By sounding a note of skepticism about climate science, Mitt Romney has prompted a fresh wave of attacks from opponents who branded the change in tone as the latest in a long string of policy shifts by the former Massachusetts governor.
On Friday, the liberal website ThinkProgress posted footage of Romney at a campaign event during which the former Massachusetts governor hedged his prior position that mankind has contributed to global warming. “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 to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us,” Romney said, in response to a questioner in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
He argued that reducing carbon emissions through legislation such as cap-and-trade would throttle job growth and stifle the economic recovery. “The idea of America spending massive amounts, trillions of dollars to somehow stop global warming is not a great idea,” Romney said. “It loses jobs for Americans and ultimately it won’t be successful, because industries that are energy intensive will just get up and go somewhere else. So it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
In June, Romney told a town hall audience in New Hampshire that he believed human activity was a contributing factor to the increase in global temperatures. “I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that,” he said. “So I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.’’
In his 2010 book, No Apology, Romney writes: “I believe that climate change is occurring–the reduction in the size of the global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to man and how much is attributable to factors out of our control.”
Romney’s new comments position him closer to the consensus building within his party, and further away the vast majority of climate scientists. But Romney’s reversal could become a significant political problem for a candidate already viewed by some as a cipher whose convictions are determined by political expedience. The timing is poor; Romney had come under fire earlier this week for appearing to waffle over Issue 2, an Ohio referendum on a recently passed state law that restricts collective bargaining for public-employee unions. He has since reaffirmed that he supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s efforts to enact the bill.
On Friday the ThinkProgress video triggered a wave of criticism from rivals on both sides of the aisle. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman called Romney a “perfectly lubricated weathervane,” and his campaign released a 67-second web video that catalogs Romney’s policy reversals over the years, including on hot-button topics like abortion and gun rights. Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for Rick Perry, released a statement claiming that “Mitt Romney’s positions change, often dramatically, depending on the audience or location.” And Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for President Obama’s re-election campaign, noted that Romney’s shifting valences on global warming were the latest in a series of apparent changes. “You’ve got an issue when the shift has to be called ‘new’,” LaBolt wrote on Twitter.
Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Romney, dismissed the attacks. “Governor Romney’s view on climate change has not changed,” she said, according to NPR. “He believes it’s occurring, and that human activity contributes to it, but he doesn’t know to what extent. He opposes cap-and-trade, and he refused to sign such a plan when he was governor. Maybe the bigger threat is all the hot air coming from career politicians who are desperate to hold on to power.”
But there’s little question that Romney’s opponents — on the right and the left — will lean heavily on this line of attack as they vie to weaken the presumptive Republican front-runner over the coming weeks and months.