As Minnesota and neighboring states gear up to implement major policies to reduce carbon emissions linked to climate change, Gov. Tim Pawlenty appears to be backing away from the high-profile initiatives he helped initiate.
“This is unfortunate,” said state Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, chairman of the House Energy Committee. “But it is hardly surprising.”
And one of the governor’s own appointed representatives to a multi-state group charged with developing a regional carbon-reduction effort will seek a meeting with Pawlenty’s staff to find out what’s behind the governor’s apparent about-face.
“The jarring thing about this,” said Bill Grant of the Izaac Walton League’s Midwest office, “is that the governors in all the other states involved are holding firm, except ours.”
Grant is one of three people that Pawlenty appointed to a task force of the Midwest Governor’s Association to develop a regional “cap and trade” system on carbon reduction. Under it, governments would establish ever-tougher carbon emission allowances (“caps”) and industrial emitters like power plants would, in effect, bid to purchase ever-costlier credits to pollute, a system that has effectively reduced unwanted emissions through financial incentives.
When the regional governor’s group was assembled last November — at the behest of Pawlenty and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle — Pawlenty called the market-based “cap and trade” system a good way to reduce pollution.
‘Bold, innovative initiatives’
Earlier, Pawlenty eagerly signed the Next Generation Energy Act that passed by a lopsided bipartisan majority by the 2007 Legislature. In a related action fanned by publicity generated by his office, the Republican governor appointed the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group (MCCAG) to develop specific ways to meet carbon-reduction targets in the “Next Gen” law.
And throughout his just-ended reign as chairman of the National Governor’s Association, Pawlenty used the high-profile pulpit to implore states to take on “bold, innovative initiatives” to address climate change. He seemed to seek and welcome the notice he received for taking on a “green” issue at a time when the Bush administration in Washington was denying that human activity had anything to do with climate change and the Congress was slow to act on what Pawlenty saw as a critical issue.
That was then.
But recently on Glenn Beck’s national radio show, Pawlenty left little doubt that he now has second thoughts.
“…anything that adds cost to energy prices right now,” said the governor, “is going to be viewed with a great amount of concern and so you notice the cap and trade debate has kind of faded into the background and it’s unclear what that would look like when and if it re-emerges.”
Pawlenty backed away even more from previous statements when the conservative Beck suggested that cap and trade “was another tax.”
After demoting the importance of human-caused carbon in climate change by saying the industrial impact was “a half percent or perhaps something more substantial,” Pawlenty said: “But in the wake of this energy crisis where people are struggling to pay the bills, that debate on cap and trade has just fallen to the background for understandable reasons.”
When Pawlenty and Doyle announced the Midwest carbon-reduction effort, Pawlenty said: “Our states are creating an energy future that will produce good jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.”
When asked about what appears to critics as a significant waffle on climate change and cap and trade, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor has “previously commented on those topics, so I’d refer you to those comments.”
In a deft bit of fact-check reporting, Andy Birkey with the Minnesota Independent did just that.
Birkey’s report quoted Pawlenty as telling the National Governor’s Association earlier this year: “We should have listened to President Carter…we should not spend time on voices that say [climate change] is not real.”
In advocating a cap and trade system that he now is seeking distance from, Pawlenty previously told Minnesota Public Radio: “If you unleash the requirements and incentives and attractive features of a market, people will respond to it.”
In an email, McClung also said, “With the nation facing serious economic challenges, Governor Pawlenty believes climate change will now be properly debated in the context of the need to hold down energy prices.”
Jim Erkel of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and appointed by Pawlenty to the MCCAG is angered by Pawlenty’s recent statements.
“Many of us working on climate change wanted to give the governor the benefit of doubt on his support for the issue and needed solutions,” Erkel said. “Instead, we now see the governor again picking an issue for political gain, and then running against his initial ploy when new political forces suggest some bigger benefit from flip-flopping.”
States that are part of the Midwest carbon-reduction accord are Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Indiana, Ohio and South Dakota and Manitoba are also considered “observers” of the accord.
Grant said a report from the regional body is due by February (its original November deadline was delayed due to a need to complete technical modeling).
Hilty and other legislators are awaiting the Midwest Governor’s report so that its policies can be put into effect in Minnesota, or modified if the Legislature sees a need to ensure compliance with the Next Gen law.
In the meantime, the Legislature is crafting bills to implement MCCAG recommendations, but so far that initiative has not seen a full compliance from Pawlenty’s administration.
Last February when initial MCCAG recommendations were submitted, the Pawlenty administration was required to submit a letter to the Legislature on its recommendations to reduce carbon emissions according to the Next Gen mandates: 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2015, by 30 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
Pawlenty’s point person on energy, Edward Garvey, sent a “preliminary” letter that, observers agree, wildly missed the legal requirements of making specific carbon-reduction recommendations to meet the mandated targets.
At the time, Garvey said another letter would be sent when MCCAG’s report, then in draft form, was made final.
But when the advisory group’s final report was submitted, the promised letter wasn’t sent up. Garvey left as director of the Office of Energy Security in August. His successor, Bill Glahn, declined to say when the letter to legislators would be sent.