Minnesota Governor Pawlenty: Abandoning Environment Concerns for Politics?

If you have time to do so today, read up on the latest news concerning Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and his views on climaate change and related issues. The New York Times has an excellent article that suggests Pawlenty may be abandoning his real concerns in favor of gaining political backing from his republican colleagues.

Why? Perhaps for a run in the 2012 presidential campaign.

New York Times ClimateWire author Evan Lehmann has more…

Minnesota’s Republican governor used to make soaring speeches about defusing climate change. Now he’s making jokes, and some environmentalists are wondering whether his gone-missing support amounts to “bait and switch” politics.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is stoking frustration among Democratic state lawmakers and prominent climate thinkers for becoming “totally silent” on two major efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota and in a strip of states stretching from Canada to Kansas.

The turnaround is striking because it was the governor who powerfully promoted the initiatives. Now, chafed participants believe Pawlenty is abandoning climate action to mend his conservative credentials before taking a stab at the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

“What we’re seeing from our governor currently is all focused on his national political ambitions,” said state Rep. Bill Hilty, the Democratic chairman of the state’s House Energy Committee.

It may not be that simple. The governor is cooling toward bold climate steps that could raise costs on businesses and residents, his supporters say. There was no way to know how big the price would be without delving deeply into the issue, one supporter said.

Not long ago, Pawlenty and Hilty were cooperating on muscular legislation to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Hilty introduced the bill and Pawlenty signed it in 2007, establishing Minnesota as an early carbon-cutter. The law set goals to reduce emissions 15 percent by 2015 and 80 percent by 2050.

Pawlenty went further. He named more than 50 science and business leaders to an advisory group tasked with designing ways to meet those targets.

“Our global climate is warming,” Pawlenty said when he named the group in April 2007. “We cannot solve it by ourselves, but we need to lead and do our part.”

Governor is ‘delaying action’

A few months later, Pawlenty punctuated his commitment to pulling the nation back from its climatic “tipping point” when he was elected chairman of the National Governors Association.

“Our nation is too dependent on imported sources of energy, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow too quickly,” he said. “Governors have a tremendous opportunity to lead the country toward a cleaner, more independent, more secure energy future.”

Those were remarkable words coming from a Midwestern Republican in a state where coal cars click-clack on rail lines and river barges filled with the black stuff float through the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. About 75 percent of the state’s power comes from coal, compared to the national average of 55 percent.

Then something happened.

After more than a year of meetings, tussles and compromises, the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group sent the governor its recommendations. The list included capping carbon by the ton, energy efficiency measures and renewable power mandates. Silence from the governor.

The recommendations are getting dusty, according to participants. Lawmakers plan to introduce legislation addressing some of the issues, like a low-carbon fuel standard, but the governor’s new position is feeding uncertainty about the likelihood of success.

“I think you would say that’s delaying action,” said J. Drake Hamilton, a member of the advisory board and a climatologist with Fresh Energy, a renewable energy group. She believes Pawlenty is “ignoring” the recommendations of the group he established.

“At best, it’s disingenuous to have created and staffed a process that says we’re going to create economic opportunities around clean energy in the Midwest, and then to abandon that process without offering any other way to move forward,” Hamilton added. “What does this man really believe?”

Using ‘climate change’ against Obama

Aides to Pawlenty did not respond to requests for comment or to appeals for an interview with the governor. But Pawlenty appeared to break his silence on global warming last week. He used the term “climate change” to mock President Obama’s health-care initiatives at the GOPAC conference in Chicago.

“It appears that President Obama is making great progress on climate change,” the governor chided, according to Politico. “He is changing the political climate in the country back to Republican.”

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