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A dozen Republican presidential hopefuls convene in Oklahoma City this weekend to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference where they are likely to discuss a theme that has not been a top issue thus far in the campaign: energy.
The title of the conference is “Energizing America,” an appropriate theme for the state that is one of the largest producers of fossil fuels in the country. With an oil spill off the coast of California, GOP candidates – or likely candidates – are likely to focus their energy remarks on oil and gas production.
In the little that has been said about energy, Republicans have focused on carbon-based energy, including pushing for the completion of the XL Keystone pipeline and expansion of domestic oil production.
But Oklahoma is also the fourth largest producer of wind power in the country and the hopefuls could touch on the issue of renewable energy during the three day conference that starts Thursday. At an agriculture summit in Iowa earlier this year, some leading contenders, including Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, said they supported subsides for wind power for now. But at home in Wisconsin, Walker has set up road blocks to wind power production, prolonging any development by commissioning a study on the health effects of wind power.
Environmentalists will be watching to see what the candidates say about climate change.
“Do they have an explicit plan to tackle climate change? What are you going to do about it?” are the questions the League of Conservation Voters has of any presidential candidate, spokesperson Seth Stein said.
In New Hampshire on Wednesday, Bush denied that climate change is scientifically proven. "It's just convoluted and for the people who say the science is decided on this, it's just really arrogant to be honest with you. It's intellectual arrogance," he said.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are two hopefuls who have said climate change is caused by human activity. Christie, however, won’t be at the conference.
While Oklahoma traditionally doesn’t play a critical role in the presidential election as it’s a solid Republican state and is also not an early primary state thus excluding it from being a major factor in the nominating process. But this year, with so many candidates and the ability of a single donor to extend a candidate’s lifeline in the primary process, Oklahoma could play more of a role. It’s primary is relatively early, on March 1st, on what’s known as “Super Tuesday,” a day where eight other states hold a primary or caucus.
In addition, the audience is expected to be filled with Republicans not only from Oklahoma but from the 13 other southern states that make up the SRLC, giving the candidates an opportunity to reach a wide audience in one swoop.
T. Boone Pickens, and energy baron and Oklahoma native, will play a big role in the conference. He’ll be a speaker but it’s also his birthday, which will be celebrated at a luncheon costing $75.00.
Pickens isn’t really on the market though for the candidates. He’s already pledged his support to Jeb Bush and has donated $100,000 to his super PAC, The New York Times reports. Pickens has a long history with the Bush’s and was most politically active during the 2004 election when President George W. Bush was running in a tight race against Sen. John Kerry. Pickens spent more than $3 million in that race and heavily funded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that smeared Kerry’s military record to great effect.
Pickens' commitment to Bush probably relieves the pressure of other candidates to appeal to Pickens who is at odds on some issues with the more politically active Koch Brothers who candidates are trying to court. Pickens supports government subsidies for energy production while the Kochs, who have a more libertarian outlook, do not.
The candidates could discuss fracking, a popular method of crude oil extraction in Oklahoma and a few other states that have seen huge financial benefits from the oil boom that is also controversial as it has led to a dramatic increase in earthquakes in the state. The Republican-led Oklahoma legislature is so supportive, however, that it is set to pass legislation that prohibits its cities from banning fracking.
While the presidential hopefuls have not said much on the issue of energy so far, most have not missed opportunities to attack the Environmental Protection Agency, which they say has made it more difficult to for traditional energy production.