Mitt Romney's views on climate change can be difficult to pin down. In 2004, when he was governor of Massachusetts, his administration unveiled a detailed plan to curtail the state's carbon pollution. As recently as June 2011, Romney was telling voters in New Hampshire that "the world's getting warmer," that "I believe that humans contribute," and that "I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases."
Since then, however, Romney has softened his stance. "I don't know if [rising temperatures are] mostly caused by humans," he told another New Hampshire crowd last summer. "What I'm not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don't know the answer to.” True, this doesn't necessarily contradict his earlier statements: Romney thinks climate change could conceivably be real, but he isn't willing to enact any countermeasures that could hurt the economy. But it's also a clear shift in emphasis since his days as governor. Indeed, Romney's economic platform mentions "global warming" only once — to criticize President Obama for delaying the Keystone XL pipeline over climate concerns.
Yet whatever Romney's muddled views on climate, there's less ambiguity from his new running mate, Paul Ryan. Already, climate skeptics who were nervous about Romney have lauded a 2009 op-ed in which Ryan criticized Obama's EPA for categorizing carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Among other things, Ryan attacked the work of climatologists, suggesting that scientists might even be engaged in a conspiracy of sorts:
At issue... are published e-mail exchanges from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU). These e-mails from leading climatologists make clear efforts to use statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.
The CRU e-mail scandal reveals a perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion. The e-mail scandal has not only forced the resignation of a number of discredited scientists, but it also marks a major step back on the need to preserve the integrity of the scientific community. While interests on both sides of the issue will debate the relevance of the manipulated or otherwise omitted data, these revelations undermine confidence in the scientific data driving the climate change debates.
Now, Ryan's suggestion that scientists have tried to "intentionally mislead the public" is a charge without much evidence. A series of investigations — from Penn State, the University of East Anglia, Britain's House of Commons, the National Science Foundation and the EPA — looked into this question and found little evidence of wrongdoing by climate scientists. What's more, since 2009, the scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet has only strengthened. (Ryan does not appear to have followed up on the topic.)
Ryan's track record on environmental issues is certainly less green-tinged than Romney's. For one, Ryan has consistently voted against government efforts to tackle climate change. Like many House Republicans, he has voted to block efforts by the EPA to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions. He approved an amendment that would bar the Department of Agriculture from studying how best to adapt to a warmer planet. Ryan voted to defund various climate-advisory positions within the White House. He also voted for an amendment, proposed by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), to cut $50 million from funding for ARPA-E, which funds long-shot energy research and development.
More broadly, Ryan appears to have had a firmly conservative record on the environment since joining the House. He has long supported more oil and gas drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He opposes subsidies for clean energy. He's skeptical of further EPA efforts to regulate air pollution.
On the other hand, almost all of Ryan's legislative positions have been echoed by Mitt Romney in his "Believe in America" economic platform. (The one exception is ARPA-E, which Romney supports.) Like Ryan, Romney has promised to expand oil and gas drilling, opposes subsidies for clean energy, would approve Arctic drilling, and would prevent the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide. Even if Romney's track record as Massachusetts governor was a bit greener than Ryan's tenure in the House, there's little that the two politicians appear to disagree on now.
It's possible this pick could have an impact on energy politics: As Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report told Bloomberg, Ryan might be able to reassure conservatives who are wary of Romney's green-tinged past that Romney is serious about his current energy proposals. (And, conversely, the presence of Ryan on the ticket could galvanize environmental voters who weren't terribly exercised over Romney.) But the choice of Ryan as his running mate doesn't suggest much of a shift in substantive policy.