GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman lamented what he called the nation’s “heroin-like addiction” to foreign oil imports Thursday, calling for policies that boost alternative-fuel vehicles and energy technology research.
Speaking at a Republicans for Environmental Protection event, however, Huntsman avoided any significant discussion of climate change, an issue that has become politically dangerous for the GOP presidential candidate.
Huntsman only mentioned the words "climate change" once during his remarks.
Instead, Huntsman focused on broad-brush energy policy issues. He argued that states are “incubators” of good energy policy, touting Utah’s advancements in natural-gas vehicle technology during his time as governor.
Still, by speaking in front of the organization Republicans for Environmental Protection, Huntsman waded into a fiery political debate over energy policy. Republicans in Congress are waging war on the Obama administration’s energy and environmental policies, pushing measures to block or delay a slew of Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department regulations.
But Huntsman was careful to position himself as a defender of the environment without weighing in on controversial issues like offshore drilling or EPA climate regulations.
“Conservation is conservative,” Huntsman said. “I’m not ashamed of being a conservationist.”
Energy independence, he said, should be a major focus of the country’s energy policy.
“We have a huge opportunity in the years ahead to make energy independence a centerpiece issue in this country,” said Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China under President Obama before resigning in February.
Huntsman, as governor of Utah, joined the Western Climate Initiative, a coalition of Western states and Canadian provinces working to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The program includes a regional cap-and-trade system that has faced a number of roadblocks.
He has since blasted cap-and-trade as a policy, but acknowledges that climate change is occurring.
“Every governor was talking about dealing with emissions back many, many years ago only to find that with the economic implosion, we can't afford anything that is going to put any kind of hamper on economic growth. So cap-and-trade is not something that is viable today,” Huntsman told Fox News in June.
Huntsman and other Republican presidential candidates have come under fire from conservatives for their previous support for cap-and-trade.
Tim Pawlenty supported cap-and-trade as governor of Minnesota. And Mitt Romney initially supported the policy as governor of Massachusetts before pulling the state out of a regional cap-and-trade system (current Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick later re-joined the program).
Pawlenty has since called his support of cap-and-trade a “mistake.” Romney has said he opposes cap-and-trade, but has maintained that he believes human beings are contributing to climate change.