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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Gingrich On Climate Change

Newt Gingrich went too far when he claimed that “I’ve never favored cap-and-trade.”

It’s true he’s never favored the approach taken by Democrats, but he said in 2007 that he would “strongly support” cap-and-trade if combined with “a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions.”

Furthermore, Gingrich said in House testimony in 2009 that he still might support a cap-and-trade system covering “the 2,000 most polluting places,” if packaged with incentives for nuclear power and “green coal,” among other things.

Gingrich has wrestled for years with climate change, in books, debates, speeches and other forums. The former House speaker has said there’s enough scientific evidence to warrant government action, and has never stood with those conservatives who dismiss evidence of human causation as a “hoax.”

But at times he’s hedged his stand on the evidence. He’s said that the evidence is “sufficient” to warrant acting “urgently” and that there is a “wealth of scientific data” that warming is taking place. But at other times he’s said that global warming is “probably” happening and that there’s no “conclusive” proof of it, or that humans cause it. He’s even suggested that the Earth may be about to move “into a long cooling period.”

And he’s also gone from voicing strong — though conditional — support for a cap-and-trade approach to his current position focused entirely on encouraging development of new technologies, with no mention of capping emissions.

The former speaker’s most recent attempt to explain his evolving position came in a Dec. 3 appearance at a Fox News forum hosted by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Gingrich was asked about his statement in a 2008 TV spot with Nancy Pelosi that “we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.”

Gingrich, Dec. 3, 2011: Sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi is the dumbest single thing I’ve done in the last few years — but if you notice, I’ve never favored cap-and-trade, and in fact I actively testified against it.

Later he was asked: “Was it ‘dumb’ because it was bad politics, or ‘dumb’ because it was bad policy?”

Gingrich answered by saying, “It was largely dumb because, frankly, she became so radioactive that it was impossible for any conservative to be in the same set, and not have everybody go, ‘That’s crazy.’ And so they never heard your message.” (That exchange begins at 3:50 on a video posted by Fox.)

Nevertheless, Gingrich went overboard when he went on to say he “never favored cap-and-trade.” That’s not true. He would have been accurate to say he never favored “Pelosi’s” cap-and-trade.

But the truth is that he said in 2007 that he “strongly” supported the concept of a cap-and-trade system to address climate change, if packaged with incentives. He even said the world would be “much better off” if President George W. Bush had not rejected the idea of a mandatory cap on carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants in 2001, and adopted such a cap-and-trade-plus-incentives package.

Here’s a sampler of what Gingrich has said about the subject, starting with the 2007 statement expressing strong support for a “package” including mandatory caps on carbon emissions.

Gingrich in 2007

That was in an interview conducted Feb. 15, 2007, for the Public Broadcasting System program “Frontline”:

Gingrich, Feb. 15, 2007: I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.

The questioner then asked Gingrich about the Bush administration’s decision in 2001, ruling out any attempt to cap carbon emission.

Q: Would we be in better shape today if he [Bush] had kept that campaign pledge?

Gingrich: If he had instituted a regime that combined three things I just said — mandatory caps, a trading system inside the caps, as we have with clean air, and a tax incentive to be able to invest in the new technology and to be able to produce the new technology — I think we would be much better off than we are in the current situation.

Later in 2007, Gingrich said publicly that there’s enough scientific evidence of a problem to justify acting “urgently” — a view not popular with many conservatives. This exchange was part of a 2007 debate on climate change with Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Gingrich, April 10, 2007: The evidence is sufficient that we should move towards the most effective possible steps to reduce carbon loading of the atmosphere

Kerry: And do it urgently — and now…

Gingrich: And do it urgently, yes. . . . I think there has to be a, if you will, a “green conservatism” — there has to be a willingness to stand up and say all right, here’s the right way to solve these as seen by our value system.

Gingrich said in that debate that he didn’t favor a solution that entails “bigger government and higher taxes.” He called for a “green conservative” approach instead. CNN’s account of the debate described it as a “shoot-out at the climate change corral.” CNN said the solutions advocated by Kerry and Gingrich were “vastly different,” and said Gingrich “said he believes the best way to solve the problem is to unleash the spirit of American entrepreneurship, not the power of government.” That last part describes his current position.

Gingrich expanded on his ideas in a book published in October 2007: “A Contract With the Earth,” which he co-authored with Terry L. Maple. They wrote (page 197): “We strongly believe that entrepreneurial environmentalism is a superior approach to bureaucratic, litigious, unrestrained regulation.” And (page 191) they said, “The development of new technologies is the best way to achieve significant reductions in carbon loading.”

To bring about such new technology, Gingrich and Maple called for “significant public and private investment in basic research,” more commitment to math and science education, “robust prizes” for such things as breakthroughs in hydrogen power.

In the book, Gingrich says scientific evidence is strong that the planet is warming, but not conclusive as to whether human activity is a cause. Gingrich and Maple wrote (page 189) that “global climate change is supported by a wealth of scientific data.” And while they said the cause isn’t certain, they added: “Should human behavior be a cause, to any extent, it wouldn’t be surprising.”

Gingrich in 2008

The former speaker’s attempts to forge a bipartisan approach to climate change continued into 2008. In July, Gingrich appeared seated on a small sofa next to Nancy Pelosi, who was then speaker of the House. Both were smiling, as though they were best of friends:

Pelosi: We don’t always see eye to eye, do we Newt?

Gingrich: No, but we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.

The Gingrich-Pelosi spot was produced by the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit organization founded by former Vice President Al Gore. And in the rest of the ad Pelosi says, “We need cleaner forms of energy, and we need them fast.” To which Gingrich replies, “If enough of us demand action from our leaders, we can spark the innovation that we need.”

Gingrich soon was saying that he regretted making that ad and that it was “misconstrued.” Perhaps so; all Gingrich agreed to in that ad was a need to “demand action” to bring about “cleaner forms of energy.” Neither mentioned mandatory caps on carbon emissions. And the fact is that Gingrich and Pelosi later disagreed strongly on that, even though they both agreed that some action is needed.

But Gingrich was criticized by conservatives for appearing with Pelosi. And he quickly posted an explanation to his conservative supporters on his own website in April 2008:

Gingrich, April 22, 2008: I completely understand why many of you would have questions about this, so I want to take this opportunity to explain my reasons. First of all, I want to be clear: I don’t think that we have conclusive proof of global warming. And I don’t think we have conclusive proof that humans are at the center of it.

A few days later, after critical comments appeared on his site, Gingrich posted a much longer rationale for the Pelosi ad — and came down definitively against a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill that was then being considered in the Senate.

Gingrich, May 5, 2008: The Warner-Lieberman bill is a fitting example of this kind of big government, big bureaucracy, high cost, politician dominated system. A better name for it would be the “China and India Full Employment Act.”

He also hedged again on his view of the scientific evidence. Only the year before he had described a “wealth” of data showing the climate was growing warmer, but now he said:

Gingrich, April 20, 2008: I do not know if the climate is warming or not. There is some evidence the larger impact of the sun may be about to send us into a long cooling period.

“Drill Here, Drill Now”

In September 2008 — with gasoline prices still close to their peak of over $4 a gallon, and as Republican convention-goers were taking up the election-year chant “Drill, Baby Drill” — Gingrich published another book urging greater exploitation of U.S. oil and gas and blaming “left-leaning politicians” — including Nancy Pelosi, by name — for having “created the current energy crisis” (pages 2 & 3). The title was “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less.

Gingrich and co-author Vince Haley urged opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and removing restrictions on offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. But despite the provocative title, Gingrich also said (page 145):

Gingrich, September 2008: Climate change and global warming are probably happening.

Nevertheless, in this book, Gingrich rejected any unilateral U.S. effort to address climate change by putting restrictions on energy use, reasoning that China and India would never follow suit and that American efforts alone would accomplish little.

“To truly address concern about climate change we need solutions that China and India will adopt voluntarily, which means the policies have to benefit their economies instead of harming them,” Gingrich wrote (page 29). And on page 166, he seemed to reject cap-and-trade entirely:

Gingrich, September 2008 [A] regulation and taxation system on carbon would be devastating to our economy, since every sector of the economy uses carbon.

And that, he said, would prevent the economy from generating the money needed to develop the new technologies that he sees as “the only realistic way to address concerns about climate change.”

Gingrich in 2009

On April 24, 2009, Gingrich testified against the cap-and-trade bill supported by the new Obama administration. In his prepared remarks, he said:

Gingrich, April 24, 2009: I report to you today my conclusion that this is the wrong bill.

This bill is wrong for our national security.

This bill is wrong for our economy.

This bill is wrong for government of, by, and for the people.

Gingrich objected to the cost of the measure and what he characterized as a lack of positive inducements to develop low-carbon energy. But even in 2009, Gingrich did not entirely abandon his conditional support for some sort of cap-and-trade system.

A transcript of that hearing shows that Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington pressed Gingrich on his 2007 endorsement of the cap-and-trade approach and asked, “What happened to the old Newt?”

Gingrich then said he might still support a different cap-and-trade bill, but one much more limited in scope.

Gingrich, April 24, 2009: [I]f you want to write a bill that covers the 2,000 most polluting places and say, fine, those 2,000 are part of cap-and-trade, I would be glad to look at it. . . . [I]f you include as I said in that [2007] quote, “very strong incentives,” I would be glad to look at it. If you include prizes, I would be glad to look at it. If you would liberate the nuclear power industry from trial lawyers and regulatory controls, I would be glad to look at it. This bill does none of those things.

-Brooks Jackson