Politics and Public Opinion

Would Romney ‘go green’ if elected president?

There have been two Great Temptations for GOP elected officials over the past decade or so: a) embracing an individual healthcare insurance mandate and b) supporting a cap-and-trade plan or carbon tax to deal with climate change.

Here’s Politico on the GOP frontrunner:

Will Mitt Romney flip-flop on climate change if he’s elected president? Some big donors are betting on it.

Romney and his super PAC have taken millions from funders with strong green streaks — despite the fact that the former Massachusetts governor has run to the right in the primary, proclaiming doubts about global-warming science and trashing President Barack Obama’s greenhouse gas emissions policies.

Julian Robertson, founder of the Tiger Management hedge fund, helped put cap-and-trade legislation on the map with $60 million in contributions over the past decade to the Environmental Defense Fund. Now, Robertson has given $1.25 million to Romney’s Restore our Future super PAC, plus the maximum $2,500 to the Romney campaign.

Other green-minded financial backers may not be giving as much as Robertson, but they still share the view that climate-change science and a solid environmental agenda wouldn’t be a lost cause if Romney won the White House.

Maybe those contributors have noticed that two key Romney economic advisers support action to deal with climate change (As Massachusetts governor, Romney considered and then rejected joining a regional cap-and-trade plan.) In 2007, Glenn Hubbard supported a cap-and-trade plan. And Greg Mankiw likes the idea of a carbon tax to replace the payroll tax.

Here’s what Romney wrote in his book, No Apology:

I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. 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. … 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.

In the book, Romney is clearly in favor of limiting carbon emissions—at least in theory—but doesn’t want to cripple the U.S. economy or spend trillions of dollars for “extreme and expensive measures” like cap-and-trade to do it. He mentions the work of Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, who believes “addressing the remediation of the effects of global warming [is] far more economic and far more humane than massive spending to reduce emissions.”

Now here’s Romney last October:

My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

About the only thing I could find on the Romney campaign website that even gently hinted at some concern about climate change was vague support for basic research into alternative energy. But in his book, Romney writes at length about the issue, spending considerable time explaining the pros and cons of the carbon tax-payroll tax swap favored by Mankiw. Among the potential features of that plan, Romney explains:

– revenue neutrality;

– higher energy prices would encourage energy efficiency;

– industry would have a predictable outlook for energy costs

– profit incentives rather than government subsidies would encourage the development of “oil substitutes and carbon-reducing technologies.”

And there’s this:

Comparative analyses of the tax-swap plan with a cap-and-trade system have demonstrated that the tax swap is likely to be five times as effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and, presumably, five times as effective in reducing energy consumption.

Romney does add, however, that “a great deal of work remains to be done if it is to become a viable option. (And we may hear of entirely new alternatives — as Ross Perot said, ‘I’m all ears.’)”

Just because a Romney adviser likes an idea doesn’t mean the candidate will support it. Case in point: Hubbard’s plan to use the GSEs for a mass refi of U.S. mortgages. (I also have to believe there was some pushback from the econ team over their boss’s support of indexing the minimum wage and eliminating cap gains taxes only for middle-incomers.)

So are the green Big Money guys making a bad bet on Romney? If they expect more basic research into clean energy, maybe not. But beyond that, probably.

2 thoughts on “Would Romney ‘go green’ if elected president?

  1. Romney doesn’t have to “go” green; he IS green!

    Romney is a RINO left of McCain, and will absolutely if elected act like one.

    The least we will have to worry about is carbon credits and Romney being green.

    Sadly, there is no one in the field who can turn this country around and back to sanity.

  2. There is an error in your post when you say
    ‘And Greg Mankiw likes the idea of a carbon tax to replace the payroll tax.’
    it should read
    ‘And Greg Mankiw *liked* the idea of a carbon tax to replace the payroll tax.’

    Other things that Mankiw *liked* but no longer *likes* include higher taxes on carried interest, and counter-cyclical government spending. What has he been saying about those issues lately, now that they are favored by Obama?

    Taking an op-ed from 5 years ago as evidence of a current belief is a line of reasoning that should never hold water in politics.

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