During their foreign policy debate Monday night, when President Barack Obama said Governor Mitt Romney is offering "wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map," Romney had no snappy comeback. No surprise there.
Romney has taken positions that ARE all over the map on a host of issues--foreign and domestic. And nowhere is that more evident than when it comes to climate, conservation, energy and protecting public health.
His Etch A Sketch record is hardly a profile in courage. It's a profile in profiles.
There are many Mitts. So many Mitts, in fact, we can't trust him on these key issues. What should be especially troubling is that in these final few weeks of the campaign he's been particularly chameleonlike, changing his rhetoric--by saying things like he's all for clean energy--without changing his policy positions. For example, he remains opposed to the federal tax credit that promotes wind energy and has created thousands of jobs building wind turbines across America. On energy and climate, he's changed his rhetoric to sound more like Governor Romney while keeping the policy positions he adopted to win conservative voters as Candidate Romney. This blog is lengthy, folks, but that's because Mitt Romney has so many positions to cover to show what we mean. One of his GOP presidential rivals got it right calling Romney a "well lubricated weathervane."
For the first of the Many Mitts, both Governor and presidential candidate Romney recognized the scientific evidence of human induced climate change. In his 2010 book "No Apology: the Case for American Greatness," Romney wrote, "I believe that climate change is occurring-the reduction in the size of the global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor."
But a year ago as the primary campaign heated up the battle for conservative voters, Primary Candidate Romney told a fundraising audience, "My view is we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce C02 emissions is not the right course for us."
In the general election campaign, Candidate Romney changed his position back to agreeing that human activity is contributing to climate change, even though he's offered no plan to do anything about it. "I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences," Romney said in response to a question about climate change during the summer of 2012.
Then, in his presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in early fall 2012, GOP Nominee Romney went so far to mock President Obama's efforts to address climate change. "President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet," Romney said after accepting the GOP's presidential nomination in Tampa, drawing laughter from the crowd. "My promise is to help you and your family."
Coal-Power and Public Health
He's shown another series of faces over the health consequences from coal-fired energy. In 2003, Governor Romney expressed concern for the impact on Massachusetts residents from dirty energy plants by standing in front of one especially egregious coal-powered plant and declaring his opposition to it. "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant -- that plant kills people." He also said in a press release in 2005, "If the choice is between dirty power plants or protecting the health of the people of Massachusetts, there is no choice in my mind. I will always come down on the side of public health."
In 2005, Governor Romney sought to enforce a 2001 law to curb emissions from the six largest power plants in Massachusetts. In 2012, however Candidate Romney opposed the federal EPA's proposed limits on carbon pollution and has campaigned on a promise to try to amend the Clean Air Act so that the EPA would no longer have authority to regulate carbon emissions.
Furthermore, by 2012, Candidate Romney has become a coal champion. In his first debate with President Obama, Romney declared, "I like coal. I'm going to make sure we continue to burn clean coal. People in the coal industry feel like it's getting crushed by your policies. I want to get America and North America energy independent, so we can create those jobs."
The problem is there's no such thing as clean coal. Industry can build into plants scrubbers and processes that reduce the amount of sulfur, mercury and carbon emissions into the air--but the coal itself would not change. In any event, Romney opposes the most significant new requirement to clean up emissions - limiting the toxic mercury coal plants can spew into the air.
Cap and Trade
Moving ahead, he's shown several faces on cap and trade. Governor Romney initially worked with fellow northeastern governors to develop a regional greenhouse gas cap and trade system, although he ultimately didn't join their final effort because it did not limit penalties businesses would be charged for exceeding emissions allowances.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's position is just as clear, albeit opposite. This face wants nothing to do with limiting greenhouse gas emissions through cap and trade.
"I do not support radical feel-good policies like a unilateral U.S. cap-and-trade mandate. Such policies would have little effect on climate but could cripple economic growth with devastating results for people across the planet." That's Romney in No Apology, pub. March 2010, p. 227.
In a 2012 questionnaire posted by Sciencedebate.org, Candidate Romney wrote: "I oppose steps like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away, all without actually addressing the underlying problem. Economic growth and technological innovation, not economy-suppressing regulation, is the key to environmental protection in the long run. So I believe we should pursue what I call a "No Regrets" policy -- steps that will lead to lower emissions, but that will benefit America regardless of whether the risks of global warming materialize and regardless of whether other nations take effective action."
When he served as Governor Romney, however, he pushed in 2004 for a state-driven Climate Protection Plan that sought to encourage private citizens and require state agencies and Massachusetts' largest businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. According to an article in Heartland.org, Romney cast his plan as one of the nation's most ambitious to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a commitment to implement the regional plan adopted New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in August 2001.
Fuel Efficiency Standards
The Many Mitts appear on fuel efficiency standards as well. Governor Romney oversaw Massachusetts taking strong action to support clean cars in 2006 by adopting California's vehicle fuel economy standards, which the governor touted as a "significant step in cleaning up our air."
Then, during his first presidential run in 2008, Presidential Candidate Romney declared opposition to congressional legislation aiming to raise fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 and said states should set their own standards. The 2012 Candidate Romney expressed similar views, saying he strongly opposed the Obama administration's move to for the federal government to require vehicles to raise fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
Renewable Fuel Promotion
While he has talked about supporting renewable energy as governor and White House aspirant, in at least one important instance we don't know what to expect. Governor Romney, in his "2004 Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan," called for establishing a new statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard, a state mandate which would ensure "that a growing portion of the state's electricity must come from renewable sources: solar power, wind power, and energy generated by biomass and landfill gas." Presidential Candidate Romney hasn't taken a clear position on a national renewable energy standard but a campaign official has said he'd oppose mandates.
Funding Clean Energy Development
The Many Mitts show up yet again in the area of clean energy. Governor Romney used millions of dollars in state funds to provide venture capital loans for renewable energy start-up companies. Candidate Romney reversed course and said he'd steer spending away from targeting clean energy and toward basic research. He told the Des Moines Register that he'd allow the federal wind energy production tax credit, a form of venture capital for renewable energy--to not be renewed when it expires at the end of this year. A Romney campaign aide explained his position this way, "Wind energy will thrive wherever it is economically competitive."
Here's the bottom line: Mitt Romney has been all over the map, leaving him subject to the extreme positions taken by House Republicans. What voters need to do is to look at his actual current policy positions, they are all the positions of the extreme right - repealing policies that promote renewable energy, repealing clean car standards, doing nothing to limit climate change, repealing limits on toxic pollutants, and indeed shutting down the entire system that safeguards the public from corporate excesses. That's a Romney who's totally out of step with the American public. Even he knows that, which is why he's adjusted his rhetoric. But his positions make clear who he thinks he'd side with as president.