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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

GOP Campaigns Diverge on Climate Questions

Air Date: Week of January 15, 2016

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Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he thinks the Obama administration overstepped its bounds in accepting the Paris Agreement this past December. (Photo: Steve Curwood)

In the mere weeks leading up to the nation’s first presidential primary election in New Hampshire, Republican candidates are campaigning heavily in a vital effort to sway voters. Host Steve Curwood tracked down Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich and Florida Senator Marco Rubio to find out how the candidates would address climate change, if they occupied the White House.


It’s Living on Earth, and I’m Steve Curwood on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. If it’s early in a leap year then it is also the season of New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary election, this time on February 9. All the Democratic contenders have called for government action to address the major national security threat of climate change, but there seems to be little appetite for that among the Republican candidates on the stump here in the Granite State.


CURWOOD: I caught up with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as he stopped to speak with reporters at the end of a modestly attended meeting with voters in Dover.

CURWOOD: Governor, the next president of the United States is going to have to deal with the Paris climate accord. What would you do to implement or push back on that?

BUSH: I don't have the details of what the President's committed to. He doesn't have the authority to do it. If he did, he would, once again, create a treaty which would be enforceable, so that's not on the list of things that I...

CURWOOD: How about climate change...

BUSH: Climate change in general is something that I think we all should be concerned about. The climate is changing. The good news is that our carbon footprint has actually been reduced by 10 percent in the last decade, is flat in the last 25 years even though we have an increasing population. We should be proud of that, and there are other things we can do as it relates to conservation and continued use of natural gas and things like that that would help in this regard. And ultimately, there will be renewables that will be more dominant than they are today. But to raise prices, to lose jobs, to deindustrialize the country, to create less economic activity, I don't think is the solution, and so, where I diverge from the President's approach is most of his approach is going to create higher costs on consumers and higher costs on businesses and I don't think we need to do that.

CURWOOD: Before you go, Governor, what do you see as the biggest economic engines for growth in America in the time you would serve as President?

BUSH: The advancement of technology and how that could increase productivity. It's hard to create jobs in that environment, but there's a great potential for income growth. The energy sector is explosive in its potential of higher growth and more capital investment.

CURWOOD: Say more about that on renewable energy if you would.

BUSH: Renewable as well, and we're seeing reductions in the cost per unit of solar production and wind. That's going to create big opportunities because much of that can be manufactured here.

Ohio Governor John Kasich says he is concerned about climate change but is reluctant to go on the record to say what he would do about it as president. (Photo: Steve Curwood)


CURWOOD: There are snowbanks to climb over as I make my way into a small but crowded town hall session in Exeter with Ohio Governor John Kasich, where he was taking questions from the floor.

KASICH: Yes, young lady.

WOMAN: Hi, John Kasich, I live in Exeter and my name is Elaine and, you know, I was just looking in the newspaper the other day and I read that 75 percent of Americans acknowledge that climate change is real, and I'm just wondering, with the same scientific consensus behind climate change as evolution and gravity, why do you think pretty much lots of Republicans deny this basic science? Why do you think that is?

KASICH: Well, I think that human beings do affect the climate. And I'm a big supporter of solar and wind and geothermal and efficiency, but I want all of the different sources I saw Seabrook today...I'm for nuclear too. I mean, I'm for all of this.


KASICH: I think sometimes...I really have an opinion why they do that, but I'm not going to tell you because it's not good. [LAUGHS] I am running in a Republican primary, but I'm for...I can't tell you how they think, but I can tell you what I think. I think there is something to climate change, but I think we have to take our time to have remedies, and the remedies are things like efficiency and solar and wind. And I think the other part of it is, let's not go so fast that we throw this kid out of work or this gentleman out of work. It's got to be balanced between a good environment and economic growth, which we can achieve. If you work at it, you can achieve it. You don't want to worship the environment, but we have an obligation to protect it. I think sometimes...look, I've had a little battle with my legislature over the issue of renewables. And they tend to think, well, you know, it's subsidized, it's a government program and all that. Well, you know what? We have to develop these things, so I just have a little different view of what we should do in that area, and we have to be careful about it.


CURWOOD: And it’s clear John Kasich is careful to avoid putting anything on the record about what actions he would take about climate change as president. He flatly refused to talk about it when I approached him. “I’m overloaded,” he said, throwing up his hands and heading for the door.


Senator Marco Rubio speaks in favor of an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. (Photo: Steve Curwood)

CURWOOD: In Concord I made my way over some more snow banks into an overflowing town hall event with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who seemed calm and relaxed in the face of questions from the floor.

VOTER: Well here in New Hampshire we’re pretty pennywise and see the many benefits of clean energy produced here in water pollution and create jobs. At the same time, 80 percent of wind energy in the country is installed in Republican represented districts and it's creating jobs right now for people across the country where the economy is struggling. What will you do to make sure there are more clean energy jobs and more clean energy leaders here in America?

RUBIO: Well, first, I would say to you that I want us to lead the world in everything. Let's be number one in wind, and number one in solar, and number one in biofuels, and number one in renewables, number one in energy efficiency. Let's lead in all of these things. All I'm saying is, there's no way we're not gonna do oil and natural gas. God has blessed this nation with these resources. It would be reckless and irresponsible to not fully utilize all of our energy resources. I'm not going to interfere in the marketplace. The market's going to decide which one of these would do more than others. What we need to do is to make sure everything is fair, and we will.

Under my tax plan, every business will be treated the same. All of these carve-outs that some energy sectors have gotten versus others, we'll get rid of all of them. Every company, every single energy company, every firm in America, for example, will have the exact same tax rate, a flat rate of 25 percent, not 35 percent, which is the highest combined corporate tax rate in the world - 25 percent even. So that now you don't give a benefit to some company or some industry that got a carve-out somewhere. Second, you're going to be able to immediately expense every penny you put into that business. You build a wind farm, you're going to be able to get your money back off your taxes that very year, fully, just like any other business would be able to do. We are going to create an even playing field, and then the rest is up to the private sector. The rest is up to the American innovator and the American investor and they're going to go out and create this opportunity. They're the ones that are going to go and create these jobs, and I believe if we do that, then we are going to lead the world in all of these energy resources. Because I want us to have a true, all of the above strategy, the most diverse energy portfolio possible. And one does not have to come at the exclusion of another. We can do them all, and we will.

CURWOOD: That apparent call for an end to oil subsidies and for an ‘all of the above energy’ policy had Senator Rubio sounding a bit like the Barack Obama of not so long ago, but then the answer to another question highlighted some differences.

AIDE: Senator, this will be the second to the last question.

MAN2: Senator, I'm a lifetime New Hampshire hunter. Do you know our moose population has shrunk dramatically in New Hampshire as our winters have shortened. On the Gulf of Maine is warm, the cod population has diminished, and even your home state of Florida's under threat from the rising sea. We need to somehow cut carbon and reduce climate change? Will you help save our moose by working aggressively? Can I give you this moose?

At a New Hampshire town hall, a man who identified himself as Eric Orff gave Rubio a plush moose, asking “Will you save our moose?” Orff, a hunter and field biologist, is concerned about how local moose populations are being impacted by climate change. (Photo: Steve Curwood)

RUBIO: You can give me the moose, but I'm not...yeah, I can catch it...throw me the moose. [LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE]

I'm all for saving the moose, but I'm not going to destroy our economy, and our President and others are asking us to pass laws that will do nothing to change any of the things you just mentioned. They admit it. They say, these laws won't change anything, but it's a start. Meanwhile, China and India are burning as much coal as they can get their hands on, they're growing their economy rapidly.

So the laws they want us to pass...I asked them...go ask the experts, how many degrees of global warming will this bring down. "Oh, probably not much." What will it do to the rising sea if we pass the law you want? "Well, nothing at least for 100 years." And then I ask the economists, what will this do to our economy? "Oh, it will do harm." Struggling families that are already struggling to make ends meet, their utility bills could go up $50 a month. That may not be a lot of money to a billionaire in California, but to a single mom trying to raise kids, $50 a month is the difference between buying new shoes for them this month or not. It means America becomes a more expensive place in the world to do business, so here's the answer.

I think we can deal with these issues without these big government mandates. You know who's going to fix this? The American innovator. The American innovator is already moving us in this direction. The American innovator has already made our air cleaner than it used to be. The American innovator has already made us more energy efficient than we used to be. Natural gas, by the way, is a clean source of energy. And all of these people were all for it. All these radical environmental groups were all for natural gas until we discovered natural gas in America. Now, they say you can't use it. So, nuclear energy is carbon free, zero emission. You can't build a nuclear power plant in America. So, let's get real here about this. We're not going to destroy our economy, and meanwhile, they cut this deal in Paris. Well, guess what, you the American taxpayer, are going to have to contribute billions of dollars to help developing economies become cleaner. Do you know who the developing economies are? China and India. When I'm President, we're not sending billions of dollars to help China and India, much less China and India with their energy industry. We're not doing that.


CURWOOD: Florida republican senator Marco Rubio speaking with voters in Concord, New Hampshire.



In moderate N.H., a climate skeptic runs strong

Washington Post: "Republicans might actually be willing to do something about climate change"

MSNBC: Republican candidates score abysmally on climate change: AP

PBS: The decline of New Hampshire’s moose population


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