Ayotte: Energy a priority

  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte at the Monitor editorial board Friday. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Monday, October 17, 2016

Democrats accuse Kelly Ayotte of embracing environmental issues for political gain this election cycle, but the Republican U.S. senator says expanding renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency are among her priorities.

“I would like to be in a position to drive more bipartisan discussion around how we protect our environment,” Ayotte said in a recent interview with the Monitor editorial board.

Ayotte is locked in a competitive re-election campaign against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Recent polls show the race statistically tied, and the contest could determine party control of the U.S. Senate.

Ayotte has made conservation key to her campaign. While she opposes a carbon tax, Ayotte was the first Republican in the U.S. Senate to publicly back the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce fossil fuel emissions. The Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030, but it faces intense opposition from Republicans and states reliant on coal.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote a letter to Hassan and other state governors urging them to defy the EPA plan last year.

Ayotte didn’t specifically say how she would shore up support for the Clean Power Plan among her party. But she said she hopes to “build on” an energy and environmental Republican working group she established in Congress. “This is an issue that should be a strong bipartisan issue,” she said.

Ayotte said she supports energy efficiency and further research into renewables, like solar power storage. Ayotte believes in an “all of the above” energy approach, she said, which relies on renewable energy and on fossil fuels. Ayotte, along with most Senate Republicans, supported the Keystone XL pipeline, which was rejected by President Obama in 2015.

Democrats have hit Ayotte for two votes she took at the start of her six-year term to maintain tax breaks for the country’s five major oil companies.

But Ayotte refuted the attack, calling it “cherry picking” her vote record. The Republican said she has supported bills to eliminate all energy subsidies that would make “the tax code even-handed.” Currently, the federal government gives various subsidies for energy sources ranging from oil and gas to wind.

Ayotte’s grade from the liberal-leaning League of Conservation Voters has been on the rise since she took office in 2010. The organization scores lawmakers’ votes on bills that deal with climate change, “dirty energy” and water, among others. It gave Ayotte a 56 percent last year, up from her zero percent score in 2014 and 31 percent in 2013.

On Social Security, Ayotte said she supports a “bipartisan” solution that maintains benefits for the retired and preserves the program for generations to come. Ayotte is open to so-called means-testing, or reducing benefits to high-income participants, but said she doesn’t have any specific numbers in mind.

The Republican serves on the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees. She supports the establishment of a so-called safe zone in Syria meant to protect residents from the ongoing civil war. But she said the step would require increased involvement from NATO.

Ayotte continues to stand by her decision to not hold hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. She has said voters should “weigh in” on the decision by picking the next president.

Ayotte didn’t answer directly whether she wants to see the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion overturned, but did say she is anti-abortion rights.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)