While neither of the presidential candidates addressed the climate issue during last week's debate (even if sparks flew over clean energy), their aides nonetheless staked out each campaign's position in a separate event held last Friday at MIT. Mitt Romney's energy adviser, Oren Cass, met Obama official Joseph Aldy for a less-heralded, but lively, debate on energy issues.
According to the MIT Technology Review, which published a post-debate synopsis, Romney's aide did indeed affirm that his candidate believes "climate change is occurring," and that he "believes human activity contributes to it."
But the similarities end there. In fact, you can sum up the vast gulf between Romney and Obama on climate policy pretty effectively by looking at their aides' responses in this lone debate. MIT agreed:
In one of the most striking differences to play out during the debate, Oren Cass, Romney's advisor, said his candidate thinks that government has no business reducing carbon emissions from coal—one of the most prevalent kinds of greenhouse gas emissions. Cass said Romney ... isn't sure how much the climate is warming, how much humans are contributing to that, or what the impact will be. Romney says further scientific study is needed.
Cass also noted that Romney would work to eliminate the EPA's Supreme Court-mandated greenhouse gas regulations on polluting industries, saying they were too strict.
Vs. Barack Obama
In sharp contrast, Obama's advisor, Joseph Aldy, said his candidate continues to support limits on carbon dioxide emissions—and will push for them with or without the support of Congress. Obama believes that the science is clear enough to say that climate change is a serious problem, and more needs to be done about it than funding R&D.
And bear in mind that these are the wonkier, more comprehensive platforms carved out by advisers, not the soundbite-friendly messages apt to be doled out by their bosses. As such, the answers here probably offer more insight into how the men would actually govern than the one-liners you might hear in one of their stump speeches. Then again, both are loathe to even mention climate much in those stump speeches — we've got a pretty good spell of climate silence going this campaign, after all.
That being the case, the responses outlined above very well could be the best-articulated climate policy stances we're going to get from either campaign this election season. And they essentially translate into the following: Romney will do his best to remove restrictions on coal pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and does not believe the government has a role in addressing climate change. Obama, for his part, would uphold the EPA's carbon pollution regulations as they go into effect in his second term.
It's a stark and fundamental difference. With Congress as divided as it is, we're unlikely to see any climate legislation in the next few years; the EPA rules will be necessary to begin to drive the economy toward decarbonization. Which, of course, needs to happen sooner rather than later. Any government concerned of the welfare of the people it represents should indeed make it its business to reduce coal emissions. And, at the very least, that's what an Obama-backed EPA would do.