Democrat needles Romney as ‘visionary’ on cap-and-trade

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) used a House hearing on climate change Friday to serve up a reminder of Mitt Romney’s past support for cap-and-trade, a policy that the GOP White House hopeful and most other Republicans now repudiate.

Markey, a liberal Democrat, noted Romney’s support for curbing carbon emissions when he was governor of Massachusetts, and the healthcare law Romney enacted that included an individual mandate to have health insurance.

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"I congratulated Governor Romney for creating that cap-and-trade system and I just want to do so again. I think he was a visionary in that way, in the same way he was with the healthcare plan that was the model for the national plan that the Supreme Court upheld yesterday," Markey said at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.

"And Gov. Romney, on both cap-and-trade and on healthcare, was and continues to be a real model for the rest of the country to follow, and we just hope that the Republicans continue to have him as their leader and follow his inspirational leadership in those two areas," continued Markey, who co-authored the sweeping cap-and-trade bill the House approved in 2009. It didn't go anywhere in the Senate.

Markey’s comments drew an equally tongue-in-cheek response from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee that held the Friday hearing about EPA’s greenhouse gas rules. “Thank you, Mr. Markey, we will inform Mr. Romney that you will likely be voting for him,” he quipped.

Markey, at the hearing, read from a 2003 letter from Romney to then-New York Gov. George Pataki (R) supporting efforts to create a cap-and-trade system for power plants among northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Romney’s letter also touted Massachusetts rules to limit power plant emissions.

Romney, citing concerns about costs, backed away from the multi-state cap-and-trade program before it launched, but his successor, Deval Patrick (D), signed Massachusetts up for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The Friday hearing featured GOP lawmakers sparring with Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air pollution regulator. Whitfield renewed allegations that the EPA’s spate of recent Clean Air Act regulations amount to an assault on the coal industry.

He took aim at EPA claims that low natural gas costs are what’s ailing the coal sector. “You all continue to mislead the American people. Sure natural gas prices are one factor, but I don’t know how you possibly deny that these regulations ... how can you say that they are not having an impact on coal being competitive in the global marketplace and in the marketplace in the United States?” Whitfield said.

Coal remains the nation’s biggest power source, but its share is declining. Some companies have announced plans for plant closures, and prospects for new coal plant construction are bleak.

McCarthy said there is a “market shift” because of inexpensive natural gas, but added, “no one has ever denied that our regulations are a factor.”