By Wesley Warren
Olympic boxing is here but another matchup between Clinton-Kaine and Trump-Pence is coming this fall. With the conventions behind us, it’s a good time to do an autumn election debate preview. And because the records of the VP choices are less well known, let’s start with a head-to-head contest about their positions on the environment and clean energy.
So it’s Virginia Senator Tim Kaine versus Indiana Governor Mike Pence for vice president of the United States in a best of six rounds.
Round 1: Overall Environmental Record in Congress
A revealing and stark comparison between the two candidates is their lifetime League of Conservation Voters rating for their years in Congress. In his first four years Kaine has compiled a very high score of 91% as a U.S. senator. In fact LCV called his selection “awesome” when it was announced. Meanwhile Governor Mike Pence of Indiana barely scraped together a rating of 4% during his 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he cast an array of votes against cleaning up air and water, increasing safety for potentially hazardous chemicals, and reducing taxpayer subsidies for polluting industries.
Score Kaine 1/Pence 0
Round 2: Belief in the Science of Climate Change
One of the most fundamental measures of commitment on environmental policy is whether a candidate agrees that the science on climate shows it’s time to act. Pence has marked himself as a climate denier, seeking to avoid action by calling the science “mixed.” In contrast Kaine has clearly sided with the science, even calling out his opponent on the subject, former Virginia governor George Allen, during the 2012 race for the Senate. As Senator Kaine also helped convene a bipartisan conference in 2014 to address the effects of climate change in Virginia in an effort to persuade federal and local elected officials about the science behind the threat of sea-level rise.
Score Kaine 2/ Pence 0
Round 3: Support for Cleaning up Old, Dirty Coal-Fired Power Plants
Coal-fired power plants pump out over a quarter of the carbon pollution in the U.S. every year. The best indicator about whether a candidate is serious about this problem is whether he or she backs the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce this pollution, known as the Clean Power Plan. Senator Kaineendorsed it saying that it was “the biggest step” the U.S. has even taken to reduce carbon pollution, while Donald Trump, Mike Pence and the Republican Party platform have all called for reversing it.
Kaine 3/Pence 0
Round 4: Building the Keystone Pipeline
Last year President Obama disapproved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would have brought filthy tar sands from Canada into the U.S. Before the decision was made Kaine penned a Washington Post op-ed calling on the president to reject the pipeline because we need “to make energy tomorrow cleaner than it is today.” Governor Pence instead wrote the president in 2014 urging him to approve it.
Score Kaine 4/Pence 0
Round 5: Record as Governor
As governor Kaine showed real leadership on climate issues. In 2007 he created by executive order the Commission on Climate Change to help the state cope with the effects of climate change and to make recommendations for reducing carbon pollution even further than the 30% reduction goal in his existing Virginia Energy Plan. He also advanced measures to protect 400,000 acres of land and open space from development.
Unfortunately Pence led his state in the opposite direction when he had a chance. In March of 2014 he allowed the legislature to repeal Energizing Indiana, a program that had helped utility customers cost-effectively reduce their energy consumption while creating 19,000 jobs, according to an independent study.
Score Kaine 5/Pence 0
Round 6: Oil and Gas Development
As a member of Congress Pence was a staunch supporter of the oil and gas industry. His one-sided voting on these issues included (among many other items) such anti-environmental stances as: opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for development; expanding off-shore drilling, including in the Atlantic; increasing domestic natural gas production; providing taxpayer giveaways to industry; and opposing stricter safety controls on off-shore drilling after the giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Although Kaine has a clear history of supporting clean energy alternatives to oil and gas, his position on natural gas is complicated. He has supported greater regulation of the oil and gas industry, but he has been criticized y some environmnetalists for promoting natural gas export terminals and favoring fracking for greater natural gas production. Previously he had also been open to off-shore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, but earlier this week he came out in opposition to it, citing concerns voiced by the Department of Defense.
More should be expected from Kaine on issues like natural gas production, given his acceptance of the science on climate change, and environmentalists will need to continue to make the case for more action to the presidential tickets. Nevertheless, since it’s fair to say that Pence is worse than Kaine on any oil and gas issue environmentalists care about?—?Pence being unconstrained by any climate considerations?—?it would also be fair to award this round to Kaine all things considered. On a call closer than it should be, the final round also goes to Kaine.
Final Talley: Kaine 6/Pence 0
Both presidential candidates picked running mates they thought could help them in swing Midwestern coal states. Pence will argue hard for a return to the twentieth century model of heavy fossil-fuel dependency while Kaine will point forward to the vast potential of the clean energy economy using solar, wind and energy efficiency. Kaine no doubt believes he has the better case to make economically and politically based on his experience from 2014, when in an interview with the NRDC Action Fund he credited environmental issues and environmental groups as giving him an edge in his senate race.
With few differences the vice-presidential nominees closely mirror their presidential ticket-mate on energy and environmental issues. In this VP face-off it’s not even close on who offers the better choice for America or what’s at stake for our environmental future. It’s a knock-out for Tim Kaine.
Wesley Warren is a guest blogger for the NRDC Action Fund. He previously worked as senior environmental official in the White House from 1994-2001 and before that as legislative staff on energy and environmental issues in the U.S. House of Representatives. A former Director of Policy Advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, he now does private consulting.