Why Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush Have (Basically) the Same Energy Plan

Republican divisions on immigration and other issues have not spilled into energy policy, despite differences on climate change.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz addresses the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Florida on Friday. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Jeb Bush wants a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. Ted Cruz is making a campaign out of calling that “amnesty.” Bush wants to cut income taxes and reduce the number of brackets. Cruz wants a flat tax and to end the IRS “as we know it.”

And Bush believes that, at least to some degree, human activity is contributing climate change. Ted Cruz thinks human-made climate change is a joke.

Early last year, he talked about it at the conservative Heritage Foundation, when he primed the crowd at his energy policy speech with a joke about global warming. “I just got off a plane coming in from Texas,” he said. “I’ve got to tell you, yesterday it was 70 degrees back in Houston. I took my girls out to the park. I get out here and it is freezing. I mean, it is really cold. I have to admit I was surprised.”

The punch line: “Al Gore told us this wouldn’t happen.”

But for all their differences—both in their degree of conservatism and their view on climate science—what they say they would actually do in the White House on energy issues is nearly identical.

Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas, has not laid out an energy platform (his campaign says that one will arrive at some point), but there’s no mystery about what he wants. After his climate crack at the Heritage Foundation, he outlined plans that formed the basis of wide-ranging bills Cruz would introduce in March of 2014 and reintroduce a year later.

The highlights: End drilling limits on federal lands and waters by opening up areas like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Atlantic Coast; end the ban on crude-oil exports, and expedite approval of gas and coal exports; approve the Keystone XL pipeline; thwart Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases; and thwart Interior Department regulation of fracking on federal lands.

That’s awfully similar to what Bush and some others want. Consider the energy plans of three hopefuls with detailed platforms: Bush, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio. They sound a lot like Cruz’s plan: allowing much wider drilling, exporting crude oil, approving Keystone XL, generally keeping fossil-fuel regulation at the state level, and killing President Obama’s sweeping rules to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants and Interior Department regulation of fracking, among other regulations.

To be sure, green energy isn’t absent from the plans. Bush, for instance, wants to speed up development of technology breakthroughs by “boosting funding for high-priority basic research and increasing the effectiveness of our national labs.” Kasich has a shout-out to better batteries, efficiency, and “smart” power grids. Rubio says the federal government can help spur innovation and wants to cut “red tape” that prevents companies from accessing Energy Department-backed research.

Bush and several other GOP hopefuls acknowledge—to varying degrees—at least some human influence on the climate, though they generally don’t endorse the dominant scientific view that people are the main driver of warming since the mid-20th century. Others, including Donald Trump, are in the Cruz camp.

But in the main, both the insurgent and establishment Republicans all share a strongly antiregulatory core, even if they differ on whether climate change is real. When it comes to requiring industrial carbon cuts, they end up in the same place.

Cruz is in the hard-right lane of the GOP field, and lately the divisions between the more establishment candidates like Bush and Kasich and the insurgents like Cruz have bubbled up. For instance, Tuesday’s GOP debate had sharp exchanges on immigration and laid bare other differences, such as when Rubio attacked Rand Paul for being “isolationist” while Paul returned fire, asking, “How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures?”

So why, at a time when the Republican candidates are deeply divided on other issues, do they want to do nearly all of the same things on energy?

“Energy is not a big fault line in the party the way immigration is and the way foreign policy could be,” said political analyst Bill Schneider. “All the Republican candidates share a basic philosophy, which is antigovernment or, if you wish, limited government.”

The similarity on these issues compared to the divisions on immigration is understandable.

On immigration, different power centers in the party want very different things. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose members use immigrant labor, supports a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, while large swaths of the GOP base deride citizenship or legal status as undue “amnesty.”

But such divisions between grassroots activists and the business community are muted or absent on energy policy. While there’s some business support for EPA’s climate regulation, a number of powerful business and industry lobbying groups, including the Chamber, are lined up against it.

“There might be some division over the issue of climate change,” says Schneider, a government professor at George Mason University. “[But] what they agree on on the issue of climate change is that they don’t want more government. That’s what holds the Republican Party together.”