Obama vs. Romney 101: 4 ways they differ on climate change

As recently as 2008, presidential candidates openly sparred over their own plans for dealing with climate change. This year it's such a touchy topic that both sides prefer instead to talk about energy policy – a kind of proxy. Here are four ways the candidates differ.

3. Has the EPA gone too far?

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    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson testifies before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works regarding the Clean Air Act and Public Health on Capitol Hill on June 15, 2011.
    Charles Dharapak/AP/File
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Since failing to pass cap-and-trade legislation in 2009, Obama has sought to stem greenhouse gas emissions through renewable energy investments, regulating power-plant emissions, boosting automobile fuel-efficiency standards, and permitting federal agencies to proceed with limits on emissions.

Despite strong GOP opposition in Congress, the White House allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare carbon-dioxide emissions a pollutant and to gradually regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. 

“I think that’s good for the world," Obama said of efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. "I actually think, over the long term, it’s good for our economies as well, because it’s my strong belief that industries, utilities, individual consumers – we’re all going to have to adapt how we use energy and how we think about carbon."

Today, Romney's website says little about climate change. But it does note that a President Romney would seek to change the Clean Air Act to "exclude carbon dioxide from its purview" rolling back the EPA's 2009 finding that greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare.

"I exhale carbon dioxide," Romney said last year, citing the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. "I don't want those guys following me around with a meter to see if I'm breathing too hard."

Many Republicans in the 2012 campaign cycle are running on the theme that climate warming is a hoax and EPA regulations are job killers.

In a December 2009 opinion article that appeared during international climate talks, Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, cited heavy snowfalls as evidence that global warming was exaggerated. "Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow," he wrote.

Congressman Ryan voted for a 2011 bill that would have prevented the EPA from regulating greenhouse-gas pollution. The same year, he voted to block the Department of Agriculture from implementing its climate-protection program, to eliminate White House climate advisers, and to oppose light-bulb efficiency standards that curb carbon emissions.

The Obama Administration in March proposed the nation’s first-ever restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants. If approved, the restrictions are expected to sharply curb construction of new coal-fired power plants nationwide, limiting them to no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt generated.

Those EPA rules follow a December 2009 finding by the agency that greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to public health and safety. A 2007 US Supreme Court decision paved the way for that EPA finding by ruling that greenhouse gases may indeed be regulated under the Clear Air Act’s definition of a pollutant – if they met the standard.

In a recent major win on that point, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled unanimously in June that the EPA had indeed lawfully determined that greenhouse-gas emissions pose a danger to public health and welfare.

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