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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Sleepy Republican Debate Could Have Been Energized

Published: August 11, 2012


By Jeff Young


The candidates are eager to talk energy. Will the media listen? (photo courtesy CNN)

Instead of debating coal versus natural gas Republican candidates were asked about Elvis versus Johnny Cash.

By Jeff Young, Senior Correspondent

Ten minutes into the first Republican presidential debate and it was clear that the candidates wanted to talk about energy. Former Sen. Rick Santorum had already talked up natural gas drilling in his state of Pennsylvania, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had attacked cap-and-trade, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the Obama administration “anti-American energy” and we weren’t even to the first commercial break. Oh, boy, I thought, sounds like we’ll get to hear about
energy.

But CNN moderator John King appeared singularly uninterested. Sadly, he’s not alone. The candidates are eager to address energy issues. They rightly recognize the links between energy, the economy and national security. Alas, the political press, so far, does not seem to recognize this. And so the evening went on, with candidates volunteering ripe opportunities for discussion of energy, to no avail. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann proposed eliminating the EPA, saying it “should really be called the jobs killing agency.” King did not follow up. He later asked her to choose between “Elvis or Johnny Cash.”
Businessman Herman Cain listed energy in his “big three” top issues. He was instead asked if he preferred “thin crust or thick” (a no-brainer, as Cain’s business was
Godfather’s Pizza).

Many substantive questions came up—health care, Afghanistan, immigration—but still nothing on energy. (Is the future of the space program really more important than energy policy?) The terms “green jobs” and “energy independence” popped up
in the context of other questions but still, not much there.

Finally, with about 20 minutes left in the two-hour debate, we heard a limited energy question regarding ethanol subsidies. Santorum laid out a plan for weaning corn growers from subsidies and instead supporting an infrastructure for ethanol-blended fuels—something the ethanol industry now touts as the political end nears
for its primary subsidy. And that was it. We did learn, thank goodness, that Newt prefers “American Idol” to “Dancing with the Stars,” and that Mitt’s barbecue choice is spicy over mild. (Sigh.)

On to the spin room (really a curtained section of St. Anselm College’s gym), where there was plenty of spin—and an interesting split—on climate change. The dominant theme was that there’s a whole lot of controversy about whether we people are really causing this global warming. Spokes-folks for Pawlenty and Texas Rep. Ron Paul played this angle, as did Sen. Santorum’s spokesperson. He insisted that despite the National Academy’s recent restatement of humanity’s role in climate change “the other half of the scientific community” disagrees. But other candidates, including the presumed front-runner, did not attempt this scientifically-challenged argument. Romney’s people steered clear of the science and focused on the evils of cap-
and-trade. Gingrich’s aides (yes, he still has some) spoke of “market-friendly” approaches and made the point that “green conservatism is real.”

It occurred to me that this division in the field of candidates could have made for a much livelier debate than the rather sleepy two hours we’d just suffered through. And voters deserve to hear which candidates are still in denial about the scientific
message on climate change. So, here’s hoping the political pack and future debate moderators will pick up on the not so subtle cues from the candidates. For more energetic debates, let’s hear more about energy.

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