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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pawlenty’s Political Climate Change

Likely GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty's views on cap and trade aren't what they used to be.

Pawlenty told "Fox News Sunday" on Jan. 16 that he "never did sign a bill relating to cap and trade" when he was governor of Minnesota, but that's not true. He also said: "I've opposed cap and trade." However, that's been the case only since 2009.

In fact, the bill he signed in 2007 specifically required a task force to "recommend how the state could adopt" a cap-and-trade system. Furthermore, he also signed a regional compact with other Midwestern governors agreeing to "jointly endeavor" to "develop a market-based and multi-sector cap-and-trade mechanism."

This isn't the first time we've found a Republican who might make a run for the 2012 nomination trying to bury his earlier views on this subject. In December, we wrote that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had pretty clearly backed just the sort of cap-and-trade system for cutting carbon emissions about which he recently said, "I never did support and never would support it – period."

Here's how Pawlenty tried to paint the picture on Fox:

Host Chris Wallace, Jan. 16: Back in 2007, you also signed a bill to begin a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Have you flipped on that? Pawlenty: I didn't — I signed a bill in Minnesota on dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, only to the extent of taking steps on renewable energy. We never did sign a bill relating to cap and trade or putting that into Minnesota or regional. We studied it. I looked at it. I've subsequently decided and wrote to the Congress two years ago. Don't do this. It's a bad idea. It will be burdensome on the economy. And I've opposed cap and trade.

But the Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 didn't "only" take "steps on renewable energy," as Pawlenty said. It established strict statewide greenhouse gas reduction targets of 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2015 and 80 percent below those levels by 2050. And the law required a group of state agencies to develop a plan to meet those goals. According to the law, the plan had to recommend how Minnesota could adopt cap and trade, not just the feasibility of such a plan (see page 34):

Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, sec. 216H.02: The plan must determine the feasibility, assess the costs and benefits, and recommend how the state could adopt a regulatory system that imposes a cap on the aggregate air pollutant emissions of a group of sources, requires those subject to the cap to own an allowance for each ton of the air pollutant emitted, and allows for market-based trading of those allowances.

On the day he signed the act, Pawlenty was quoted saying:

Pawlenty, May 25, 2007: The best time to have taken action on energy issues would've been 30 years ago. The second best time is right now. The nation has been asleep at the switch, but here in Minnesota we are kick-starting the future by increasing our nation-leading per capita renewable fuel use, boosting cost saving measures and tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

Also in 2007, Pawlenty signed the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, along with five other Midwestern governors. The pact said that "the effects of climate change present growing economic, social and environmental risks." It stated flatly that "we know enough to act on climate change, and there is sufficient scientific certainty that we must begin to take action now." And it said that "government has the obligation to establish a policy framework for reducing emissions of the six recognized greenhouse gases."

Furthermore, the accord said those who signed would "jointly endeavor" to "develop a market-based and multi-sector cap-and-trade mechanism" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the day it was signed, Pawlenty praised the accord:

Pawlenty, Nov. 15, 2007: Today's agreement is an important milestone toward achieving a cleaner, more secure energy future. The Midwest is well positioned to help lead the energy revolution that our nation needs to stay competitive and strong. Working together, states can build a de facto national energy policy that will create good jobs and build a cleaner and safer world.

By June of 2009, Pawlenty's views had become more closely aligned with Republican orthodoxy on climate change, at least as he expressed them in a letter he sent to his state's delegation on Capitol Hill. He wrote that a pending federal cap-and-trade bill's provisions were "overly bureaucratic, misguided" and "burdensome on our economy."

His course reversal was clear in an interview several months later with NBC's David Gregory, when he said that cap and trade would be "a disaster" for the economy, and questioned how much of the climate change that is occurring is caused by human activity. Pawlenty said he favored instead technology-based solutions, including more reliance on nuclear power, fuel cells and "clean coal":

Pawlenty, Feb. 21, 2010: The climate is obviously changing, David. The more interesting question is how much of it is man-made and how much is as a result of natural causes and patterns. Of course, we have seen data manipulation and controversy, or at least debate within the scientific community. … And the way you address it is we should all be in favor of reducing pollution. We need to do it in ways that don’t burden the economy. Cap and trade, I think, would be a disaster in that regard.

Pawlenty's and Huckabee's reversals on the climate issue may get them a warmer reception from the Republican faithful, if not from us. Meanwhile, we'll be watching for other such course corrections by 2012 Oval Office hopefuls.