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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The GOP Presidential Race and the Environment

Air Date: Week of

This election season, Republican candidates’ environmental views range from “drill, baby, drill” to dismantling the EPA. No one in the primaries seems to embrace the values of green Republicans. But a movement among anti-abortion Christians who see a link between environmental toxins and birth defects, may force candidates to soften their positions. Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood speaks with the president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, Rob Sisson, and Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, it's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. The GOP presidential primary season is in full swing, and the top issues among the candidates are: the economy and jobs, taxes, the deficit and family values. Far down on the list are environmental concerns.

When Republican candidates do talk about the environment it’s often in the context of “job killing EPA regulations.” Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood invited two Republican environmental activists to discuss the party politics of environmental issues.

CURWOOD: I’m here now with, with the President for Republicans for Environmental Protection- Rob Sisson. Hi there, Rob.

SISSON: Hello, Steve, nice to be here.

CURWOOD: And the President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Reverend Richard Cizik. Hello there Reverend.

CIZIK: Hello, Steve.

CURWOOD: And I want to start with you Rob. Which of these Republican candidates running for president is seeking your organization’s endorsement?

SISSON: At this point, none of them have sought the endorsement. I think as we’ve seen with the candidates so far, they’ve kind of tiptoed around the environmental issues and conservation issues. And in many cases, have changed positions they’ve held in recent years.

CURWOOD: So, lets go down the ballot, Rob Sisson, and just see how green is the Republican primary field. Lets start with Mitt Romney.

SISSON: Well, I think Governor Romney has some very good qualities and experience that would indicate he would be a good conservation-minded president. You know, some of the campaign rhetoric now- you know, talking about America’s energy resources, paring back the EPA’s purview.

[CLIP OF MITT ROMNEY SPEECH: My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.]

SISSON: I think a President Romney would approach the issues in a very business-like manner if those of us in the conservation movement do our job and show a need, I think he would weigh that very carefully and would be very pragmatic about it.

CURWOOD: Texas Congressman Ron Paul - how green is he?

SISSON: He is going to be the least green candidate in the mix right now. His brand of conservatism, it really differs from the traditional conservatism that our organization espouses. It’s free enterprise all the way, individual liberty all the way and there’s not really a role for government to help provide balance to that.

CURWOOD: And how does he view climate change?

SISSON: Uh, doesn’t think it’s an issue, doesn’t think man causes it and has no desire to address it.

CURWOOD: What about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? I recall he wrote a book called “A Contract with the Earth,” you know, very much about the environment. How green is he today?

SISSON: He has backed off from some of the philosophies he articulated in that book. Now he has come out and said that he doesn’t believe climate change is an issue anymore, or isn’t one that he thinks the government should address. He is very centered on entrepreneurialism and thinks entrepreneurialism, given the right incentives and the right environment, can help solve a lot of our environmental problems.

CURWOOD: And how green do you think former Utah governor John Huntsman is?

Rev. Richard Cizik testified in front of the EPA on behalf of evangelical support for stronger mercury regulation. (photo: New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good)

SISSON: You know, of all the candidates, I think that he has the strongest resume for conservation and environmental protection. But he’s also talking about balancing that with current economic realities, competition from global trading parties like China and India, so he also takes a pragmatic approach. So he is the one candidate that has come out and said: listen, we have the best scientists in the world here in the United States. We need to throw a problem at them and ask them for solutions and advice on how we approach it.

CURWOOD: Governor Rick Perry - Evangelical guy from an oil-patch state…how green is he?

SISSON: Again, not very green. You know, you go down to Texas and Texans see green in that black liquid that bubbles up out of the ground down there. He’s a product of his environment. He doesn’t see any issues with expanding offshore drilling in the Gulf and up in the arctic on public lands that we currently have preserved for future generations. So he’s going to be at the lower end of the green spectrum of these candidates.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about Rick Santorum. He’s from western Pennsylvania, coal country guy, global warming skeptic. He’s also strongly faith-based in his politics and resonates with the Evangelical community and the pro-life community - what do you think they expect from him along the lines of the environment, Rob?

SISSON: In researching Senator Santorum, I find that most of his public service, most of his statements can be traced back to his faith. And Reverend Cizik can certainly speak to this better than I do, but recently he made a comment of condemning the EPA for recent mercury rules, which he thinks will increase costs for consumers for energy. When that hit the newswires, my inbox and telephones rang up in the office with people saying: Hey, you know, Senator Santorum is probably the best pro-life candidate in the field, or the one that’s making pro-life a centerpiece of his campaign, yet he doesn’t get the connection to environmental protection with clean air and clean water and how that’s a pro-life issue.

CURWOOD: And I want to bring in Reverend Richard Cizik at this point. Distill for me why this question of toxic exposure and pro-life is coming to the fore now?

CIZIK: Well, it’s coming to the fore because we have now made the connection between the environment and our pro-life convictions. And what is occurring, we know the National Academy of Science estimates that each year over 60,000 children are born at the risk of adverse neurological effects due to in-utero exposure to methyl-mercury that comes from coal-burning utility plants. And so regulating mercury emissions is just common sense to protect consumers and the unborn. So, that’s what makes Senator Santorum’s blast against the EPA so absurd. Look, I personally think that Senator Santorum is a believer, I respect him, but he needs a conversion.

CURWOOD: So, so far, how many folks who’d identified themselves as being pro-life advocates in the electorate are concerned about mercury? How big a deal is this?

CIZIK: Well, I haven’t seen any numbers, but when you have, at the recent announcement by Lisa Jackson, our EPA administrator, you had scores of faith-based groups who came out in support for a variety of reasons. Ranging from a belief that humans have a biblical mandate to protect nature, to a commitment protecting fetal health. And they ranged from the National Association of Evangelicals to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and many, many groups in between.

So hundreds of leaders signed a letter calling for stricter mercury regulations. So I would say to all of those Republicans who are running for the nomination - who think they can, as Santorum did - just throw out this language…that the agency’s cost benefit analysis wasn’t done and the rest…and expect Evangelicals and Catholics to just buy it, are living in a dream world because times have changed.

CURWOOD: To what extent to do you think Christian conservatives are going to get more involved with environmental health issues?

CIZIK: They already are. But it’s a slow-moving earthquake. They’re waking up but they’ve not yet rousted themselves as a whole from their slumber. But they are waking up - that is, the Evangelicals - and they’re making these connections and the Republican party is 40-50 percent Evangelical by all estimations. And, when that coalesces in such a fashion that you have a forest fire: the conditions are right and a spark is lit - boom - it takes off and nothing can stop it. We’ve not yet reached that point but we will, and at that point all of the Republicans will then see the light.

SISSON: Steve, if I might add on to that - I'm really witnessing a real grassroots bottom-up effort here where that connection between faith and the environment has been made. And again, as Reverend Cizik says, I am hopeful that over the next couple of years, this trend will continue to grow and we’re going to see the Evangelical and Judeo-Christian base of the Republican party force their leaders to address these issues seriously because it’s an important priority for them.

CURWOOD: Rob Sisson is the President of Republicans for Environmental Protection, thank you, Rob.

SISSON: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: And thank you Reverend Richard Cizik.

CIZIK: Thanks Steve.

CURWOOD: Reverend Richard Cizik is the President of New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. And for Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.



Republicans for Environmental Protection

The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

The Evangelical Environmental Network launched a national ad campaign about the connection between environmental mercury and birth defects


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