Former Minnesota Tim Pawlenty (R) decided to run for president on Monday. Let's see if it's a decision he sticks with. Because when it comes to environmental decisions, he has a habit of repeatedly changing his mind.
A quick review of Pawlenty's career shows that, in the past, he has often worked to protect public health and the environment in the past. He pushed for expanding mass transit in his home state, and he even backed the cap-and-trade approach to fighting climate change.
Or at least his did temporarily. Once he set his sights on the White House, he decided to renounce his support of cap and trade in a hat tip to the Tea Party. Plenty of politicians reverse course during their professional lives. But what Pawlenty generally does is more troubling than your average flip flop: he only flip flops when it seems fashionable.
Instead of leading the way, Pawlenty waits for the crowd to move, and then he jumps on the bandwagon. That's not what I call leadership.
For years Pawlenty opposed a commuter rail project, but changed his mind when the G.W. Bush Administration concluded that the project would be cost-effective and save commuters time. He backed another light-rail project that would have connected Minneapolis and St. Paul... until 2008 when he followed a group of Republican governors who were refusing to accept federal money for green infrastructure investments like high-speed rail.
Even in his reversal on climate action, Pawlenty says he is just following a trend. As governor, Pawlenty signed a climate law in 2007 designed to reduce Minnesota's carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, he helped launch a regional climate initiative within the Midwest, and he and then Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano made a radio ad calling on Congress to address climate.
Yet when asked why he is now saying cap and trade is a "clunker," his defense is essentially "all the kids are doing it": "As to cap and trade, almost everybody who's run has got the same problem," Pawlenty said at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference recently.
Pawlenty likes to embrace new trends, but only after the trend-setters have stated their position. He's the guy who will start wearing bell-bottoms when the cool kids are tight-rolling their jeans. Just take his nickname. He actually calls himself T-Paw. Even then, you have to wonder why he is copying a Jennifer Lopez handle from 2002. Couldn't he be a little more current?
His pack-mentality makes him a safe, predictable choice -- he isn't likely to propose anything radical or cutting edge. But considering the state of our economy, environment, and position in the world, America could use a trend-setter, not a follower.
We don't need someone who will only be moved by major events or political pressure. We need someone who will take a stand and define the path forward.
Considering the major threats looming over our country -- prolonged economic recession, two protracted wars, a changing climate -- we desperately need strong leadership. This is not the time for fence-sitters.
Tim Pawlenty seems destined to let someone else define his environmental agenda. If his track record is any indication, I am nervous that that someone is the Tea Party. He might occasionally veer off in one direction or the other, he might support clean energy or he might decide that climate change isn't a problem anymore. But he is not likely to set his own course for America.
And we need someone with the courage to do that.
This blog was originally posted on NRDC Action Fund's The Mark Up.
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