N.H. environmentalists lament EPA bashing, lack of science support within GOP field

By Shira Schoenberg
Boston Globe
November 16, 2011

As the Republican presidential candidates descend on New Hampshire, Rick Russman, a former GOP state senator who leads backpacking trips to the Rocky Mountains, feels “a little lost in the wilderness.”
Russman is unenthusiastic about the 2012 candidates, several of whom have denied climate change and advocated the rollback of environmental regulations.

“I’m really pretty disheartened by the lack of interest from Republican candidates on the environment, at best, and at worst the outright hostility that so many of them are showing toward the Environmental Protection Agency and the safeguards that we want for clean air and clean water,” he said.

Russman, who chaired the state Senate’s committee on the environment and helped found a New Hampshire conservation group, said he believes a broad swath of the citizenry is concerned about the environment.

“Unfortunately, the presidential candidates don’t get it because they’re trying to appeal to a very narrow section of the population,” he said.

Call them environmental Republicans lost at sea.

Russman is one of a number of Republican voters who will vote in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary but are dismayed at the candidates’ treatment of the environment.

Tomorrow, Farrell Seiler, a Republican-leaning independent, and Republican Antonius Blok will host a workshop in Portsmouth, N.H., examining the impact of climate change on the Seacoast. They also will officially launch a new group, “New Hampshire Republicans for Climate.”

The subject line of their e-mailed press release says it all: “NH Republicans Hosting a Climate Conference? Really.”

Seiler said: “There needs to be an opportunity for enlightened conservative Republicans to raise their hands and say you can’t deny what the science is telling us. We don’t share the anti-science denial-ism of six and a half of the eight Republican candidates who are in New Hampshire running in the primary.”

Among the major Republican candidates, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has been the most forthcoming about his belief in climate change, once Tweeting, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

As governor, Huntsman joined an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a regional cap-and-trade system, though he now opposes cap-and-trade.

Seiler referred to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as the “half.” Romney says he believes the world is getting warmer but is uncertain how much humans have contributed.

As governor, Romney launched negotiations on a regional agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but then pulled out.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann have been the most skeptical, questioning whether humans cause climate change at all.

New Hampshire has a history of Republican environmentalism.

Former US Senator Judd Gregg championed land conservation in the state. Representative Charlie Bass was a consultant for renewable energy companies.

In 2007, 164 New Hampshire towns passed resolutions at their town meetings supporting action to address climate change.

Environmentalists point out that it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who proposed the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, presidential candidate Ron Paul wants to eliminate it.

Jameson French, CEO of Northland Forest Products and former chairman of several environmental non-profits in New Hampshire, said it used to be considered “conservative to conserve.”

French, a Republican, is unhappy that issues like preserving clean air and clean water, which cross state lines and can have an economic impact, have become polarizing.

“It shouldn’t be such a partisan issue,” French said. “It’s become just one on the list of issues that the more extreme right has decided is symbolic of the overstepping of the federal government.”

Several Republican environmentalists said they are leaning toward supporting Huntsman, but are dismayed with the field.

Jim Rubens, a former Republican state senator and consultant for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said none of the candidates seem to recognize the risks climate change poses to the environment, economy, and national security.

“Dealing with difficult facts like climate science for me and many Republicans is a proxy for whether candidates and elected officials can deal effectively with difficult issues,” Rubens said. “Unfortunately, so far no candidate on either side has a plan to deal with climate change.”

Former Republican EPA officials – including the agency’s first administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman – have begun to respond to use their national platforms to rebut the candidate criticism.

Rubens said he does not know of any environmentalists in New Hampshire coordinating with national officials, but Seiler hopes his new group will eventually become part of a larger effort “to stem the tide of this rancorous criticism of the EPA.”

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.