Now a top contender, Carson has eclectic energy agenda

By Jennifer Yachnin | 09/16/2015 07:15 AM EDT

Despite his place in the top ranks of the Republican presidential primary battle, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has yet to unveil a formal energy platform. But he’s given plenty of hints into what his plans might entail: overhauling U.S. EPA, expanding oil exports and ending agricultural subsidies over a decadelong process.

In recent weeks, Carson, one of three candidates with no experience in elected office, has surged to second place in the crowded 16-candidate GOP presidential primary field.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Trump at the top of the heap with 33 percent followed by Carson with 20 percent. The duo were the only candidates to break into double-digit support in the survey of 1,000 adults conducted Sept. 7-10.


Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush earned third place with 8 percent, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, each of whom received 7 percent. The survey had a 3.5-point margin of error.

"I’m gratified to see that so many people are actually starting to listen to what I’m saying and evaluating it on its merits, as opposed to listening to what people have portrayed me as saying. It makes a big difference," Carson said of his recent advancement in a Sept. 13 interview on CBS’s "Face the Nation."

Carson’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on his energy platform, but the Republican contender often alludes to environmental policies and energy goals in his public remarks.

"The good Lord has blessed this country with incredible energy resources," Carson told the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention in January, according to video of the event.

Carson went on to endorse construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as increased domestic production of natural gas, while criticizing supporters of an all-renewable energy platform as "plain stupid."

"You know, we’re smart enough to be able to do both. We can use our resources that we have now and we can continue to work on clean energy," Carson said. "The Environmental Protection Agency needs to be changed in its mission [from] persecuting the energy developers to helping them develop our energy in a clean, responsible way."

Following a visit to Durango, Colo., last month to tour contamination of the Animas River due to a spill from the Gold King mine, Carson similarly called for EPA to adopt a "new mission statement."

Among his proposals, Carson said the agency should vow to "do no harm" and "not exacerbate" problems, a pointed reference to the fact that an EPA contractor triggered the spill of more than 3 million gallons of contaminated water during an investigation into how to best remediate pollution concerns at the site.

Carson also proposed limiting fines and penalties the agency could issue for regulatory violations, including good Samaritan laws aimed at protecting businesses from liability in similar accidents. He also said the agency should create a "true cost/benefit analysis" into its rulemaking process.

"For too long, the EPA has used coercion instead of consensus; fines instead of finesse; penalties and punishments instead of pragmatism," Carson told the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times last month. "If we want a better environment for our children, these practices must stop. Our environment needs solutions, not scolding and scapegoating."

Carson has also repeatedly acknowledged that he is a skeptic of climate science, asserting that whether global warming is occurring is "irrelevant" to reforming EPA and ensuring environmental protections.

"There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on," Carson told Bloomberg Politics in late 2014. "As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment."

He added: "You can ask it several different ways, but my answer is going to be the same. We may be warming. We may be cooling."

Carson reiterated his stance in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle last week, asserting a lack of scientific evidence for the impact of human activity on the climate.

"I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science,’ but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they never can show it," Carson told the newspaper. "There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused."

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) — who called climate science skeptics "troglodytes" in July — responded to Carson with a public letter and a USB drive containing a report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"This is just one of thousands of reports authored by the world’s top scientists on the subject. … These are just words. The consequences are real," Brown wrote.

But Carson has suggested he would support cutting tax benefits that the oil and gas industry now receives and using those funds to prop up blended fuel stations for 30 percent ethanol blended fuels.

"I would probably be in favor of taking that $4 billion a year we spend on oil subsidies and using that in new fueling stations," Carson said during a May campaign stop in Iowa, according to The Des Moines Register. Carson argued that such efforts would be both better for the environment and cheaper for consumers.

Carson has also suggested, however, that he would phase out agricultural subsidies over a decadelong process if elected.

"Particularly when you’re talking about renewable fuel standards and things, there are a lot of promises that have been made that really extend all the way out to 2022, and people have made plans based on those kind of things," Carson said in an appearance at the Iowa State Fair, according to The Washington Examiner. "You can’t just pull out the rug … from under people."

During the same appearance, Carson also advocated for lifting restrictions on oil exports, arguing that new revenues from those sales could fund research into renewable fuels.

"We have enormous amounts of energy that we can utilize in appropriate ways," he said.