Rick Perry is back, and this time he's in it to win it. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Perry left behind the bumbling tea party conservative of 2012 and did his best to appear a reasonable, professorial moderate on environmental issues. Yet even this more polished Perry continued to flub the truth about environmental protection.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Perry is attempting to shed the skin of his last presidential campaign. In case you've forgotten, let me remind you of the crowning moment of Perry's 2012 run. During a debate, Perry intended to name three cabinet-level agencies that his administration would eliminate. There was only one problem: Perry couldn't remember that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Oops.
Perry seems to be remaking himself this time around. Not only is his face now bespectacled, but he's pretending he's made an about-face on climate denial.
A Denier Can't Win
It seems Perry has gotten the memo that a climate denier can't win the White House in 2016. Polling shows that too many Americans are concerned about climate change to give the highest office in the land to someone who ignores this threat to our health, economy, and security.
According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey, a full 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats support limiting climate change pollution from power plants. Closer to home, a Yale University poll found that 70 percent of Texans believe in climate change and a majority believe government should be doing more about global warming.
Voters are looking for a leader who will confront the big challenges, not deny their existence.
During the last campaign, Perry said about climate change: "The science is not settled on this." He went on to say that one should not accept the science on climate change "just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said, 'Here is the fact.' Galileo got outvoted for a spell."
Perry's Change of Emphasis
At CPAC Perry de-emphasized his denial and instead "explained how Texas managed to reduce pollution during an economic boom," as National Journal put it. He argued that Texas added people and jobs while reducing nitrous oxide, ozone and carbon pollution through "thoughtful and incentive-based regulations." He made similar statements about pollution reduction in his farewell speech to the Texas legislature.
The good people at Factcheck.org have already demolished the content of Perry's claims, pointing out that he "exaggerates the Texas reduction in nitrogen oxide," omits pollution from certain sources, and mischaracterizes the policies that led to the reductions. In fact, Perry "ignores" two of the biggest drivers of recent pollution reduction in Texas: "the contribution of federal policy to wind energy and the shift away from a manufacturing-based economy."
While Perry got his facts wrong about the reasons for and statistics behind Texas' pollution reductions, there is at least one area where he's got it right: a growing economy and pollution reduction absolutely do go hand in hand. This chart shows that from 1990 through 2008, U.S. gross domestic product increased by more than 64 percent while the six most common air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act decreased by 41 percent.
As the 2016 election season warms up, we'll be sure to keep an eye on Perry and the other candidates hoping to win the White House. A denier can't win. A candidate who offers climate solutions will.