Pawlenty Brings Anti-Coal Record to Pittsburgh

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty probably won’t bring up his record as governor of Minnesota in restricting carbon emissions tonight in the capital of coal country, Pittsburgh, where he is headlining a dinner for the county GOP.

Pawlenty’s Next Generation Energy Initiative, which mandated an 80 percent reduction in Minnesota’s emission of greenhouse gasses by 2050, caused him some uncomfortable moments Thursday in the first Republican primary debate, televised by Fox from Greenville, S.C.

The program includes a virtual ban on using electricity generated by new coal-fired plants, and the state Senate went so far as to vote to repeal that requirement last month, so state utilities can purchase power from a coal plant under construction in North Dakota. The bipartisan vote was 42-18.

Opposition to restrictions on carbon emissions has become an article of faith in the GOP, which has battled the Obama administration’s efforts to enact a national program as a costly impediment to creating jobs. So-called “cap and trade” policies also are unpopular in western Pennsylvania, home to a sizable coal mining industry.

During the debate, the moderator cued up a radio ad by an environmental group in which Pawlenty endorsed cap-and-trade. “Cap greenhouse gas pollution now!” his voice said.

“I’ve said I was wrong. It was a mistake, and I’m sorry,” Pawlenty said. “You’re going to have a few clunkers in your record, and we all do, and that’s one of mine. I just admit it. I don’t try to duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away. I’m just telling you, I made a mistake.”

At the time his program was enacted in 2007, Pawlenty said he hoped that the actions of states like Minnesota would “shame” the federal government into acting to curb greenhouse gasses.