With the storm of a century barreling toward New York City, the debate over climate change is likely to get a jolt. The extreme nature of the storm fits the weather pattern predicted by climate scientists, who warn of an increasingly unstable atmosphere.
As that conversation goes searching for ways to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has an idea to contribute: Drill for oil in the arctic, then invest the profits in renewable energy.
Ryan is an unlikely source for a solution to climate change, as he has been hammered for casting doubt on the science behind it, yet he once advocated for the United States to wean itself off of fossil fuels.
In 2008, the Republican congressman told his Janesville, Wis. constituents that the federal government should use the revenues that it could glean from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to invest in alternative energy technologies.
“The Congressional Research Service this year told us that the money the federal government would raise on getting that, through rent, royalties and taxes, would be $191 billion over the next 10 years,” Ryan said. “That's $191 billion that could be used to reduce the deficit that could be used to do the Manhattan Project, to invest in hydrogen and nuclear and renewable energy so that we can get off of oil.”
A few minutes later, he called for more drilling, but again stressed that the federal government’s long-term strategy should be to remove the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“Since we now know how to get oil and gas in an environmentally friendly way, let's get it,” he told his audience. “And the point is then let's take the money that we get from that -- the federal government raises -- and invest it in research so we can get off of oil itself, off of fossil fuels. Invest in the science to get us the renewables.”
Climate change has remained noticeably absent from the presidential campaign thus far. But as Hurricane Sandy barrels up the East Coast -- putting lives at risk and promising billions of dollars in damage -- the candidates' positions on environmental policy may rise to the forefront.
Both Ryan’s rhetoric and record have done little to belie his 2008 assertions. In 2011, he voted for an amendment that would eliminate the newly-created Advanced Research Projects Agency within the Department of Energy, whose stated mission is to invest in alternative energy research and test out new technologies.
And in the budget plan he proposed for the fiscal year 2013, Ryan slashed funding for renewable energy projects and research. According to a study out of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, the proposal would cut $3 billion over the next year alone if it had been passed.
Yet while draining the federal government’s investment in new energy sources, Ryan included $40 billion in subsidies for the oil and natural gas industries. The Daily Beast later reported that his wife’s family had invested in Texas properties rented out to four large oil corporations, the same companies to receive substantial windfalls from the Ryan plan subsidies.
Ryan has also expressed considerable skepticism of the science supporting climate change experts.
Attempts to mitigate the environmental effects of global warming would “produce real economic harm in exchange for distant and dubious environmental ends,” Ryan claimed in a 2011 speech at Hillsdale College.
In a Dec. 2009 editorial, the congressman warned against the “hyper-politicization of science” while also implying that the presence of heavy snow in Wisconsin presented counter-evidence of global warming.
Leading climatologists “use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change,” Ryan wrote.
In Congress, his voting record has remained consistently aligned against environmental activists attempting to control greenhouse gas emissions. He voted to remove the White House's climate change advisers, to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions and to prevent the Department of Agriculture for conducting its own climate-impact study.
But Ryan isn’t the only GOP candidate on the presidential ticket who has appeared to shift his position on the environment and energy policy. Mitt Romney has faced criticism over his perceived flip-flop on climate change.
While serving as the governor of Massachusetts, Romney oversaw the implementation of the nation’s first cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions and even allowed the state Department of Energy to regulate carbon as a potentially harmful greenhouse gas.
Since declaring this run for the presidency, however, he has expressed doubts about the man-made causes of global warming, and the Romney-Ryan ticket has made energy independence by means of increased drilling one of the five central points of its platform.
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