Where the 2016 Candidates Stand on Energy Issues: Gary Johnson

Chris Carnevale | September 9, 2016 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

This post is the fourth in a series of blogs examining where 2016 candidates for President stand on key energy and climate issues.  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.

This post has been updated since its original publication (see bottom of article).

Former Republican New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party and is on the ballot in 46 states (plus D.C.), but is still seeking access to the remaining 4. Gov. Johnson and the Libertarian Party more generally espouse limited regulation, little government spending, individual responsibility, and strong private property rights. His positions on energy and climate, therefore–and those of the Party–reflect this political philosophy and generally sidestep answering “what” their energy and climate policies are, in favor of “how” to go about setting such policies.

Energy and climate do not play largely in Gov. Johnson’s agenda, so for more information on where a potential Johnson administration would stand on energy and climate, we can look to the 2016 Libertarian Party platform. In the Party platform’s section on energy and resources, it is stated that government should not subsidize any forms of energy. In the section on environmental protection, there are no specifics, but a general idea is expressed that environmental protection should be achieved via the enforcement of individual property rights through litigation claiming damages. Also of note, is the Party’s position on eminent domain; in the  Property and Contract section, the Party platform says that eminent domain is an abridgement to the fundamental right to private property, which could affect gas pipeline projects seeking to use eminent domain.

Gov. Johnson has been more forthcoming about his stances on climate change. According to his campaign website’s “On the Issues: Environment” webpage, he says that climate change is “probably” happening and that mankind is “probably” contributing to it. The page claims that “Governors Johnson and Weld strongly believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda.” There is no mention on the page of what specific regulations the Libertarian ticket would pursue, but they do say that they intend to protect the environment by “Promot[ing] Competition” and  “Incentiviz[ing] Innovation.” However, in other settings such as campaign events and media interviews, Gov. Johnson has spoken more strongly about the problem of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. For example, in recent interviews with the LA Times and the Juneau Empire, Gov. Johnson said, that climate change is occurring and it is man-caused. He prefers that market forces–rather than government regulation–penalize pollution, pointing to how cheap natural gas has displaced coal-fired power generation. For a brief matter of a few days, he advocated for a revenue-neutral carbon fee in lieu of current greenhouse gas regulation, so long as it didn’t impede job growth and was done as part of an international strategy to reduce global emissions. However, he has since reversed course and disavowed such a carbon fee or tax.

With little else material from the 2016 campaign cycle on his positions on energy and climate, for more information, let’s look back at some of his positions from his 2012 run for president on the Libertarian Party ticket. The information below comes from SACE’s 2012 blog post, “Where Gov. Johnson Stands on Energy.”

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 [2016 update: On the issue of fracking, Gov. Johnson supports the idea of fracking, but believes it needs to be more tightly regulated, according to a statement his campaign gave to ISideWith.com]. 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.”

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.

SACE encourages voters to conduct their own research regarding the presidential election. We’ve written blogs on the other major candidates, and those blogs are available here. We also encourage voters to not forget about the other federal, state and local elections occurring this fall – just do your research!

Update: Since the initial publication of this blog, a relevant quote was reported. Governor Johnson stated the following at an August 2011 National Press Club luncheon. It is unclear if and to what degree his opinions have changed since 2011:

“Well, climate change — I think the world is getting warmer. I think that it’s man-caused. That said, should we be engaged in cap and trade taxation? No. I don’t think that we should. We should lend certainty to the energy field. We should be building new coal-fired plants. When you look at the amount of money that we’re looking to spend on global warming, in the trillions, and look at the result, I just argue that the result is completely inconsequential to the money that we would end up spending, and that we could direct those monies in other ways that would be much more beneficial to mankind.

We have a long-term view. Should we take the long-term view when it comes to global warming? I think that we should. And the long-term view is that in billions of years, the sun is going to actually grow and encompass the Earth, right. So global warming is in our future.”

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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