TOPICS > Science

Environmental Reversal

March 14, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: We get more on the Bush reversal from Debbie Reed, director of legislative affairs for the National Environmental Trust — they supported limits on carbon dioxide emissions; and Chris Horner, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposes such limits. So, Debbie Reed, what is the significance of the president’s decision to reverse himself on this?

DEBBIE REED: Well, Gwen, I think it’s very significant; the president campaigned on a commitment to bring integrity to the White House but what good is his word now? This was the most significant environmental commitment made under the campaign, and the president walked away from it in exactly 53 days. I think it’s very unfortunate that he has brought into question not only his integrity on environmental issues but his lead on EPA — Christie Todd Whitman on this. Christie Todd Whitman has been a forceful proponent of protecting the president on this, and leading up on his promise to support a four-key agenda and unfortunately, while she was out front on this, the president sawed off the limb from underneath her. I think it’s very unfortunate.

GWEN IFILL: Were you really surprised?

DEBBIE REED: Yes, actually, we were very surprised; the president had this in his campaign commitment — and we’ve been hearing all the right signals from both him and from Christie Todd Whitman on this. And I think it’s very unfortunate that they have caved to special interests on this in just a matter of weeks.

GWEN IFILL: Chris Horner, what do you think is the significance of it?

CHRIS HORNER: Well, I think it’s very significant that we have an administration and particularly a president who can admit when they made a mistake. And that was clear. This was not a decision that was fully vetted. Many people — I have no doubt — voted on the president’s promise to restore or bring to the country a viable coherent rationale energy policy, which has been lacking. Many people voted on that. But the one incoherent — one incongruous point within that for those observing it and really paying attention to it and voting on these issues was the proposal to cap the emissions from energy consumption. Now, it seemed to me that the most visible and most significant environmental promise was ANWR, opening up ANWR, exploring domestic —

GWEN IFILL: The Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

CHRIS HORNER: Correct — to explore domestic energy resources to make energy more abundant, more available, therefore, more affordable. And what you cannot do — speaking of cutting a limb off — you cannot have a viable energy policy…. make energy more available and therefore, more exploited, more used by saying… however we’re going to cap any emissions there from and tax it out of use.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s back up for a moment. Why is it important that there be no limits on carbon dioxide emissions? Why is that good?

CHRIS HORNER: Well, I think the question should be particularly from the government’s perspective, why is it important to limit carbon dioxide; the report accurately pointed out that we’re all polluting right now if it’s a pollutant, which it isn’t. And, in fact, the plants are very thankful that we are. It’s a naturally occurring gas, the most abundant naturally occurring gas, but it is also the bogeyman of many among the left of the environmentalists who are in many cases energy suppression groups because energy use requires development and facilitates road construction, which brings cars, suburban living, and population growth. And that’s really at the root of many of these groups. So, the way you get at that is to cap the logical, or the most abundant product. This isn’t a by-product or a pollutant like sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide. This is the product of oxidizing carbon-based fuels, carbon dioxide; it’s what you get.

GWEN IFILL: Debbie Reed, the president says that it will cost too much money, it would take money out of energy payers pockets in order to put these caps in place.

DEBBIE REED: Oh, Gwen, I’m afraid that’s a false choice that’s being set up. What the president and the administration is talking about is a 1950s energy policy that is further based on fossil fuel. Unfortunately, I think what we really need is a balanced approach to energy. This is the 21st century; we do have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels if we are ever to reach energy independence. And this is not the way to go about it. And frankly natural gas prices — there has been no change in natural gas prices between September 29 and March 13. The president knew that what he made this campaign commitment.

CHRIS HORNER: But it was the Department of Energy then, and we know that history — this was a report requested a long time ago, and Henry Waxman, a congressman from California suppressed it had after the election. DOE said — this nonpartisan energy information agency – said – the administration — this would cost $115 billion — up to that — a year and mostly falling on the poor and the seniors. So the price didn’t go up but it has since and it certainly would.

DEBBIE REED: No; to be correct, Chris, this report that the president referred to in backing up his reversal on this issue was a report done by EAA and requested by Mr. McIntosh — the most verbal opponent of the Kyoto Protocol, as a matter of fact.

GWEN IFILL: Congressman from Indiana.

DEBBIE REED: That’s right and, you know, there have been multiple studies done at the same time that this study came out that had very different results; and one study done by the Department of Energy as a matter of fact — that shows you can, in fact, use a very different energy mix and result in savings to the consumer in the same time frame.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about studies. Today the science journal Nature came out with a new report saying again that, in fact, greenhouse gases are being emitted and causing global warming. Do you take issue with the whole notion that carbon dioxide plays a role in global warming?

CHRIS HORNER: The greenhouse effect is something that no has ever disputed that exists. It distinguishes us, for example, from Mars. It’s something we’re thankful for. We need to maintain the radiation. The question is whether man’s activities or carbon dioxide is the weakest but most prevalent greenhouse gas — causes catastrophic global warming, and that’s the theory, and it’s a weakening theory. Now, we heard for years you must act now. And the reason is the more you look at it, the weaker it gets; Nature also in the past three months reported — I don’t recall which study particularly, it might have been the NASA, Richard Lindzen out of MIT study, that said the opposite. This theory that the models don’t include clouds properly and they’re wrong. We’re not observing warming; we’re predicting it. Every month and year that passes that the models predict warming that doesn’t occur, it leaves people scratching their heads and leaves others very angry.

GWEN IFILL: So, open to debate. We just heard Christie Todd Whitman actually say it’s not open to debate.

DEBBIE REED: It’s not open to debate. You know, I followed this issue for many, many years both from the Senate and from the White House Climate Change Task Force. The National Academy of Sciences just came out with a study saying global warming is happening, it’s happening at a faster rate than we previously thought. We are seeing warming now. An international body of scientists – experts on this area — came out with their third report just recently saying global warming is happening; it’s real; it’s happening at a rapid rate than we previously thought.

GWEN IFILL: But who’s to say placing limits on carbon dioxide emissions – admittedly only part of that problem would begin to stop that — assuming that global warming is a real problem?

DEBBIE REED: Carbon is the most intense greenhouse gas that’s responsible for global warming pollution. That is the issue that the UN is working towards under the UN Framework on Climate Change. President Bush himself said global warming is the most important environmental issue facing us. We’ve all acknowledged carbon is the major gas behind this, and that is why the president had this policy in his campaign commitment.

GWEN IFILL: Is that too expensive a tradeoff?

CHRIS HORNER: Well, yes, I think a trillion or trillions of dollars solution to what is still a theory of a possible billion dollar problem is not wise. The precautionary principle, which says let’s prove something is safe before we use it, let’s apply the precautionary principle to this treaty. Because all economists, except for the Clinton/Gore White House — these were progressive, liberal, and conservative economists — were saying econometric forecasting says this thing is an economic disaster and the theory is still that. This science doesn’t settle like that. This IPCC, this UN science doesn’t say that. The lead authors have come out recently swinging, saying there is a summary for policy makers – 18 pages. Gee, that’s what everybody reads. But it doesn’t accurately reflect the science. And the National Academy of Sciences said there is surface warming, which is going to happen when you put a lot of asphalt on the surface. But the atmosphere, which under the theory warms first, isn’t warming. The theory isn’t proven or even close to it.

GWEN IFILL: Explain to us how these things change. We heard just now in Spencer Michels’ piece President Bush say only a few months ago it worked in Texas; it can work nationally. What did happen, what does your group do, what does your group do to talk to the White House to try to change this?

DEBBIE REED: We were just at the White House yesterday talking to them about this and they were assuring us they had a commitment to follow through on this and that they would hope we could work together on it. I think that’s why the environmental community is dismayed; at the same time we were talking to them they were putting out a very different message on this, and that because of special interests, because of some right wing Republican senators, and coal and mining interests, they have completely backed off from this commitment.

CHRIS HORNER: That has nothing to do with that. In Texas they didn’t regulate CO2. The president misspoke there; CO2 is not regulated anywhere. Even some of our more extreme European allies have not dared this. Al Gore thought about it and said I’d better wait until I’m elected. What changed —

GWEN IFILL: Al Gore actually asked for a voluntary —

CHRIS HORNER: Exactly. This was a mistake. It was not fully vetted. Sometimes people misspeak and they miswrite. And I’m very proud of the president for showing the leadership. It wasn’t big business. I’ve been involved in this for years too; big business actually — there’s large utilities and large gas companies pushing this — and the president stood up to them. And that is the story that needs to be covered.

GWEN IFILL: Did the Treasury secretary also misspeak?

CHRIS HORNER: The Treasury secretary actually is — while this isn’t his discipline; his training is not in this. But he does believe it. Believing something very strongly or caring about something does not make it true. So he didn’t misspeak, but again, he is to focus on economic policy and I think this needs to be moved to the hands of scientists. The president did the right thing.

GWEN IFILL: What happens to your relationship with this White House and especially with the EPA administrator, Whitman?

DEBBIE REED: Well, unfortunately, as I indicated, I think the EPA administrator’s credibility has been undermined by President Bush. And I think we are questioning the credibility of the White House on this issue and all of the other environmental issues. But I still hope that there is time for them to rethink this. You know, utilities, the utility sector — a lot of the utility sector supports taking action on this. The reason is they want flexibility, and they want some certainty in their future. We actually really need to take action on this now. I think there is a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen that recognize this.

GWEN IFILL: Very quickly.

CHRIS HORNER: Non-political scientists are saying we have got 50 years at least to look at this before we have to take action. So the idea that we have to act now is really just so we can secure some gains; it is not for any scientific reason.

GWEN IFILL: Chris Horner, Debbie Reed, thank you both for joining us.