Sen. Marco Rubio defended past support of a cap-and-trade bill in the Florida House by saying it was an attempt to protect the state from future federal regulations.
Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked Rubio about the issue at a Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 28, 2016. Baier said Rubio had "wanted Florida to get ahead of other states and establish a cap-and-trade system" while he was House speaker in 2008, and asked why Rubio had changed his mind.
Rubio denied he backed a popular plan supported by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, claiming he was looking to insulate Florida from restrictions a future president might impose.
"I have never supported cap and trade, and I never thought it was a good idea, and I was clear about that at the time," Rubio said.
Rubio has been very outspoken during this campaign about his opposition to cap and trade, which lets businesses trade pollution credits if they don't meet emission caps. But is his retelling of what happened in 2008 accurate?
Cap and trade mission
We literally went to the tape to find out, because the key evidence in this claim is a snippet from a March 13, 2008, appearance Rubio made on WFSU’s Florida Face to Face.
Rubio was discussing HB 7135, an energy and climate change bill championed by Crist that included the Florida Climate Protection Act. That part of the law allowed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to formulate a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse emissions from electric utilities.
"Florida should position itself for what I believe is inevitable, and that is a federal cap-and-trade program. Florida should do everything it can to be an early complier so it can access early compliance funds and so that it can help influence what that cap-and-trade looks like at the federal level," Rubio said on the show, which ran during the legislative session. "And so I’m in favor of giving the Department of Environmental Protection a mandate that they go out and design a cap-and-trade or a carbon-tax program and bring it back to the Legislature for ratification some time in the next two years."
Crist used a portion of this clip during his 2010 Senate primary campaign against Rubio in an attempt to show Rubio favored a cap-and-trade program. WFSU, which operates The Florida Channel covering state government, demanded Crist stop using footage of the show because of a law barring use of its footage in political campaigns.
This limited portion of the show has been resurrected online during the presidential primary, leading some conservative sites to question Rubio’s stance on the issue.
But wait, as they say, there’s more. Rubio’s campaign had complained the clip was out of context, and it appears it really was. They have pointed to a longer edit of the footage that shows Rubio going on to say:
"I’m in favor of them designing it. I’m not in favor of them designing it and implementing it. I’m in favor of them designing it and then bringing it back to the Legislature. The way we’re going toclean up our environment, the way we’re going to lower carbon emissions, is not through government mandates."
That certainly changes the context of his statement. Rubio’s campaign did not respond to PolitiFact’s questions about his potential support of cap and trade, but they have addressed this issue before.
In 2007, Rubio wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald that said Crist should be applauded for his efforts, but "the government mandates he has proposed will not only fail to achieve their desired result, they carry actual negative consequences."
Rubio did cite proposals from his book 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future to increase ethanol production, develop bio-fuels and provide tax incentives for better fuel efficiency. But he concluded that "instead of adopting measures that will have little if any impact on our environment and make life in Florida more expensive, we need a strategy that encourages environmental conservation, fuel efficiency and energy diversity, while continuing to stimulate our economy."
Rubio also said in a March 2007 speech that Florida was ripe to change energy policy because it was both environmentally sound and potentially lucrative.
"This nation, and ultimately the world, is headed towards emission caps and energy diversification," he said. "Those changes will require technological advances that make those measures cost effective. The demand toward such advances will create an industry to meet it. Florida should become the Silicon Valley of that industry."
Rubio did seem to change his tune a bit by 2009, when he was being criticized for his full-throated opposition of cap and trade after presiding over the passage of HB 7135. Environmentalists and scientists noted Rubio had shepherded the entire process as House speaker.
"The legislation was passed to move forward on cap-and-trade policy, and certainly Marco Rubio didn't stand in the way of that legislation passing and my understanding was that he was supportive of the process," John Reilly, a leading climate change expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired by Rubio to advise lawmakers, told the Miami Herald. "He certainly seemed to accept the science of climate change."
Rubio argued then that he wanted to take executive authority away from Crist, although the DEP countered they would have always needed legislative approval. Cap and trade planning fell by the wayside as Crist waged a losing Senate primary battle against Rubio.
"It has worked out as it was designed to work out, which was to stop a cap-and-trade system in Florida," Rubio said in 2009. Some critics at the time doubted that was Rubio's true plan, as it was a big gamble that the Legislature would shut down any proposed DEP cap and trade proposal.
But a 2015 article in the National Journal said that while the bill passed (and it passed the House and Senate unanimously), Rubio did add wording that prevented the plan from being implemented. The final bill indeed only allowed DEP to develop a potential plan, and required legislative approval to become practice.
The National Journal quoted former House minority leader and state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who said, "I fully credit him with the gutting of the bill."
Rubio said, "I have never supported cap and trade."
As House speaker in Florida, Rubio did preside over the unanimous passage of an energy bill that allowed the state to develop a cap-and-trade plan for electric utility emissions. But it appears his comments on the bill have been taken out of context, and that there may have been some legislative craftiness afoot.
Rubio said he wanted Florida to cook up a plan of its own before federal regulations were imposed on the state. He also voiced opposition to government mandates and inserted a roadblock to letting any plan actually be implemented, details that get left out when Rubio is accused of supporting the measure.
He now is much more vocal in his opposition of cap and trade, but it looks as if he has always favored a largely hands-off approach from government. We rate Rubio’s statement Mostly True.