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GOP presidential hopefuls dance around climate change

Republican presidential candidates steer away from anything suggesting government action on climate change, some – Pawlenty and Gingrich – reversing earlier positions. Romney says the problem is real, but offers no solutions. That alone has raised conservative ire.

By Staff writer / June 19, 2011

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H., June 13. Gingrich used to be a strong supporter of efforts to control climate change, but now casts doubts on the seriousness of the problem. Romney acknowledges the problem, but offers few remedies.

Jim Cole/AP

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There was a time when Republicans were at the forefront of efforts to investigate – maybe even do something about – the impact of human activity on global climate.

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John McCain was an early and persistent supporter of cap-and-trade efforts to reduce the greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) associated with climate change. So was Newt Gingrich, who went on to make a YouTube video ad – with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, no less – where he said, “Our country must take action to address climate change.”

Now, Republican presidential hopefuls seem to be racing in the opposite direction – disavowing their past support for policy measures on climate – even any sense that there’s a problem to be addressed.

As Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty signed a state greenhouse gas law limiting emissions, led a regional climate partnership with Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and he supported cap-and-trade. Since then, he’s flip-flopped.

At the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington earlier this year he made his mea culpa.

“Have I changed my position? Yes," Pawlenty said. "But I'm not going to be cute about it, hem and haw, be dippy and dancy about it. Just saying yeah, it was a mistake. It was stupid. It was wrong."

Former US Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R) of New York, a strong supporter of the environment, says he has "never been so disappointed in all my life in the pretenders to the throne from my party."

"Not one of them is being forthright in dealing with climate science," he told the Associated Press recently. "They are either trying to finesse it, or change previous positions to accommodate the far right. They are denying something that is as plain as the nose on your face."

To liberal critics, the answer is obvious: The influence of climate change denialists financially supported by the billionaire Koch brothers (David and Charles) and others tied to the oil industry.

Whether or not that’s true, there’s no denying that climate change (and environmental issues generally) carry less political weight than they did in recent years.

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