Foley and Malloy: A clear difference on climate change

If you could measure the gubernatorial candidates’ personal passion levels on climate change, Tom Foley’s would be in the cooler hues, while Dan Malloy’s would fall in the fiery orange range. But when it comes to their main idea to address Connecticut’s changing climate and its measurable effects, both of them emphasize the same one: Jobs.

That is, encouraging a green economy that creates jobs and, along the way, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of accelerated climate change.

Welcome to the governor’s race environmental dialogue in 2010, when even the known effects of Connecticut’s altering climate-higher average rainfall (last summer notwithstanding) and the slowly rising sea-pale next to the economy.

“I think we need to make good, strategic investments in alternative energy production,” Malloy, the Democrat and former Stamford mayor, said this week, then asking, “What investments are most likely to, A, move us forward on the energy front but also, B, on a long-term basis, create jobs?”

Foley, a businessman and the Republican nominee, says little in his platform on climate change or any other environmental matter. That’s because, he said in a phone interview, “It’s not high on the mind of voters. Because people are much more focused on jobs and the economy, reducing the level of government spending, and on the general direction our country is headed in, our state’s headed in. They want the government to tighten its belt and solve our problems.”

Both candidates hope to grow the economy while shrinking the carbon footprint, although after that, they differ greatly.

Malloy’s work as Stamford governor won him accolades for trying to reduce energy use, and his environmental platform emphasizes that for the state. Foley’s published platform does not mention climate change at all.

A greenhouse gas commitment

The next governor will be expected to deal with Connecticut’s promises, as part of a regional coalition, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, even though the state continues to rely on greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum) for almost half of its electricity generation. Connecticut workers also rely heavily on automobiles, which produce most of the greenhouse gases, to get to work.

The next governor also will find plenty of economic incentive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Connecticut residents pay the second-highest electricity rates in the nation, second only to Hawaii. Although Connecticut’s per-capita energy use is lower than most other states, that rate of energy use is rising at a faster rate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The state has been paying attention to climate change. Governor Jodi Rell formed the Connecticut Steering Committee on Climate Change. The Department of Environmental Protection went public several years ago with the need to reduce energy use. It and other agencies sit on the steering committee, which formed a Climate Change Action Plan for the state in 2005.

Malloy says he has been followed the science of climate change since the mid-1990s. “This is something I am ultimately committed to,” he said this week.

As mayor of Stamford, he reduced energy use in public buildings and encouraged public transportation. The Northeastern nonprofit, Clean Air-Cool Planet, awarded Stamford a 2005 “climate champion” award for “annually reducing 60,000 emissions tons of heat-tapping gases from public operations,” CA-CP Executive Director Adam Markam said at the time.

Malloy said that if elected governor he said he would start with cutting state government’s energy use.

“The state government needs to do a lot more on this front,” he said. He described walking into public buildings in Hartford that he said lack energy-saving systems that private buildings now install routinely.

Foley is more cautious, although he notes that he grew up in a family with a strong conservation ethic and that his party ought to “reclaim the environment,” as Teddy Roosevelt did. His ideas for reducing greenhouse gases include encouraging “a lot of initiatives in the area of energy efficiency with respect to buildings” and cleaner sources of power for electric vehicles. He also said he is interested in the still-developing technologies of carbon sequestration–holding back emissions–at coal-fired plants.

Cars and trucks, vital to Connecticut work and pleasure, emit a quarter of carbon dioxide from United States sources. Malloy said he advocates more public transportation for commuting, especially using old railroad lines for light rail systems, the least carbon intensive of transportation options.

Foley suggests that electric cars could lessen the problem of car commutes and also “offering transportation alternatives for commuters,” without elaborating.

On dealing with the measurable changes, such as higher average rainfall and rising sea levels, Foley said the time to act is not now. “If the state is getting wetter, we need more floodwater capacity; that’s what a governor does,” he said. “Until you know what the problems are, and you’re in a reasonable time frame of their arrival, then there’s not much you could do. Until we actually experience the impact, then I’m sure there will be plenty of time to respond.”

Malloy, who advocates a 50-year plan for dealing with sea level and precipitation, would not get specific now about how he would implement a plan. “I happen to be a mayor who moved two dams out of a river to remove the downtown out of the flood plain,” he said. But on spending funds to adapt, “I think I’ll wait on that until I’m in a position of appointing a DEP commissioner and making sure that I’m maximizing the return on investment in the current DEP structure. What I would like the DEP to understand, if I am lucky enough to be elected governor, is that I get this stuff.”

Malloy has at times suggested that the goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions ought to be exceeded, not just met. Foley said this: “I think it is admirable to have lofty goals. As governor I will certainly try to move us along a course that will get us to those goals, assuming that they are realistic.”