenkins, vice president for government and political affairs for Republicans for Environmental Protection. “Being that deeply involved, you can’t come away without a deep understanding of the science.… He disowned his accomplishments to pander to one segment of the Republican Party.”
Republican strategist Mike McKenna, who advises GOP leaders on energy policy and strategy, put it more bluntly. “Guys like Pawlenty now look like what they are—opportunists without authentic beliefs,” he wrote in an e-mail to National Journal. “That is why the issue is so damaging. It is totemic.”