Haley, DeSantis clash over drilling at GOP debate

By Timothy Cama, Jonathan Miller | 11/09/2023 06:28 AM EST

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are seen during Wednesday's Republican presidential debate. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Republican presidential candidates Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley briefly clashed Wednesday over DeSantis’ record on oil and natural gas.

Haley, the former United Nations ambassador, accused DeSantis at the Republican presidential primary debate in Miami of being “a liberal” on the environment and “has opposed fracking, he’s opposed drilling.”

The back-and-forth was a rare moment of energy policy discussion at the debate, the third of the primary cycle. It featured just five candidates; former President Donald Trump, the leading contender in the Republican primary, skipped the debate, as he has with each in this campaign cycle, and counterprogrammed it with his own rally in nearby Hialeah, Fla.

Advertisement

Haley tried to tie DeSantis to liberal climate change activists.

“He was praised by the Sierra Club. And you’re trying to make up for it and act like you weren’t a liberal when it comes to the environment,” she said of the Florida governor. “You were, you always have been. Just own it if that’s the case. But don’t keep saying you’re something that you’re not.”

DeSantis pushed back, saying his energy policy plan requires an increase in fracking to boost domestic oil and natural gas drilling.

But he also defended his policies as Florida’s governor. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to drill in the Florida Everglades. And I know most Floridians agree with me.” DeSantis, like many Florida Republicans, has opposed offshore drilling in the state, arguing it would harm its tourist economy.

Haley and DeSantis are among the top contenders for the GOP nomination, but both trail Trump by considerable margins.

The clash continues attempts by Haley in recent weeks to get to DeSantis’ right on energy and paint him as insufficiently supportive of fossil fuels.

She brought up DeSantis’ record at a previous debate in September, saying, “Day Two in Florida, you banned fracking, you banned offshore drilling.”

Her campaign posted a video on the topic this week, saying DeSantis would likely “lie about his record again” at the debate while highlighting past statements on energy and the environment.

During DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign, he supported a ballot initiative, which turned out to be successful, to ban offshore drilling in waters controlled by Florida. He also promised to ban fracking onshore in the state, and signed an order shortly after taking office to implement the ban.

Haley said in this week’s debate that the Sierra Club “praised” DeSantis, but the group was not enthusiastic about him, and opposed his election.

The group did say in a statement shortly after he took office that it was “pleased” with his commitment to prioritize the Everglades and protect the state’s waters in budget negotiations, while criticizing other major parts of his record.

Promoting fossil fuels

DeSantis and the other candidates used some of the foreign policy questions at the event to advocate for more production and use of fossil fuels, and slam President Joe Biden’s record.

“On Day One, I’m taking all the Biden regulations, the Green New Deal, ripping it up and throwing it in the trash can where it belongs,” DeSantis said, referring to a congressional resolution that has never advanced in Congress but is used as a catchall by Republicans against Democratic climate goals.

“We’re going to lower your gas prices, we’re going to create jobs, we’re going to lower energy costs,” he said.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott said he would immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline and remove barriers to oil and gas production.

“We should focus not just on being energy independent, we should focus on being energy dominant,” he said. “America is the home to more energy resources than any other country on the planet. We can reduce the price of energy, we can reduce the price of food and the price of electricity.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he’d take immediate action to push energy markets to reduce prices, while entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy repeated his frequent energy policy: “Drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear.”

Trump holds rally

Former President Donald Trump.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Hialeah, Fla., on Wednesday. | Lynne Sladky/AP

Trump used his rally to take some jabs at his Republican opponents, but mostly trained his attacks on Biden.

He hit on familiar gripes with the administration, including oil exploration, electric vehicles and energy prices.

“We’re going to drill, baby, drill, we’re going to bring down your energy costs,” he said. “We have the highest energy costs anywhere.”

The former president said that he would bring down inflation with his energy policies.

“We’re no longer energy independent and energy dominant,” he complained, arguing that the U.S. is “begging Venezuela and many others for oil.”

He accused the Biden administration of failing to counter Saudi Arabia and Russia on oil production.

“That threat is met by announcing that we will no longer be drilling for oil in large areas of Alaska and other parts of our country,” Trump said, an apparent reference to the administration’s actions to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

He derided the Green New Deal and claimed Democratic leaders “are demanding all electric cars despite the fact that they can’t go too far, cost too much and whose batteries … of those horrible cars are produced in China.”

This story also appears in Climatewire and Energywire.