GOP governors bash president at Aspen Institute event |

GOP governors bash president at Aspen Institute event

Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen TimesAspen Institute President Walter Isaacson, right, gestures while moderating a panel of Republican governors: (from left) Virginia's Bob McDonnell, Mississippi's Haley Barbour, Hawaii's Linda Lingle, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty and Texas' Rick Perry.

ASPEN – The “drill, baby, drill” rally cry is alive and well among Republicans, despite the BP oil leak off the Gulf Coast, based on the comments of five GOP governors speaking at The Aspen Institute on Thursday.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour downplayed BP’s unprecedented leak as an anomaly that occurred because “standard, normal, typical protocols were not followed” at a well that was difficult to drill even in the best of circumstances. More than 30,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf Coast in the last 50 years with no prior disaster, he said.

“So the idea of us having a moratorium to stop drilling is a stupid idea,” Barbour told an audience at the Institute’s Doerr-Hosier Center. “When a plane crashes we don’t shut down the airlines for six months while we try to figure out why.”

President Obama is seeking a moratorium on deep-water drilling to review the accident and government oversight.

Barbour acknowledged the extent of the environmental damage is unknown. But he also stressed the national importance of oil production from the gulf. About 30 percent of all oil produced in the United States last year came from the area. Of that, 80 percent came from deep-water production – about a quarter of all U.S. production.

A moratorium “means we’re going to import a lot more oil – something we’ve been trying to get away from for 40 years, and something we need to get away from,” Barbour said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said President Obama’s efforts to place a moratorium on deep-water drilling was “a bad knee-jerk reaction” to the Gulf Coast accident because it hurts the economy at a time when it is so fragile. He said he continues to support more drilling off his state’s coast.

The three other members of the Republican governors’ panel assailed different portions of the Obama administration’s energy policy. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle said Republican governors are united against potential federal cap-and-trade legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

“We are not willing, as Republican governors, to destroy the economy because [of the assumption] it would put less carbon into the atmosphere,” she said.

But Lingle also contended carbon reduction will be the natural result of sound energy policy. She looks at energy as a national security issue rather than an environmental challenge. America must end its addiction to oil for transportation by converting to electric cars and trucks as well as alternative fuels, she said.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Americans of all political persuasions can agree that the country needs to reduce its dependence on foreign sources of oil. He blamed Democratic policies for hindering that goal: bans on surface and mountaintop mining for coal; increased government scrutiny of the “fracing” process to extract natural gas; and rule-making that hamstrings nuclear power. Less government regulation is necessary to let American ingenuity tackle the country’s energy challenges, he said.

The reality, McDonnell said, is that Americans will rely on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. “In the short run, I think the policies have to support the traditional sources but make them cleaner,” he said.

There was a consensus on the panel to pursue alternative energy sources, but not taking action that makes fossil fuels more expensive.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said cap-and-trade legislation is “a dead issue.”

“Congress doesn’t have the will or desire to pass it now and given the likely results in November, they’re not going to pass it,” he said. “The country is spinning its wheels talking about something [that won’t happen].”

The focus needs to switch to incentives and technology advances that will really solve energy challenges, Pawlenty said.

Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, moderator for the discussion, asked point blank if the governors believed humanity’s contribution to climate change is an issue. While most of the governors were a bit evasive, Perry took it head-on, to the delight of the audience.

“Somebody has to say this – My name is Rick Perry and I am a global-warming skeptic,” he said. “I say that because I think the jury is still out on human-driven global warming.”

About 500 people attended the panel discussion, an institute official estimated. The institute is a nonpartisan and unbiased organization. Isaacson noted that the five governors were corralled for the discussion because the Republican Governors Association is holding a convention in Aspen. Many attendees of the Institute discussion were also attending that association conference, swelling the ranks of Republicans in the Democratic stronghold of Pitkin County to one of their highest levels ever.

The five governors fielded audience questions on everything from the war in Afghanistan to a new Louisiana law that allows concealed guns in churches. “I actually prefer the Bible and hymn books in church,” McDonnell said.

The governors, to a person, took the stand that America might have to be prepared for a lengthy war in Afghanistan. The Obama administration targeted July 2011 for the start of removal of troops. Yet, the governors also called for an immediate balancing of the federal budget while fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It wasn’t clear how they would pull that off.

Perry noted that “substantial empires” have gotten “high-centered” on Afghanistan throughout history, and that the United States faces “a long, tedious, expensive and bloody process” there.

“But I think we have to expand the effort,” he said. “I think we have to expend more troops because the war on Islam terrorists is centered in that country.”

Lingle said the troops need to be supported “1,000 percent” and that the country should “leave it to the experts to determine when and how we’re going to fight this war.”

She criticized the Obama strategy of announcing in advance the start of troop withdrawals. “Even if we do plan to get out, to tell your enemy in advance about that is just about the stupidest thing I can think of,” Lingle said to a robust cheer from the crowd.

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