Left tries undermining Romney with past environmental record

Under the guise of exploring Romney’s “complicated track record” on energy and the environment, Politico tries sowing more doubt with conservatives.

As you read the Politico article, remember that:

  • ABO. Anybody is better than Obama.
  • The situation has changed. Regardless of whatever Romney did in Massachusetts nine years ago, it is now 2012, our economy is in the toilet and there is no need to pander to Massachusetts Democrats.
  • Rollback pledge. Romney pledged last night to rollback all Obama’s job-killing regulations (presumably that includes Obama EPA regulations).

Politico’s report is below.

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Romney’s Massachusetts record presents a complex green picture

By Darren Samuelsohn

1/17/12 5:33 AM EST

Beneath the fog of presidential campaign rhetoric is another Mitt Romney, someone with his own complicated track record handling the dicey terrain surrounding energy and environmental policy in Democrat-dominated Massachusetts.

Romney’s highest-profile work on these issues involved more than two years preparing a regional cap-and-trade compact for climate change, although he later pulled out after intense business lobbying.

But he made several other forays in the green realm too.

Alongside Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney opposed the controversial Cape Wind renewable energy project off the state’s coast. He met with neighboring state governors and Canadian premiers for talks on acid rain and mercury. Romney also reorganized key agencies that handled energy, transportation, air and water pollution and state parks, and he established a Green Energy Fund that propped up clean energy business ventures.

While Romney’s Beacon Hill history is certainly no definitive guide for how he would govern as president, former advisers and adversaries note that the front-runner for the GOP nomination has plenty of experiences he can draw upon.

Some Democrats even say Romney’s understanding of energy issues suggests that bipartisan surprises could be possible if he made it to the White House.

“I think there’s some integrity to his thinking about a lot of subjects … that he doesn’t necessarily wear on his sleeve on the campaign trail,” said Steve Burrington, a Democrat whom Romney appointed as undersecretary in the Office for Commonwealth Development and later as commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation. “He may be the Nixon-goes-to-China kind of guy who can work these things in a way that doesn’t involve political train wrecks as president. That’s the bright possibility.”

“I’m skeptical but hopeful that if he were to ultimately win the election that his saner self would prevail,” added Cindy Luppi, regional director for Clean Water Action in Boston.

On the campaign trail, Romney says he’s a climate change skeptic and promises to undo many of President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations. He would pursue a “drill-baby-drill” approach to energy production. But beyond a pledge to amend the Clean Air Act so that it can’t be used to regulate greenhouse gases, Romney has not gone into much detail on policy or legislative specifics.

Case in point: a presidential debate in New Hampshire earlier this month when Romney got a question about whether he supported an Obama EPA regulation targeting power plant pollution that drifts into the Northeast. Unlike Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, who seldom miss a chance to bash the EPA, Romney didn’t go after the agency. His answer avoided a direct response on how he’d handle the rule, instead acknowledging the region’s emissions troubles and then pivoting to support drilling for natural gas.

“He ended up artfully ducking the question,” said Massachusetts state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, who served as a Democratic member of Romney’s 2002 transition team on environmental issues.

“Part of me is thinking I’m glad he had the training as a downwind governor to at least appreciate that there’s nothing we can do as a state to protect our citizens here if it’s coming in from another state,” Ehrlich said. “I was glad to hear at least he didn’t throw the EPA under the bus.”

Romney’s track record in Boston shows he does have a green streak. A month into his term, Romney in February 2003 spoke in front of an aging coal-fired power plant in Salem, Mass., to announce he was denying the company’s requests for a permit extension.

“I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people,” Romney said in a tone that caught many in attendance by surprise.

Just as he’s talked about streamlining federal government agencies during the presidential campaign, Romney pushed through some notable overhauls.

He created the Office for Commonwealth Development by combining four independent departments that worked on energy, environmental, housing and transportation issues. Romney lured into his administration Doug Foy, a respected Boston environmentalist and president of the Conservation Law Foundation, by offering him a job as the office’s first secretary.

Foy’s office took on traffic congestion, sprawl and land-use regulations. It set up legal incentives for smart-growth planning and established a fund to help cities pay for the new approaches.

Seth Kaplan, who worked with Foy at the Conservation Law Foundation, noticed a clear indication that the smart-growth issues had traction in the governor’s office. “You can tell the Romney administration really cared about something if there was a good PowerPoint about it,” he said.

Romney also signed legislation creating the Department of Conservation and Recreation, merging long-underfunded agencies responsible for state parks, skating rinks, swimming pools and band shelters. “People were at their wit’s end,” Burrington said. “Romney, to his credit, said we have to do better.”

Work on climate change was a bit more complicated. In the summer of 2003, Romney told religious leaders visiting his office for a meeting about global warming that he was concerned about low-lying areas such as Boston and Bangladesh. He recounted the unique environmental characteristics of New Hampshire, where he has a vacation home.

“I remember at the time being impressed,” said Sister Tess Browne, a Roman Catholic nun from Quincy, Mass., who attended the meeting with Romney. “He showed he understood there were several benefits of moving away from carbon-emitting, energy-intensive resources. He was very well briefed and educated on the issue.”

Romney’s May 2004 Climate Action Plan outlined dozens of steps to tackle climate change and highlighted protecting public health and the environment as a reason for acting. But it also came with an eyebrow-raising — some say politically calculating — caveat.

“If climate change is happening, the actions we take will help,” Romney wrote in the cover letter to the report. “If climate change is largely caused by human actions, this will really help. If we learn decades from now that climate change isn’t happening, these actions will still help our economy, our quality of life and the quality of our environment.”

Foy also worked for more than two years with staff to New York Republican Gov. George Pataki and other officials from neighboring states on the cap-and-trade plan that came to be known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. On occasion, Romney spoke publicly about key details of the market-friendly approach, describing it in 2005 as “good business.”

But pressure to drop out of RGGI also picked up from his economic advisers and a key statewide industry trade group, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Romney’s announcement that the state would leave RGGI came on Dec. 14, 2005, the same day he said he wouldn’t seek a second term, setting up his eventual presidential run.

“It was definitely disappointing the way it ended up,” said Jason Roeder, Foy’s deputy chief of staff and a former associate consultant at Bain Capital. “Doug and a lot of us had put a lot into it. To lose that kind of battle was a big downer to say the least.”

Roeder said he doesn’t know if Romney’s presidential aspirations killed Massachusetts’s role in RGGI, but he thinks it was a factor. “At that juncture, everything important was going through that filter somewhere,” he said.

Foy did not respond to requests for comment. But several others who worked on the issue say Romney’s handling of RGGI offers insights into how he’d operate as president.

“Mitt Romney as governor chose to keep on or bring in a pretty strong group of environmental advocates and allowed them a broad latitude of policymaking opportunities and then repudiated their work even while he was paying detailed attention to it,” said Jim Marzilli, a former Democratic member of the state House and Senate. “I expect a President Romney, should there be one, would bring in folks who have real skills, keep them engaged, and then choose to ignore their best advice no matter how good the advice is.”

“He’s a guy who makes his decisions behind the scenes and then presents them fully formed,” added Kaplan, now the vice president for policy and climate advocacy at the Conservation Law Foundation. But in the case of RGGI, with so much discussion in the open, “it was an unusual moment of public deliberation.”

Romney’s campaign also touts the RGGI withdrawal, describing it as one of his biggest accomplishments on energy issues as governor because it helped improve the state’s business climate.

“Gov. Romney proved in Massachusetts that environmental protection and economic growth are not incompatible,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “In fact, they can go hand-in-hand if the government is willing to listen to the concerns of industry and take steps to ensure that regulations do not create uncertainty or impose unnecessary economic burdens.”

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