The GOP field is (almost) complete, after Ohio Governor John Kasich became the 17th major candidate to announce his presidential run this week. This means we can draw some conclusions about the opponent the eventual Democratic nominee will be facing in the general election.
It’s an extremely safe bet that the Republican nominee will not take more action to confront climate change than President Obama has. The question is more how much of the president’s climate agenda the nominee would reverse, repeal, or ignore.
The next president will have a lot on his or her plate — implementing or rolling back the Clean Air Act’s provisions to regulate carbon pollution; defying or leading the world in carrying out an expected U.N. climate agreement; committing the United States to low-carbon energy or doubling down on fossil fuels. Pope Francis just told the world through the Vatican’s latest encyclical that climate change is happening, caused by humans, and requires “urgent” policy. The train is slowly accelerating down the tracks, and the person who takes over in 2017 can decide whether to speed it along, slow it down, or throw the engine dramatically into reverse.
If recent public opinion polls have been consistent on one thing, it’s the partisan divide between Democrats who believe climate change is a concern that should be addressed through policy, and Republicans who often doubt the problem exists in the first place. However, a January poll found that 48 percent of Republicans were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports acting on climate change and the same percentage would be less likely to vote for a candidate that thought climate change was a hoax.
So here is the GOP presidential field, ranked by how far they would walk back President Obama’s climate agenda, from least to most:
17. George Pataki
Pataki was the governor of New York three governors ago. He is running for president almost ten years after he left office. Unfortunately for Pataki, his presidential bid is among the longest of long shots.
In 2007, he joined a blue-ribbon commission with several people who would join the Obama administration that concluded climate change was an urgent threat that required legislative action, most likely a cap-and-trade system.
Since his announcement, however, he has not talked about climate change, and it is unclear how much of a priority he would make it.
16. Lindsey Graham
By way of explanation, Graham sounded a note of denial. “The science about global warming has changed,” he said. “I think they’ve oversold this stuff, quite frankly. I think they’ve been alarmist and the science is in question.”
He agrees carbon pollution should be regulated whether or not it causes climate change. His focus became more on pollution associated with burning fossil fuels. But following the climate bill’s demise, Graham did not push through any legislation that would address pollution.
After he announced his presidential run, however, Graham seemed to take up the banner of climate change again. “If I’m president of the United States, we’re going to address climate change, CO2 emissions in a business-friendly way,” he told CNN.
He said people should ask other candidates, “What is the environmental policy of the Republican party?”
“When I ask that question, I get a blank stare.”
While addressing emissions in a business-friendly way could mean any number of things, a Graham presidency would not start out the gate trying to put President Obama’s climate agenda into reverse.
15. John Kasich
“I am a believer — my goodness I am a Republican — I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change,” Kasich said at an energy conference in 2012. “I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it.”
His refusal to overreact to it has led to a refusal to act on it as well. In 2011, he signed a bill — which was opposed by 70 percent of Ohioans — that opened up state parks and other public lands to drilling and fracking. He supports clean coal and is skeptical about cutting emissions without waiting for China and India to go first. And he spiked the wheel of a successful renewable energy program benefiting the Buckeye State.
In June 2014, he signed a bill passed by the state legislature that would freeze the Renewable Portfolio Standard, despite its popularity among Ohioans and industry. The program had also saved consumers $230 million, created 25,000 jobs, and spurred $1 billion in private investment.
Kasich might be open to some version of climate action should he win, but his actions, which are slowing down progress in his own state, signal caution.
14. Carly Fiorina
With her private-sector experience, Carly Fiorina engages with climate change from an economic perspective.
“Companies shouldn’t cave in to the demands of climate change scientists,” she has said.
Fiorina blamed “liberal environmentalists” for the historic, climate-related drought in California on Glenn Beck’s radio show this year. But even if she were to accept the idea that climate change played a role in her state’s drought, she is skeptical that anyone should do anything about it.
“What all the scientists also tell us is that a single state, or single nation acting alone can make no difference acting alone,” she told MSNBC. “If we want to accept the science, we have to read the fine print.”
“California can be the most onerous regulatory regime in the world, which they are, and it won’t make a bit of difference in climate change,” she said.
While running for senate in 2010, Fiorina criticized California’s nation-leading cap-and-trade program as “massively destructive,” which has not proved to be accurate. A report earlier this year found that emissions are down and the economy is expanding.
In 2009, she said, “‘I think we should have the courage to examine the science on an ongoing basis.”
13. Chris Christie
In 2011, the New Jersey governor acknowledged the effects humans have on climate change.
“I can’t claim to fully understand all of this,” he said. “Certainly not after just a few months of study. But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role it’s time to defer to the experts.”
Christie said again this year that he thought climate change was real and that humans contributed to it. But in 2013, he rejected the notion that Hurricane Sandy’s damage was worsened by climate change.
As far as doing something about climate change, Christie is a true skeptic. He has said that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a Northeast cap-and-trade program that aims to collectively reduce carbon pollution from power plants, was a “completely useless plan.” He withdrew New Jersey from the plan in 2011, and said that he would “not think of rejoining it.” He also cut his state’s renewable energy target.
A New Jersey appeals court ruled that the governor illegally withdrew the state from it in 2014.
A President Christie would not deny there was a problem, but given his success at dismantling an effective state solution to cut emissions and grow revenue, it’s unlikely he would allow the Clean Power Plan to proceed.
12. Jeb Bush
Bush’s position has been hard to pin down at times, though if he does address climate change it will not be because of either science or religion.
The establishment favorite has said people who accept mainstream climate science are “really arrogant.”
In 2009, he told Esquire he was a skeptic, and “not a scientist.”
“I think the science has been politicized. I would be very wary of hollowing out our industrial base even further,” he said, before saying he doubted whether it was really warming at all. “I think we need to be very cautious before we dramatically alter who we are as a nation because of it,” he concluded.
Then again, Bush can sometimes strike a more moderate tone. “The climate is changing, and I’m concerned about that,” he told a group in New Hampshire in April. “I don’t think it’s the highest priority. I don’t think we should ignore it, either,” he said. “Just generally I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science.”
When the pope released his encyclical this year, Bush was skeptical. “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”
He has advocated for more incentives for fracking, with the idea this would increase natural gas production and replace higher-polluting coal. However, he was happy to meet with a group of coal barons with the hope of raising money from them, so a (third) President Bush may very well stick with all fossil fuels.
11. Jim Gilmore
The former Virginia governor has said he will announce his candidacy the first week of August. He’s an asterisk in the polls, barely has a political operation, and has not said much about climate and energy. If a long list of competitors stumble and Gilmore has a decent shot at the nomination, there is not much to go on when predicting what he would do on climate change and energy policy.
He’s been uncertain over the role human activity plays in warming the globe in the past.
“We know the climate is changing, but we do not know for sure how much is caused by man and how much is part of a natural cycle change,” Gilmore said in a 2008 voter guide for the Virginia senate race against Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). “I do believe we must work toward reducing emissions without damaging our fragile economy.”
Gilmore has also espoused fossil fuel production of all kinds, and said he opposed the Kyoto Protocol. It’s unlikely he would support another U.N. agreement or the Clean Power Plan.
10. Ben Carson
The famed neurosurgeon has said “we may be warming, we may be cooling.” In an interview with Bloomberg in Iowa, Carson expressed support for building the Keystone XL pipeline. He also said “our Environmental Protection Agency should be told to work in conjunction with business, industry and universities to find the most eco-friendly ways of developing our energy resources.”
It’s unclear what a President Carson would do about climate change, though with what he has said so far, he likely would not see it as a pressing issue.
9. Rand Paul
The libertarian senator has said he’s “not sure anybody exactly knows why” climate change is happening. He said “the conclusions you make from that are not conclusive;” however “we should minimize pollution,” but not through “onerous regulation.”
As far as addressing climate change through legislation, Paul has said “all I ask for is that the solution has to be a balanced solution and you have to account for jobs and jobs lost by regulation.”
His reaction to actual things people are trying to do to solve this problem tells a different story, however. Last year, he called the EPA’s proposed rule to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act illegal.
“I think if you want to pass legislation, try to get it through Congress,” he said. “Come and talk to us. Convince us it’s a good idea.” The Clean Air Act, passed by Congress, directs the EPA to regulate pollution, including carbon dioxide.
While he has struck a slightly more moderate tone on pollution, he still questions climate science and opposes policies that do anything about the problem. It’s unlikely Paul would address it through government action.
8. Marco Rubio
While still a state legislator, Rubio thought action on climate change, including “emissions caps and energy diversification,” led to economic and technological trends that meant “Florida should become the Silicon Valley of [the energy] industry.” He also voted for a bill that would regulate greenhouse gases.
Once he reached the national level, he changed his tune. Rubio was one of the first politicians to attempt the “I’m not a scientist” tactic to deny the reality of mainstream climate science. He has since moved to more outright denial.
“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” he said after telling the world he could be president. “I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy.”
He called it “absurd” that laws could “change our weather.”
7. Bobby Jindal
Jindal says the degree of connection between human activity and climate change is unknown.
“Nobody disputes that the climate is always changing,” an energy policy paper released by his America Next advocacy group said. “The question is what is the role of humans in that change — and what, if any, dangers that change presents for Americans.”
Jindal told reporters that humans do affect the climate, but “the real question is how much.”
After all, he can’t be expected to know about climate science because he is “not a scientist.”
His uncertainty about climate change does not seem to impact what a President Jindal would do on energy. His plan calls for more oil and gas drilling, reversing environmental protections, and withdrawing from the U.N. climate talks. He said climate change was “simply a Trojan Horse” for governmental regulation.
Jindal has also demanded the EPA rescind its determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and signed on to a letter to the president in protest of the new EPA Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution.
6. Rick Perry
Though his environmental record in Texas was largely abysmal, he did sign legislation setting a renewable energy target that helped Texas lead the nation in wind power production. He also signed a water infrastructure bill that could help Texas mitigate some impacts of climate-driven drought and flood extremes.
Those positive developments — especially the state’s drop in emissions — had many other causes and drivers unrelated to Perry’s views about energy policy and climate change, however. Perry advocates for wide-ranging fossil fuel extraction and said he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline “on day one” should he be elected.
He would be extremely unlikely to do much about climate change at the federal level.
5. Mike Huckabee
In 2007, the former governor of Arkansas said “it’s all our responsibility to fix” climate change and advocated for a cap-and-trade system to cut emissions. Three years later, he denied ever saying such a thing.
“Mr. President, I believe that most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn,” he told a crowd in Iowa, referring to ISIS’ killing of hostages.
When the EPA proposed regulating carbon pollution from power plants, Huckabee engaged in fearmongering over electricity rates, saying the regulations would “bankrupt families” — a claim that’s not true.
With his newfound climate denial zeal and skepticism of EPA regulation, Huckabee would most likely slow or reverse the president’s Clean Power Plan.
4. Scott Walker
Walker has thus far kept quiet on his views about climate science.
Recently, the governor of Wisconsin upped his game opposing action on climate change, however. He called President Obama’s proposed rule to regulate carbon pollution from power plants “unworkable” and pledged to fight it in court. He suggested gutting the EPA, saying he would take “major portions of the funding and responsibilities of the federal government … and send it back to the states.”
Walker signed Grover Norquist’s “No Climate Tax Pledge.” This means he committed to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that little has been done to combat climate change under Walker’s administration. “After an intense focus on climate change under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature have devoted little attention to such issues.”
Rather than relying on bombastic climate denial, Walker’s approach to environmental and energy issues has been rooted in a low-key, consistent, and arguably more effective and dangerous implementation of anti-environment tactics in state government.
In 2011, Walker pushed to eliminate state subsidies to cities and towns to operate recycling programs, and more recently proposed an end to funding a renewable bioenergy research center (despite a recent Iowa-inspired reversal on ethanol subsidies). He’s pushed to interfere with wind turbine placement while helping to pave the way for a “frac sand” mining industry that threatens the environment and public health.
Walker’s record concerns environmentalists, but it’s likely his past — and potentially future — electoral success that concerns them more.
3. Donald Trump
The billionaire businessman doubts the reality of climate change as well as policies that attempt to address it, judging by past statements and his twitter feed. He has said “the EPA is an impediment to both growth and jobs.” He supports fracking and has a long-running vendetta against wind farms that are within sight of his properties.
“I’m a huge believer in clean air,” he told Jake Tapper last month. “I’m not a huge believer in the global warming phenomenon.”
When Tapper responded that most scientists say it’s real and man-made, Trump said “there could be some man-made too, I’m not saying there’s zero, but not nearly to the extent — when Obama gets up and said it’s the number one problem for our country, and if it is, why is it that we have to clean up our factories now and China doesn’t have to do it for another 30 to 35 years?”
Trump admitted he was being sarcastic when he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Like many other issues, a Trump presidency would not treat addressing climate change in a serious manner.
2. Rick Santorum
The former Pennsylvania senator doubts the scientific consensus on climate change, saying it is “speculative science, which has proven over time not to have checked out,” and a “beautifully concocted scheme.” In fact, he said he was more qualified to talk about climate change than the pope last month when the Vatican released its historic encyclical on climate change.
“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science,” Santorum told a radio host a week earlier.
“I refer to global warming as not climate science, but political science,” Santorum said during his last presidential run. “A lot of these environmental sciences are just that — political sciences. They have nothing to do with … real understanding of how we have to value both the environment and its impact on man and the world.”
He’s said that anything the U.S. could do on climate change would have “zero impact” unless other countries act — barring, assumedly, agreements with other countries to limit emissions. In April, after Santorum criticized EPA regulation limiting mercury pollution from power plants, FactCheck.org ruled that his criticisms were inaccurate.
If he opposed regulating mercury pollution, it is difficult to see a President Santorum thinking positively about regulating carbon dioxide. In 2012, he joked, “tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is.”
1. Ted Cruz
Cruz doubts what he calls the “pseudoscientific theory” that tells scientists human activity causes climate change. He also told CNN that in “the last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming.” The junior senator from Texas has compared his climate denial to the intellectual bravery of Galileo.
After 35 trillion gallons of water fell on his home state, Cruz was asked about the role climate change played. He said, “I think it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster.” Scientists, including experts in Texas, disagreed, with one calling Cruz’s denial of scientific reality “shameful.”
Cruz has introduced legislation that would expand oil and gas drilling, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, prevent the federal government from regulating fracking, and curtail EPA regulations. He says he supports an “all of the above” energy policy, which to him means allowing the private sector to decide what energy sources are best.
He relies on his denial of mainstream scientific consensus to inform his policy positions. “The federal government has no business attempting to massively reorder the global economy, resulting in policies that kill jobs and keep people from rising out of poverty, all in the name of a theory that can’t be proven or disproven,” he told National Journal in February.
So barring a change of heart on the science, Cruz is likely to be the candidate who most diligently rolls back policies to cut carbon pollution.