As the saying goes, “not in my backyard.”
In New Hampshire on Thursday, Newt Gingrich made an awkward pivot. One moment he was accusing President Obama of selling out America to the Chinese by not immediately approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The next moment, Newt himself was promising to block another Canadian/American energy project based on environmental concerns.
But guess which state that project happens to be in?
Gingrich told voters and reporters at events that the Northern Pass, a $1.1 billion plan to transmit hydro-energy from Quebec into New England, must be modified or he would refuse to certify it as president. Environmental groups have fought it tooth and nail, warning that a series of transmission towers that would transmit the energy through New Hampshire would despoil wilderness. According to Newt, there’s a “deep feeling in northern New Hampshire that this unnecessarily disrupts the beauty of the region” and he’s worried that it could hurt tourism.
His comments came only moments after he said Obama was “siding with environmental extremists in San Francisco” by delaying a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and pledged to immediately fast track the project if he were elected.
Somewhat jarred by the contrast, reporters pushed Gingrich as to whether these were the same conservationist issues that he decried for delaying similar job-creating enterprises. Oddly enough, he immediately offered the Keystone case as a “parallel example” that he supports, suggesting his backing indicates he still believes in similar projects under the right circumstances. He added that because the Northern Pass crosses the border, it was his responsibility to evaluate it closely as president.
“There are times when presidents are inevitably involved with this kind of project,” he said.
At his next event in Littleton, NH, Gingrich again announced his demand that the Northern Pass not include transmission towers, this time to loud applause, before calling Keystone XL a “no brainer” and saying that Obama is bowing to “extremist” environmentalists again.
A similar dynamic exists with ethanol subsidies, which Gingrich has enthusiastically supported in Iowa while simultaneously slamming the White House for trying to back solar energy by guaranteeing loans to companies like the now-defunct Solyndra.
Asked by TPM about the distinction, Gingrich said that he favored ethanol subsidies that broadly encourage companies to “compete equally” versus “trying to turn bureaucrats into venture capitalists” by picking individual companies for loans.
Ethanol companies that have received nine-figure Department of Energy loan guarantees have lavished praise and donations on Gingrich for his support, who did consulting work for the biofuel industry after leaving office. From a trade publication, Environment & Energy Publishing:
Major ethanol firm POET LLC and its employees are the second-highest contributor to the former speaker’s presidential campaign, according the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.
The “miscellaneous energy” category, which includes biofuels organizations, and the crop production industries have contributed about $25,000 each to the campaign. Gingrich has only gotten $18,000 total from traditional oil and gas, according to the center.
“POET believes that homegrown, renewable fuels play a critical role in America’s energy mix and we have always supported candidates who share that belief,” said Jeff Broin, founder and CEO of POET, which earlier this year won a $105 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy for a cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa.
POET, the world’s largest ethanol company, had contributed $20,000 to Gingrich’s campaign as of Nov. 14. A quarter of that came from the company’s political action committee, POET PAC, while the rest came from its employees or their immediate families, the center reported.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.