No sooner had Mitt Romney wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination than environmental groups began alerting the public to the threat they believe he represents. Last week four environmental groups—the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Clean Water Action and Environment America—collectively endorsed President Obama. It was the first time that those groups had come together to make a candidate endorsement.
They were moved to do so, and quite early in the process, because Romney is heavily backed by the enemies of environmental regulation. Energy companies and the rich tycoons who own them have begun pouring money into Republican causes for the 2012 cycle and are expected to give considerably more before November. And Romney is returning the favor with policy promises.
In 2011 the oil and gas industry gave Romney $899,630 according to the Center for Responsive Politics, far more than they gave to President Obama. They were Romney’s eleventh-most-supportive industry, whereas they did not rank among President Obama’s top twenty. More money will surely fill his coffers this year since Rick Perry is no longer in the race.
But the real money supporting Romney is the largesse he will enjoy through unlimited donations to Super PACs. Back in October Politico reported, “The billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch plan to steer more than $200 million—potentially much more—to conservative groups ahead of Election Day.” The term “industrialist” does not fully capture the Kochs’ intense personal interest in opposing environmental regulations. The bulk of their fortune comes from refining and distributing products such as petroleum, chemicals and fertilizers. Their libertarian ideology seems to revolve primarily around keeping the government from doing anything that would protect the public interest over their profit margins.
Allies of Romney and the Kochs are already putting their money to work attacking Obama. According to Think Progress, “In the first three-and-a-half months of 2012, groups including Americans for Prosperity, American Petroleum Institute, Crossroads GPS and American Energy Alliance have spent $16,750,000 on energy attack ads.
Romney opposes President Obama’s proposal to eliminate billions of dollars worth of subsidies for oil companies in the tax code. Romney justifies this by saying he is against all tax increases and that it is “dangerous” to single out one industry for losing its special favors. This, of course, blatantly contradicts Romney’s own proposals, and Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget, both of which claim to be revenue neutral by slashing tax rates but paying for it by eliminating tax expenditures. Romney and Ryan don’t specify which tax expenditures they will eliminate, although Romney recently suggested the mortgage interest deduction for second homes might be one. By his logic, he was calling for a “dangerous” tax increase then. This is, at least, one rare subject where Romney can claim to be consistent. He supported continuing tax breaks for oil back in the 2008 campaign as well.
Ryan made sure to exempt the extractive industries from any austerity in his budget. As Newsweek’s Daniel Stone reports, “[Ryan] asked Americans to make sacrifices on everything from Medicare to education, while preserving lucrative tax subsidies for the booming oil, mining and energy industries.” Coincidentally, as Stone notes, “He and his wife, Janna, own stakes in four family companies that lease land in Texas and Oklahoma to the very energy companies that benefit from the tax subsidies in Ryan’s budget plan.”
On other environmental issues Romney also sides with polluting industries. Romney is opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. He seems to oppose the EPA doing much of anything. At a Fox News event in December, he said oil executives tell him life was better under the Bush-Cheney administration. “I think the EPA has gotten completely out of control for a very simple reason: It is a tool in the hands of the president to crush the private enterprise system, to crush our ability to have energy, whether it’s oil, gas, coal, nuclear,” Romney said. Romney even opposes fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.
Romney wasn’t always this way. His father, an auto executive, was a pioneer in improving efficiency in American cars. Early in his tenure as governor of Massachusetts Romney championed smart growth and regional action on greenhouse gas emissions, before abandoning both as his national ambitions arose. But as with so much of his own past and his father’s legacy as a moderate, Romney has tossed all of that aside in his effort to court conservatives. After Rush Limbaugh attacked him for admitting the scientific truth about anthropogenic climate change, Romney gradually backed off and now says that we don’t know what is causing it. “Romney is essentially a climate denier,” says Mike Palamuso, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters. “He would be first major party nominee in nation’s history who does not accept scientific consensus on climate change.”
LCV has been particularly aggressive about drawing the contrast between Obama’s environmental views and Romney’s. “The choice is clear: President Obama is an environmental champion and Mitt Romney is climate denier,” said Gene Karpinski, president of LCV, in their endorsement. “While President Obama has fought to put Americans back in control of our energy future, Mitt Romney and his Big Oil buddies would take us back to the failed dirty energy policies of the past.”
On Wednesday LCV organized with Priorities USA Action a conference call for reporters promoting the release of their ad “$200 Million Man” about Romney’s ties to the dirty energy industry. “With Governor Romney promising to keep the oil industry’s taxpayer-funded handouts, it’s not surprising that Big Oil is spending big money to protect its big subsidies,” said Karpinski in the announcement.
Now the Obama campaign is picking up on the theme. As is so often the case with Democrats, though, they frame the issue entirely in terms of pandering to Americans’ childish expectation that the federal government will keep oil prices low, rather than standing up for the environment itself. (To some degree, the environmental groups are also framing their attacks around the irrelevant issue of oil company profits.) “Secretive oil billionaires are making good on their promise to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Governor Romney’s behalf attempting to defeat the President,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in a campaign statement issued Thursday afternoon. “After all, Governor Romney has introduced a tax plan which charges taxpayers $4 billion in year to provide subsidies to oil and gas companies making record profits, he opposes increased fuel economy standards that will save consumers thousands of dollars at the pump.” There isn’t actually anything wrong with oil companies making profits. There is something wrong with the government subsidizing the environmental degradation that oil extraction, refinement and usage produces. If only President Obama would say so.