Debates are underway in the United States as contenders seek the Republican party nomination to challenge Barack Obama in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Last week’s debate was the first for Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose front-runner status appeared to take a slip to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney following controversial remarks on social security. All eyes will be on the two rivals again as the candidates face off tonight at the “Tea Party Republican Debate” in Tampa. While the media have focused on the candidates’ positions on social security, job creation and the economy, environmental policy has featured prominently as well, with most of the candidates attacking the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role as the country’s environmental regulator.

Most prominent is the view that environmental protection and regulation prevents job creation, as articulated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a letter to Republican Party members calling to fight 10 “job-destroying regulations.” Seven out of those 10 are EPA rules. U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann and Perry have both referred to the EPA as a “job killer,” while Romney has said that regulation is holding the economy back. Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and businessman Herman Cain, as well as Perry, say no new regulations should be passed in this economy because they will hurt job creation.

In time for tonight’s debate, we briefly summarize each candidate’s current positions and past records on the environment.

Rick Perry
Rick Perry has a record of controversial statements. He has compared himself to Galileo because he feels “out-voted” for his belief that climate science is not yet “settled,” and has defended his comment that the 2010 BP oil spill was an “act of God.” His record, however, is consistent with his views: he has fought the EPA for years from Texas, and is currently leading a lawsuit against its greenhouse gas emissions regulations.

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann may have not featured as prominently in the last Republican debate as did Perry or Romney, but has made many headlines with her controversial views. She has said she would repeal some environmental regulations and close down the EPA except for conservation, a statement which fits with her view that climate change is a “hoax” but does not make sense given that other departments are designed to deal with conservation, such as the Department of the Interior. A believer in small government, her record indicates she is against public investment in renewable energy.

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney’s statements on the environment tend to be more moderate than the other candidates. For example, he supports some regulation for safety reasons while allowing for more domestic production of all energy sources, from oil to nuclear (he also supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Romney is the only candidate other than Huntsman who has consistently accepted climate change. He does not, however, believe that greenhouse gas should be regulated by the EPA, as was decided in the landmark 2007 Supreme Court case, Massachusetts vs. EPA.  In 2004, he supported an emissions reduction plan for Massachusetts, but in 2006, decided not to support a similar plan because of high costs.

Jon Huntsman
Jon Huntsman is the strongest environmental advocate in the group. He famously tweeted that he believes in the scientists on climate change, he signed Utah into the Western Climate Initiative as the state’s former governor, and he is the only candidate who supported cap-and-trade policies to limit carbon emissions. These actions, however, as well as his moderate positions on other issues, have not helped his candidacy, which may be dying. He now says cap-and-trade has not worked and that he would wait until the economy improves before supporting it again.

Herman Cain
Herman Cain supports a mix of energy sources, from fossil-fuel based to renewables such as wind. He also, however, supports expanded offshore drilling areas, including in the ANWR. Like Bachmann and Ron Paul, he doesn’t believe in climate change and did not support the Lieberman-Warner bill on cap-and-trade legislation.  He wants to give regulatory powers to independent groups that include oil company leaders.

Ron Paul
Ron Paul supports all kinds of energy production, including offshore drilling and renewables, but prefers tax incentives over subsidies. He believes in measures to reduce pollution, such as energy efficient vehicles, but he is against federal government regulation of the oil industry. Paul voted against cap and trade, both because he is against regulation and also because he believes it would cause jobs to move away from America.  Like Bachmann and Gingrich, he would dismantle the EPA, preferring that environmental protection and solutions occur through private property rights, the courts, and private enterprise.

Rick Santorum
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum dismisses climate change as “junk science.” He has consistently voted against an increase in renewable energy and regulations for cleaner air, and has supported a limit increase on mercury emissions from power plants.

Newt Gingrich
The environmental views of former speaker Newt Gingrich are mixed. While he spoke out against the Waxman-Markey climate bill and currently opposes EPA regulation of carbon, he has also supported programs that reduce carbon emissions, including providing incentives for carbon sequestration technology development. His latest statements include his desire to shut down the EPA and rename it the Environmental Solutions Agency.

Is the opposition to the EPA by most of these candidates genuine or part of the Tea Party script designed to appeal to voters and distinguish them from their peers, as some speculate?

Whether a political or economic calculation, or a combination thereof, some experts believe that such controversial statements will not win the nomination, especially following the Tea Party’s heavily criticized, stringent views during the debt ceiling debate. If that is so, a candidate such as Romney may have a stronger chance of winning the leadership than Perry, despite criticisms from Tea Party loyalists or others – unless, that is, Perry’s job-killing statements grow in popularity. As a follow up to this question, I will look more in depth at the link between environmental regulation and job creation in my next article.

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