Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney, brownwasher in chief. (Photo by Gage Skidmore.)

Mitt Romney might be the country’s No. 1 brownwasher. While corporate America tries to paint itself as greener than it really is, corporate America’s presumptive candidate tries to paint himself as browner than he really is — or at least was.

We aren’t fooled. Sure, he mocks efficient cars, extols the virtues of coal, and argues that we should be drill-baby-drilling our way to lower gas prices. Yes, he bashes the EPA and has packed his staff with EPA haters. OK, he wants to keep handing out billions to Big Oil and rubber-stamp the Keystone XL pipeline.

But if you chip away at that brown paint, there’s a layer of green underneath. (As for what’s beneath that layer, and then the one below that, who knows?) When he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney was about as green as Republicans get (if you don’t count the now-disgraced Governator, and many Republicans don’t). Check out these eco-friendly stances from Romney’s past:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Coal: While Romney was in the governor’s mansion, Massachusetts cracked down on pollution from coal-fired power plants. In a feisty speech in front of one particularly filthy plant in 2003, Romney said he would not support coal-plant jobs “that kill people.”

Now he says, “In my administration, coal will not be a four-letter word.” He wants to “utilize” our coal reserves “to the fullest extent,” even if the resulting pollution is lethal.

Gas prices: In 2006, during a price spike, Romney swatted away calls to suspend a state gas tax, saying, “I don’t think that now is the time, and I’m not sure there will be the right time, for us to encourage the use of more gasoline.”

Now he says, “The best thing we can do to get the price of gas to be more moderate and not have to be dependent upon the cartel is: drill in the Gulf, drill in the outer continent shelf, drill in ANWR, drill in North Dakota, South Dakota, drill in Oklahoma and Texas” — never mind that his own economic team disagrees.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cleantech investment: In 2003, Romney created a taxpayer-financed Green Energy Fund to help renewable-energy companies get off the ground.

Now he bashes Obama for doing the same thing at the federal level.

Fuel economy: In 2007, Romney called for autos to get 50 miles per gallon, and lamented that CAFE standards hadn’t been applied to trucks.

Now he argues CAFE rules have been “disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers” and says, “We need to get the government out of these companies’ hair.”

Plug-in cars: In 2007, Romney called for more plug-in electric cars as a way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Now he ridicules the Chevy Volt, an American-made plug-in hybrid electric, and pours scorn on clean energy and green cars alike by saying, “you can’t drive a car with a windmill on top.”

Climate change: As governor, Romney introduced the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan, and helped promote and shape a carbon cap-and-trade program for Northeastern states, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (though he pulled his state out at the last minute — coincidentally, just as he started angling to run for president). In his 2010 book, he wrote, “I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor.” In 2011, he said that we need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, a comment that won him praise from Al Gore.

That nod from the Goracle might have been what goaded him into brownwashing his record, as he’s been steadily backing away from even modest climate concern ever since. A few months ago, he went so far as to say, “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”

Careful with your neck there — you could get whiplash trying to keep track of all this.

So which of these views represent the real Romney? Some of his big-money backers think he’s got a green core and would fight climate change once in office. Don’t bet on it. A President Romney would be beholden to conservative donors, surrounded by conservative advisors, and solicitous of conservative voters — at least until he won a second term.

On Earth Day, April 22, Romney is scheduled to visit Greencastle, Penn., and make a speech at the Green Grove Gardens event center. The old Romney might have grooved on that green theme. The new Romney might want to move his speech to Brownsville, Penn., instead.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.