Mitt Romney has never been comfortable talking about climate change.
For the Massachusetts governor, the latest hullabaloo is over remarks he made Wednesday. “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that, but I think that it is. I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans,” Romney told the audience at a town hall in Lebanon, N.H., according to Reuters.
The “I don’t know” about human causation of climate change came off as a softening of his stance. In June, talking about global warming at a town hall in Manchester, N.H., Romney said, “I believe that humans contribute to that.” That statement drew him some unwanted enthusiasm: Al Gore wrote on his blog, “Good for Mitt Romney. . . . While other Republicans are running from the truth, he is sticking to his guns in the face of the anti-science wing of the Republican Party
The Romney campaign said that his position has not changed since his June comment, and strictly speaking, there is no incompatibility between believing humans contribute to global warming and being unsure if they mostly cause it. “I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore,” Romney wrote in his 2010 book No Apology. “I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to man and how much is attributable to factors out of our control.”
But while Romney thinks that climate change is happening, he has been wary about proposals to curb climate change and their impact on the U.S. economy. “Internationally, we should work to limit the increase in emissions in global greenhouse gases, but in doing so we shouldn’t put ourselves in a disadvantageous position that penalizes American jobs and economic growth,” he wrote in No Apology.
Romney’s discomfort with the issue is nothing new. A 2004 Boston Globe piece (“Romney Hedges on Global Warming”) about a new climate-change policy Romney was introducing quoted a letter from Romney, in which he said this:
If climate change is happening, the actions we take will help. If climate change is largely caused by human action, this will really help. If we learn decades from now that climate change isn’t happening, these actions will still help our economy, our quality of life, and the quality of our environment.
The Globe wryly noted that “as he introduced a new state policy to combat global warming, Governor Mitt Romney had a surprise for the environmentalists gathered . . . yesterday: Personally, he’s not sure global warming is happening.”
The policy Romney introduced in ’04 was the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan. The plan’s long-term goal was to “reduce [greenhouse-gas] emissions sufficiently to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate; current science suggests this will require reductions as much as 75–85 percent below current levels.” The short-term goals were to reduce greenhouse-gas emission levels to 1990 levels by 2010, and 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
He also involved Massachusetts in the initial stages of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that planned to hold stable carbon-dioxide levels until 2015, and then reduce emission levels 10 percent by 2020. Toward the end of 2005, Romney pulled his state out of the discussions related to launching the program.
During the last election cycle, Romney sparred with John McCain over climate-change initiatives. (Example A: a press release entitled “Statement by McCain Campaign on Mitt Romney’s Flip-Flopping on Climate Change and Gas Tax.”) The McCain campaign blasted Romney for calling the regional cap-and-trade program “good business,” while Romney shot back that greenhouse-gas-reduction legislation McCain had co-sponsored with Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman in 2007 would make a family of four’s energy bill soar by $1,000 a year. Asked directly about cap-and-trade in late 2007, Romney said, “I support it on a global basis as one of the possible solutions. I do not support it for the USA alone. I want to do it with other nations involved.”
In a 2009 fundraising letter, he criticized President Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal, saying it would have “a devastating impact on hard-working American families and on our economy as a whole.” He lambasted cap-and-trade again in a 2010 fundraising appeal, saying, “Cap and trade effectively constitutes an enormous, hidden tax on the American people and American businesses.” On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Romney said, “I do not believe in cap-and–trade, and I do not believe in putting a carbon cap [on industries that emit CO2].”
Ultimately, Romney’s position for years has been that greenhouse-gas emissions must be reduced, but not by cap-and-trade or other methods harmful to the economy. And whether Romney believes that human beings are mostly, somewhat, or not at all responsible for what appears to be global warming is irrelevant to the environmental polices he’ll pursue.It all takes some explaining, though — and Romney’s always in an uncomfortable spot when he has to explain.
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.
Editor’s note: The sentence “Toward the end of 2005, Romney pulled his state out of the discussions related to launching the program” has been changed.