Pawlenty's current climate change stance differs from past

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Gov.Timothy Pawlenty
In this photo from July 30, 2009, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks at a luncheon during the Republican National Committee summer meeting in San Diego, Calif., where he used climate change as a punch line.
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

President Obama is promising new steps toward capping greenhouse gas emissions, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty is backing away from his earlier support for new regulations to slow global warming.

Since 2006, Tim Pawlenty has been touting clean energy initiatives as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007, he used his time as chair of the National Governor's Association to suggest ways to improve, develop and advance clean energy. The effort was meant to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, but Pawlenty also didn't deny that it was an attempt to clean up the environment.

"The country needs to hear this wakeup call and move boldly and aggressively in this direction," Pawlenty said in 2006. "What people think now will be very different than what people think 10 or 15 or 20 years from now and whatever political stripe you are, you'll look back on these types of initiatives and say 'thank goodness we did that.'"

Pawlenty was a vocal advocate of creating a cap and trade system to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, he and Janet Napolitano, then Arizona's Democratic Governor, recorded a radio ad urging Congress to address climate change.

Pawlenty has changed. Now, he uses climate change as a punch line.

"Apparently, they're announcing that President Obama is making great progress on climate change," Pawlenty said in a speech to the Republican National Committee in July. "He's turning the political climate of the country back to Republicans."

"The governor seems to have undergone a very significant change in his perspective in how we move to the energy economy of the future."

In June, Pawlenty wrote a letter to Minnesota's Congressional delegation criticizing proposed cap and trade legislation in the U.S. House. He also came out against the Midwest Governor's Climate Change initiative -- an effort he helped launch.

In both letters, he said he was concerned about the economic impact on businesses and individuals. Pawlenty also hasn't acted on any findings from the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group, a group he formed to look at the "profound impact of global warming."

"The governor seems to have undergone a very significant change in his perspective in how we move to the energy economy of the future," said Steve Morse, the executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Morse said he was excited when Pawlenty supported efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but is disappointed he seems to be backing away from the issue. "Since he has really set his sights more on Washington and has participated in the national Republican conversation more, he has really dropped any active support for any meaningful policies," Morse said.

For his part, Pawlenty said he still believes humans are at least partly responsible for global warming, but said he has serious concerns about the proposals in Congress. He said those who are worried that he's no longer committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions need to think about the economy.

He is also touting an energy source that is popular among Republicans.

"I would challenge them respectfully back that all of us should be focused on reducing emissions and pollution, but we need to do that in a way that doesn't wreck the economy, doesn't hurt our farmers [and] doesn't hurt our manufacturers," Pawlenty said. "People need jobs and there's way to do that without creating new big bureaucracies, new government taxes, new government heavy-handed techniques and a great example of that is to expand nuclear energy."

But Morse, with the Environmental Partnership, said Pawlenty could find much better alternatives if his chief concern is cost. Morse said a new nuclear plant would cost billions to build and much more to store the spent fuel.

Morse said cap and trade would increase costs in the short term, but he said it would help usher in the clean energy economy that Pawlenty touted just last year.