Bush in Colo. — ‘I’m not here to talk about climate change’

By Jennifer Yachnin | 04/08/2015 01:05 PM EDT

DENVER — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) offered a full-throated endorsement of the state’s oil and gas sector yesterday, disparaging the Obama administration for "demonizing sectors" of the energy industry while calling for increased production in North America.

During a one-hour appearance here in a ballroom at the tony Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, Bush — who is exploring a GOP presidential primary bid and expected to formally join the field this summer — answered questions from an audience comprising oil and gas industry officials.

While Bush focused his answers heavily on foreign policy and domestic energy production, questions varied from how the White House could boost the public image of the fossil fuel industry to public education.

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In brief opening remarks, Bush also emphasized his desire to grow the economy at an increased rate, concentrating on tax reform as well as immigration reform, before mentioning energy production.

"The one thing that we have at our disposal for the quickest jump-start for sustained economic growth is the energy sector. It clearly is one of the great success stories of modern time," said Bush, whose father and brother both ran energy companies before getting involved in politics.

Bush also cheered on the growth of hydraulic fracturing in Colorado at several points, asserting that the government should stop "demonizing sectors" of the energy industry.

"This is an extraordinarily American revolution that we should be proud of rather than trying to tear it down," Bush said.

He also criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while avoiding any direct comment on the causes of climate change.

"I’m not here to talk about climate change, but whatever your views are on that, the way that we have to assume that we’re going to [reduce emissions] is through high sustained economic growth, for starters, and not the other way around," Bush said. "The idea that somehow if you hollow out your industrial core you can reduce carbon emissions … you’re also reducing jobs, income."

Bush later added of global warming: "This is not the biggest challenge that we face. For some odd reason this president has a problem with the oil and gas sector, but you can’t stop innovation. You can stall it, you can make it more complicated, but I don’t think the American spirit is going to allow for one president … to stop progress."

During the session, sponsored by his Right to Rise political action committee, Bush also promoted the export of both crude oil and liquid natural gas, and mentioned his support for the Keystone XL pipeline and for expediting permits for offshore drilling. Bush also called for incentivizing the use of compressed natural gas, or LNG, for transportation fuels.

The former two-term Florida governor also addressed an inquiry on how to best curb the Endangered Species Act, responding that the next president should install federal employees in every agency with a "balanced view," adding: "We don’t have that right now."

Bush later said that the next administration should conduct a "wholesale review" of "how we regulate," and he advocated for turning over more responsibility to individual states.

"We should really be serious about shifting back a lot of the rules, delegate the authority back to state governments and local governments, where appropriate, and not in the hands of Washington," Bush said, earning his loudest round of applause for the afternoon.

Bush also addressed a potential fight over the future of hydraulic fracturing in Colorado that could occur during the 2016 elections.

Opponents of increased fracking in the state have said they will seek to put at least one initiative on the ballot that could sharply restrict the process. While similar efforts occurred in the 2014 cycle, several of those initiatives failed to garner enough signatures to appear on the ballot, and a compromise agreement negotiated by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) quashed others in favor of a state task force.

Bush criticized the ballot process, arguing that "one bad election" could create adversity for the energy industry.

"There’s got to be a better way to do this. If you do this every two years, this is not healthy for the economy," Bush said, suggesting that the process could be amended to allow state lawmakers to modify ballot initiatives after such measures are approved by voters.

Although Bush’s visit yesterday to Colorado, which included a morning meeting with veterans in the heavily Republican Colorado Springs area, closely resembled a campaign swing through the purple state, the Republican emphasized that he is not yet a candidate.

"Just for the record I’m not a candidate. I’m seriously considering the possibility," Bush said, prompting laughter from the audience. "This would be a great place to trigger a campaign, but it ain’t going to happen today."

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