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Politics

Where the Republican Candidates Stand on Climate Change

There are differences.

Republican presidential candidates.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

There’s a decent chance that whoever the Republican Party nominates for president in 2024 will eventually win the White House.

That means they will have a huge sway over how — and whether — the United States pursues its energy and climate goals during this decisive decade for decarbonization. So while some — but not all — Republican officials reject the reality of climate change, key differences exist in the way each GOP presidential candidate talks about the issue.

Ahead of the first Republican primary debate, here is a guide to each of the major candidates and where they stand on climate change and energy questions. We plan on updating it through the campaign.

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  • DONALD TRUMP

    Who is he? The 45th — and maybe the 47th — president of the United States. A four-time criminal defendant.

    What he says about climate change: That it’s a “hoax,” “a total hoax,” “an expensive hoax,” and “a total, and very expensive, hoax.” Then in 2018 he told “Sixty Minutes” that “it’s not a hoax.” But recently he’s been saying it’s a hoax again.

    What he did about climate change: Oh, what didn’t he try to do? He rolled back more than 100 climate or environmental regulations, pulled America out of the Paris Agreement, and expanded oil drilling in Alaska. He declined to regulate toxic particulate air pollution and tried to subsidize the coal industry. That said, his rollbacks were rarely as effective as he hoped because the court system often blocked them for lack of paperwork.

    What he wants to do next: More of the same. He has promised to end any support for electric vehicles, pull America out of the Paris Agreement again, and build more oil refineries and gas pipelines. “Nobody has more liquid gold under their feet than the United States of America. And we will use it and profit by it and live with it,” he said.


    RON DESANTIS

    Who is he? The 46th governor of Florida.

    What’s his deal? DeSantis hates the effects of climate change, but doesn’t want to touch the causes.

    What he says about climate change: DeSantis would prefer not to use that phrase — it’s too left-wing. “This idea of, quote, ‘climate change’ has become politicized. My environmental policy is just to try to do things that benefit Floridians,” he said in 2019. A year earlier, he offered: “I am not a global warming person. I don’t want that label on me.”

    But he sometimes brags about his green record, even if he never says climate or carbon. “In Florida, we’ve seen emissions go down dramatically in the last 10 years,” he told Trey Gowdy, the Fox News host, this spring. “But that’s through market and innovation, that’s not through mandates.”

    What he’s done about climate change: Despite his personal reticence to use the c-word, he lifted an alleged state-level ban on saying climate change, appointed Florida’s first state resilience officer, and has signed millions of dollars into law to fight flooding and sea-level rise. He also ordered the state environmental agency to base its decisions on the best-available science.

    Yet lately he’s declined hundreds of millions in federal energy-efficiency funding and vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have saved Florida $277 million by replacing some state-owned cars with electric vehicles.

    What he wants to do as president: DeSantis has promised to “reverse the federal government's attempt to force people to buy electric vehicles.” He has also pledged to “unleash our domestic energy sector” and “modernize and protect our grid,” although he hasn’t said how he would do either.

    You probably didn’t know: DeSantis implemented a fracking ban soon after becoming governor, but hasn’t gotten the legislature to enact it.


    MIKE PENCE

    Who is he? The 48th vice president of the United States and a likely star witness at one of Donald Trump’s criminal trials.

    What he says about climate change: Back when he was running for the House in 2000, he said climate change was “a myth.” More recently, he’s recognized that human activities have “some” impact on the climate, but rejected the idea that climate change is a threat to national security.

    What he’s done about climate change: As vice president, he helped Trump repeal dozens of climate protections. He praised the president’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement, saying it was “so refreshing to have a presidents who stands without apology ... for America first.”

    What he wants to do: Pence has proposed perhaps the most detailed energy policy of any GOP candidate. Although he has promised increasing production of “all forms of U.S. energy,” much of his policy would boost fossil fuels: He wants to open up oil-and-gas drilling on federal land, loosen permitting rules to speed pipeline construction, increase oil refining capacity, and repeal much of the Inflation Reduction Act.


    NIKKI HALEY

    Who is she? The former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley was President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2018.

    What she says about climate change: That it’s real, man-made, and that it could present threats to the United States.

    What she’s done about climate change: As Trump’s UN ambassador, she helped orchestrate America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the nonbinding global climate treaty. Back when she was South Carolina’s governor, she allegedly suppressed a state-level climate report.

    What she wants to do as president: Haley has been vague, although she has said most liberal climate policies would “cost trillions and destroy our economy.” She’s backed efforts to capture carbon dioxide from industrial facilities. She also wants to plant more trees.


    TIM SCOTT

    Who is he? A former insurance salesman, Tim Scott has served as a senator from South Carolina since 2013. He is the first African-American senator to be elected from the South since Reconstruction.

    What he says about climate change: He has recognized that human activities are having some influence on the climate. “I am not living under a rock,” he said.

    What he’s done about climate change: Scott’s decade-long Senate record is notably unfriendly to the climate. He voted against the Kigali Amendment, a global climate treaty that phased out the use of hydrofluorocarbon pollutants, even though 19 of his GOP colleagues supported it. He also opposed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which funded EV chargers, public transit, and carbon removal experiments. And he has opposed messaging bills that recognized that human activity is driving climate change, even when his colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham, supported them.

    What he wants to do about climate change: He’s been vague. A prominent Republican donor told Axios that he supports building out the next-generation nuclear-power industry. Scott has said it’s “ridiculous to talk about a climate emergency when we have a border emergency that is an existential threat right now.”


    CHRIS CHRISTIE

    Who is he? Christie was the governor of New Jersey from 2010 to 2018.

    What he says about climate change: That it’s real. “There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing … When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts,” he said more than a decade ago.

    What he’s done about climate change: As governor, he pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade market for carbon emissions from the power sector. But he also fought to cut emissions from a Pennsylvania coal plant.

    What he wants to do about climate change: Like many candidates, he supports an “all-of-the-above” energy plan, although he has been kinder to climate goals than other Republicans and shown a particular interest in nuclear power. “We can’t disarm ourselves economically while we convert to cleaner energy,” he told a New Hampshire crowd in August. He supports increasing domestic oil production to help Ukraine.


    VIVEK RAMASWAMY

    Who is he? The son of Indian immigrants, Ramaswamy is the former chief executive of Roivant Sciences, a biotech company. The 38-year-old billionaire rose to prominence in conservative circles by opposing ESG investing — that is, environment, sustainability, and governance.

    What he says about climate change: A lot. He toldThe Washington Post that he is “not a climate denier” but that global warming will not be “entirely bad.” He has also claimed that fossil fuels are “essential to human flourishing,” seeming to reject the modern scientific consensus that carbon pollution is causing climate change.

    What he’s done about climate change: Ramaswamy has never held elective office. But as an anti-ESG activist, he wrote letters to Chevron telling it to stop supporting a carbon tax or monitoring some of its emissions.

    What he wants to do about climate change: He appears to support almost no restrictions on carbon pollution. He wants to “drill, frack, and burn coal.” He also wants to “abandon the climate cult and unshackle nuclear energy,” even though it generates zero-carbon electricity.


    ASA HUTCHINSON

    Who is he? Hutchinson, a lawyer, was the governor of Arkansas from 2015 to 2023.

    What he says about climate change: He toldThe New York Times that climate change is real and that human activities are “a contributing factor” to it. He doesn’t see it as an existential threat to the United States.

    What he’s done about climate change: When campaigning for governor, Hutchinson promised to fight President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have cut carbon pollution from power plants. He praised some of President Trump’s environmental rollbacks.

    What he wants to do about climate change: Hutchinson supports “energy independence” and opposes any effort to restrict carbon emissions. He told the Times that he would pull America out of the Paris Agreement and loosen rules on pipelines and drilling.


    DOUG BURGUM

    Who is he? Burgum is a former software executive and the 33rd governor of North Dakota.

    What he says about climate change: Burgum told the Sioux City Journal that climate change is real, but that he doesn’t want to talk about the role that humans are playing in causing it. “The debate we're having between the different edges is one where cancel culture is alive and well because if anybody questions any aspect of this, they're immediately ostracized,” he said.

    What he’s done about climate change: North Dakota is one of the country’s leading fossil-fuel producers, but Burgum has pledged to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2030 without losing that commanding position. He wants to use carbon-capture technology, which his government has helped subsidize, to meet that goal within the state.

    He also created North Dakota’s first Department of Environmental Quality.

    What he wants to do about climate change: He’s been vague. “Anyone who cares about the climate should want as much energy produced in America as possible and sold around the globe,” his spokesman toldThe Washington Post.


    Read more about the politics of climate change:

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    Robinson Meyer profile image

    Robinson Meyer

    Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.

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