Where Gov. Johnson Stands on Energy

Chris Carnevale | September 18, 2012 | Elections, Energy Policy

This blog is the fourth in a series of blogs examining the energy positions of Presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.  SACE staff Simon Mahan and Jennifer Rennicks contributed to this post. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.

Gary Johnson Headshot
Courtesy Politico

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party and will be on the ballot in at least 47 states plus D.C.. In this blog series, we’re looking at how the presidential candidates stand on energy issues.  We see with Gary Johnson that his energy policy is informed by his libertarian political philosophy–that he would like to reduce the federal government’s involvement in the energy sector and let the free market determine which energy sources the United States uses.  Similarly, the Libertarian Party’s platform does not mention any specific type of energy – neither oil, gas, nuclear, coal, renewables nor energy efficiency are named in the official platform document.

That said, we can try to get a rough sense of Governor Johnson’s energy priorities with this word cloud, generated from the energy & environment webpage on his campaign website:

Word Cloud of Gary Johnson Energy & Environment

You can see through this word cloud that he, like his party, does not mention specific energy sources such as coal, nuclear, wind, or solar, but there is large emphasis on more political language such as “government,” “regulation,” and “property.”  So let’s look at where he stands on specifics:

Oil, Gas, Coal (Fossil Fuels)

Gary Johnson, and the Libertarian Party, supports the use of fossil fuels, presumably because they would be supported by the free market.  While Johnson has expressed concern about pollution from fossil fuel combustion, he has also said that he would not want the United States to “turn their back” on these traditional fuels.  Late last year he said “I’m going to keep an open mind on fracking,” while reserving skepticism about its safety in relation to groundwater contamination.  Governor Johnson says that individuals’ property rights trump companies’ rights to mountaintop removal coal mining, but he thinks that the current regulatory regime is already adequately dealing with the issue.

Governor Johnson believes that “the best government is the government that rules the least” but that it is the responsibility of the government to intervene when harm is inflicted by one party to another.  He has explicitly stated that the government has a role to protect Americans against businesses that would harm human health or property, including environmental harm.  He has expressed support for the Environmental Protection Agency, but has also stated that some of the EPA’s regulations are overbearing.


Johnson has gone on the record as supporting nuclear power.  He acknowledges that new nuclear facilities are not likely to be built under a true free market model as private underwriters will not cover nuclear plants’ liabilities, but–contrary to libertarian principles–would consider letting the federal government cover the role as underwriter.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Johnson seems to support renewable energy so long as the government does not play a special role in supporting its development.  He is not opposed to renewable energy in theory, but seems to envision further technological innovation as the only driver of renewable energy deployment, rather than through policy mechanisms. In one virtual town hall meeting, Governor Johnson said that renewable energy could account for as much as 15% of the United States fuel mix in fifteen years, but that recent technological innovation does not indicate that number will be reached.

Johnson is supportive of energy efficiency so long as it is privately paid for, saying “the beauty of energy efficiency is that it needs no directive from a government central planner, because energy efficiency is cost efficiency, and Americans already have an incentive to cut costs.”

Photo of Gary Johnson on the Ride For Freedom
Gary Johnson has integrated bike races as part of his campaign strategy. Unfortunately, his love for the sport doesn't seem to translate to clean transportation policy. Courtesy John Poltrack.

Clean Transportation

Gary Johnson has stated that he does not support federal funding for mass transit.  Governor Johnson is an avid cyclist, but does not seem to have extended his love for the sport into the policy arena.

Climate Change & Carbon Pollution

Gary Johnson has stated “I accept the fact that there is global warming and I accept the fact that it’s man caused,” but that its effects “are grossly exaggerated.”  As a solution to climate change, Johnson does not support cap and trade or a carbon tax.  Instead, he favors creating a business environment conducive to entrepreneurship that will enable technological development to address greenhouse gas emissions.


Gary Johnson’s stance on energy and climate is mostly in line with the Libertarian Party platform’s statement that the “government should not be subsidizing any particular form of energy,” with the odd and contradictory exception of his support for taxpayers to underwrite nuclear construction.  Johnson opposes subsidizing energy and supports cost benefit analyses for energy regulation. Similar to Green Party candidate Jill Stein, his energy plan is filled with overarching themes instead of specific policy prescriptions. For more on Gary Johnson’s energy platform, visit his website at www.GaryJohnson2012.com.

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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