WASHINGTON – As recently as June, an environmental website declared former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman the "greenest" of the Republican presidential candidates. But the "jobs plan" Huntsman released Wednesday may put an end to that kind of talk.
Huntsman's 12-page outline detailing his plan cements the former U.S. ambassador to China as a full-fledged energy-production hawk.
"Energy independence" is the third of four objectives in the plan, behind tax reform and regulatory reform (trade is the fourth), but the plan has the most amount of detail in its energy section. It gets a full three pages, far more than any of the three other subject areas.
Huntsman's platform aims to reduce the leverage that oil-producing nations in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela, have over U.S. government policies.
"To free ourselves from OPEC's grasp, we must end our heroin-like addiction to foreign oil," Huntsman said in a speech to announce his plan in New Hampshire.
But to achieve this goal, Huntsman proposed a series of initiatives that are sure to anger environmentalists. Not that that hurts Huntsman in the Republican primary, in which Huntsman has failed miserably so far to gain traction in the polls. In fact, it will be a plus for him with conservatives -- many believe environmental objections have gone too far, especially when they prevent the U.S. from producing more of its own energy or obtaining it from more friendly allies.
And Huntsman's plan makes a sharp point about the need to increase oil imports from Canada, before China steps in and makes deals instead. Huntsman's outline notes that Canada has more reserves in its Alberta oil sands than exist in all of Iraq.
"Others see the potential in these fields. China wants to invest in Canada’s oil infrastructure. Meanwhile, the United States government is dithering over a pipeline’s proposal to ship Canadian oil to the United States," Huntsman's plan said. "The federal government needs to assure Canada that American consumers are ready and willing to purchase the production of Alberta's oil sands."
"Every barrel from a friend is one less from a foe," the plan adds.
Huntsman's endorsement of oil sands extraction, however, definitely moves him away from his past positions on the need to prevent global warming. One of the biggest concerns with oil sands production is that the extraction process creates significantly more in the way of greenhouse gases than does producing conventional oil from drilling.
Huntsman, as governor of Utah, helped create the Western Climate Initiative, a regional cap and trade compact among several states designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He has since said that cap and trade is not currently viable at a time when economic growth is the nation's biggest need.
But the steps outlined in his jobs plan flesh out the degree to which Huntsman -- who said recently he believes global warming is a real problem -- has moved away from his past position on preventing climate change.
In addition to calling for increased imports from Canada, Huntsman also announced support Wednesday for expedited review of environmental objections to domestic drilling, and said there should be more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and "across the states."
"The current administration is pursuing regulations that will hinder domestic energy development and cost thousands of jobs," Huntsman said. "Regulations and approvals for new wells and pipelines need to be streamlined and directed to 'move at the speed of business.'"
Huntsman also said he supports an increase in the retrieval of natural gas through "fracking" -- though he acknowledged the need for "weighing environmental concerns" -- said "regulatory roadblocks" to increased natural gas production should be removed, and said the U.S. should "embrace emerging technologies like coal-to-liquid fuel."
"America has enough coal reserves to supply us for 300 years at current consumption," Huntsman said, criticizing government regulators and litigants who he said have "attacked coal from every possible angle."
Huntsman, whose energy proposals were shaped by policy chair C. Boyden Gray -- a former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush, and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union under President George W. Bush -- also said that the government should review whether the "transportation fuel network" is "closed to newer competition" because of monopolization by gasoline and diesel. The government should "eliminate all regulatory barriers to entry for competing fuels, and create a level playing field that allows competing fuels full access to the distribution grid," his plan said.
Huntsman's energy section closed by outlining a role for the federal government in the energy sector that is far more in tune with the limited government ideology of the current Republican party and the Tea Party than it is with the profile Huntsman has had in the past.
"The federal government is responsible for reducing obstacles to competitive markets that ensure a level playing field," his plan said.
This article has been updated to note C. Boyden Gray's involvement with the Huntsman campaign.