Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney often attacks President Obama for his failure to advance an agenda that fits America’s energy needs. The former Massachusetts Governor attacks the President for high gas prices, and perceived “crony capitalism” for the federal government’s failed $500 million investment in the solar energy company Solyndra.
Romney’s 2012 energy plan is strikingly different from his 2008 plan which called for America to “dramatically increase federal spending on research” The old plan focused on developing clean resources like nuclear, wind, solar, biodiesel, along with liquid, solid, and clean coal. The new one calls primarily for increased domestic oil production and streamlining regulations.
And as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney governed much more along the lines envisioned in his 2008 energy plan. A review of news announcements during his four-year tenure leading the state shows a broad concern for the environment that included a support for regulations that are now anathema to the national Republican Party. Romney signed into law a landmark Climate Protection Plan for his state, a strict clean air law regulating carbon dioxide emissions, and launched an initiative for a long term energy plan for the state entirely based on renewable energy and conservation.
In his first month in office as Governor, Romney tied job growth to fostering a cleaner environment announcing a plan to redirect the focus of the state’s Renewable Energy Trust Fund to support the creation of alternative energy sources.
Romney said, “the Trust Fund has been growing for years, and I believe now is the time to refocus its assets in such a manner that it can become a major economic springboard for the Commonwealth by focusing on job creation in the renewable energy sector.”
Along with the Trust Fund, Romney announced the creation of a new $15 million Green Energy Fund, which provided “equity capital, loans and management assistance to Massachusetts-based renewable energy businesses.” Romney also lamented $9 million in new financing for five Massachusetts companies leading the way on green energy development.
A few weeks later in February, Romney pledged to make clean air and public health a priority of his administration and rejected a request from the Pacific Gas and Electric company to delay power plant regulations.
“If the choice is between dirty power plants or protecting the health of the people of Massachusetts, there is no choice in my mind, Romney said of the decision. Adding “I will always come down on the side of public health.”
In April, Romney celebrated that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection had entered negotiations for the installation of emissions controls equipment at a Salem Harbor Power Plant.
“We will hold their feet to the fire to ensure that this dirty power plant gets cleaned up as quickly as possible” Romney commented in a press release.
After a deal was negotiated to clean up the Salem plant in June of that year, Romney applauded the plan saying, “We can be confident that when this plant runs, the health of the citizens nearby will be protected.”
In September, Romney took on the state’s power plants again, announcing regulations that would require the plant’s to reduce mercury admissions.
“Massachusetts has been a national leader in the effort to clean up our oldest and dirtiest power plants,” Romney said. “The implementation of these new mercury standards, coupled with major reductions in other air pollutants now underway, will ensure that the citizens of the Commonwealth will breathe the cleanest air possible.”
Romney also sought to preserve $4 million in matching federal fund to clean up the environment, and signed into law a bill restoring the Inland Fish and Game Fund, an account set up to help fund the state’s wildlife restoration efforts.
“These funds will continue to benefit all Massachusetts citizens as we work to promote strong environmental stewardship and recreation,” the Governor said at the time.
In May of 2004, Romney announced a Climate Protection Plan for Massachusetts. The plan called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2012, reducing carbon dioxide from cars through aggressive implementation of the California Low Emission Vehicle program, creating partnerships with cities and towns, businesses, colleges and universities to reach climate protection targets, reducing emissions from diesel vehicles and trucks. The plan also called for developing an emissions banking and trading market in Massachusetts.
“The potential for economic growth in Massachusetts extends even further through implementation of this plan,” the Governor said. “More efficient use of energy resources will keep manufacturing costs down, allowing local businesses to stay competitive in the world marketplace.”
In June 2004, Romney signed a law banning smoking in all workplaces. The Governor said, “today, we can all breathe a little easier. Everyone has the right to breathe clean air and be free of secondhand smoke, especially our kids.”
Romney signed legislation two months later in August to protect Massachusetts from oil spills, calling a recent spill “a black menace on the sea.” Romney added the recent spill was an “insult to our environment, damaging habitats for endangered species, jeopardizing the livelihood of citizens employed in the local fisheries.”
In 2004, the Romney administration went after polluters at a record pace, hiking enforcement actions by 54% and penalties by 49%. “Innovative programs and cutting-edge technologies are being used today to protect our environment,” Romney commented at the time. “Massachusetts will continue to be a national leader in environmental protection by utilizing these new tools to target environmental scofflaws.”
Romney began backtracking from some of his environmental initiatives in 2005, notably pulling out of a multi-state compact that he’d embraced.
And in 2005, Romney launched fewer environmental and energy initiatives than the past. In May, the Romney Administration announced they had brought a local power plant in compliance with their state’s emissions laws. Laws, self-described by the Romney Administration as “toughest-in-the-nation emission regulations.”
In December, Romney actively touted strict new clean air regulations to take effect in 2006. Praising Massachusetts as the only state to set carbon dioxide emissions limits on power plants, Romney said the strict new regulations were a crucial step in improving the environment. Romney’s 2012 energy plan specifically calls for excluding carbon dioxide from the Clean Air Act.
“Massachusetts continues to be committed to improving air quality for all our citizens. These carbon emission limits will provide real and immediate progress in the battle to improve our environment,” Romney said. “They help us accomplish our environmental goals while protecting jobs and the economy.”
In August of 2006, Romney launched a long term energy plan for the state of Massachusetts. The planned called for the state to become more energy efficient by creating new programs to encourage better energy use by homes and businesses and implementing electricity rates to encourage better energy use at peak times.
The plan also called for increasing the state’s energy supply through increased use of renewable wood, hydroelectric and wind power and encouraging the use of environmentally friendly biofuels in state vehicles and buildings.
Romney is not alone in the shift. The Republican Party, driven in part by its allies in the oil industry, in part by business concerns about expensive regulation, has pivoted sharply away from environmental regulations in recent years to a strategy captured in Michael Steele and Sarah Palin’s 2008 slogan, “Drill, Baby, Drill.” As with many of the moves away from his record in Massachusetts, Romney has followed his party to the right.