Rick Perry will become the tenth Republican to officially join the 2016 presidential race and his environmental policies (or lack thereof) should already sound familiar. Like most of the field, Perry doesn’t accept that climate change is manmade, and he likes to remind conservative voters about this when he has the opportunity. Last year, Perry said, “I don’t believe that we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination” on climate change, calling it a “disservice” to label carbon dioxide as a pollutant. “I’m not a scientist,” Perry has also reminded us.
And yet, Perry is an interesting candidate to watch because of how he’s tried to manage a clear conflict facing the Republican Party on environmental problems.
Perry has pointed out more than a few times how Texas cut air and climate pollution in his three terms as governor. In one mixed answer to a question on climate change at a conservative conference this year, he said, “Our carbon dioxide levels were down, whether you believe in this whole climate change concept or not.”
It’s true: Carbon pollution fell in Texas about 5 percent between 2000 and 2012. The emissions that are precursors for smog—sulfur, nitrogen, and ozone—were down by 50 percent, 62 percent, and 23 percent, respectively. However, little of this was Perry’s doing. The drops generally followed national trends, which were likely a result of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, federal clean energy incentives, and an economic slowdown.
If Perry were a Democrat, he’d make this his top selling point for becoming president, even though his policies—like fighting EPA rules—probably prevented Texas from doing a lot more. But since Perry has to win over a particularly conservative base in the Republican primary, he’s touting these numbers, without acknowledging either the science or mentioning the policies that helped Texas along.
He’s not the only Republican grappling with this. Kentucky senator and fellow 2016 candidate Rand Paul has also discussed pollution in similar terms. “I'm not against regulation,” Paul argued. “I think the environment has been cleaned up dramatically through regulations on emissions as well as clean water over the last 40 or 50 years. But I don't want to shut down all forms of energy such that thousands and thousands of people lose jobs.”
Candidates will have to answer questions eventually in their campaigns about their platform for the climate and environment. Rather than admit they simply don't have one, Republicans might distinguish between air and climate pollution to seem more reasonable to Republican moderates and voters in the general election. Perry and Paul are already putting this plan into action.