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On Energy Policy, Romney's Emphasis Has Shifted

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On Energy Policy, Romney's Emphasis Has Shifted

On Energy Policy, Romney's Emphasis Has Shifted

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

As the Republican presidential hopefuls head into another round of primaries tomorrow, we'll begin this hour drilling down into one of the issues dominating the conversation: gas prices. The GOP candidates have seized on price spikes as a line of attack against President Obama, largely saying the answer is more domestic oil drilling. But one of those candidates, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, used to have a position somewhat contrary to that.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Candidate Mitt Romney says President Obama's environmental policies are to blame for $4 a gallon gas.

MITT ROMNEY: You see, when he was running, he talked about how his energy policies would cause energy prices to skyrocket. And when told that gasoline prices had jumped, he said that he'd rather see them go up gradually.

KEITH: That was Romney last month at a campaign event at Bradley University in Illinois. The last comment he mentions came in a 2008 interview then-Senator Obama did with CNBC's John Harwood.


JOHN HARWOOD: So could these high prices help us?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing.

KEITH: Earlier in the interview, Mr. Obama said there wasn't much that could be done to bring prices down artificially. Instead, he said his energy policy would look to the longer term.


OBAMA: The only way we're going to deal with these high gas prices is if we change how we consume oil. And that means investing in alternative fuels. It means that we are raising fuel efficiency standards on cars, that we 're helping the automakers retool.

KEITH: Back in May of 2006, in the midst of another gas price shock, then-Governor Romney came to a similar conclusion. According to an account from the time in the Patriot Ledger newspaper, Romney objected to a temporary suspension of the state's gas tax, saying he'd rather press for more fuel-efficient vehicles. The article has him saying, quote, "I'm very much in favor of people recognizing that these high gasoline prices are probably here to stay."

ROMNEY: The issue of the overuse of energy in our country is a major issue. The overuse of oil in particular.

KEITH: This is Romney a month later on "The Charlie Rose Show."


ROMNEY: Look, if we could somehow magically wave a wand over our automobile fleet and replace all of our cars with the current best technology, 35 miles per gallon type technology, we'd be saving an extraordinary amount of oil.

KEITH: But this focus on fuel efficiency wasn't an aberration. It became part of Romney's energy policy during his 2008 presidential bid. And from the start of his term as governor, Romney worked to promote smart growth, to get people out of their cars, and generally to reduce the state's carbon footprint.


ROMNEY: I couldn't me more pleased than to be able to announce this program.

KEITH: The audio of this 2004 press conference is a little scratchy. The program Romney is talking about is the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan. In more than 50 pages it laid out emissions targets and what it described as a no-regrets policy towards climate change.


ROMNEY: This plan is going to reduce pollution. It's going to cut energy demand. It's also going to nurture job growth and boost our economy. Because reducing greenhouse gasses has multiple benefits.

KEITH: Environmental advocates at the time wished the plan had gone further but found plenty to cheer.

JIM GOMES: He wasn't Al Gore. But he wasn't Sarah Palin either.

KEITH: Jim Gomes was president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts back then, and says the plan struck the kind of balance you might expect from a Republican governor in a blue state.

GOMES: It has a lot of things in it that could have come out of the Sierra Club. And there's certainly no hint of Drill Baby Drill in it.

KEITH: A lot has changed since then, both in the national dialogue and seemingly in Mitt Romney's position. Climate change has fallen lower on voters' lists of priorities. And Romney has gone from saying he believes humans contribute to global warming to this...


ROMNEY: 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 and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

KEITH: This is from a video posted by the liberal news site Think Progress. Romney was speaking last October at Consul Energy in Pennsylvania. Where five years earlier his emphasis was on efficiency, now it's on drilling.


ROMNEY: Let's aggressively develop our oil, our gas, our coal, our nuclear power. Look, Marcellus Shale is a huge godsend for the nation. Let's develop it aggressively.


KEITH: When asked about Romney's apparent shift in emphasis, if not an outright reversal, his campaign said Governor Romney believes the best way to help lower gas prices is for a long-term structural reform, which is why he supports aggressive action to expand domestic production.

He's not alone in that. President Obama is talking a lot more about drilling these days too.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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