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Transcript: Bill Moyers Interviews Philip Clapp
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Philip Clapp


MOYERS: Brutal is one word for it. Lucrative another. For one more reminder of how Washington works, consider this. No sooner had the EPA signed off on the lower standards for air pollution promised to industry by the President, than the Chief of Staff of the key EPA division involved, John Pemberton, resigned to become a lobbyist for, I'm not making this up, the Southern Company, the big coal-fired utility that led the campaign to relax the rules.

Philip Clapp runs the National Environmental Trust, a non-profit public interest group that tracks environmental issues in Washington. The trust is supported by grants from individual members and from charitable foundations including in 1996 one grant from the Schumann Foundation that I headed. Welcome to NOW.

Why do you think the White House did not want us, those of us who live in New York, to know the environmental threats that had been released by the World Trade Center tragedy?

CLAPP: It's very simple. The White House had one priority after September 11th and that was get the entire financial district up and operating. Get Wall Street going again. And the data on air pollution and the dangers was much less important to them than it was to make that happen. So they were willing to tell the EPA, "misinform the citizens of New York. Expose them to risks for the benefit of Wall Street firms and law firms."

MOYERS: But getting the financial district back, given its seminal influence on the economy of this country, wasn't that a justified priority?

CLAPP: No question about it. I mean, clearly that was an important economic issue that came out of September 11th. But they did it by lying to the people of New York. And by lying to the very people that were going back to work in those firms.

MOYERS: Lying is a very strong word.

CLAPP: I don't know what else you call it. Christie Whitman went out there and said, "The air is safe." At best, the agency didn't have the data. At worst, it had indications that the data was totally the reverse. There are now independent studies that show that the site was actually operating as an uncontrolled chemical factory all the way through December of 2001 exposing all the people who went back into that area to things like bits of small, breathable glass.

MOYERS: You've been in Washington so long, 30 years, that you've seen the system and you understand the language of the system.

Let me ask you what's at stake here. Are we just talking about inside the beltway politics?

CLAPP: No, what is really at stake here is 30 years of environmental protection actually that they're backing up on. And number two, the ability of the American people even to trust their government on the most fundamental issues of personal safety.

I've been working in the field for 30 years. I first went to work on Capitol Hill in the '70s working on environment and energy issues. I worked all through the Reagan Administration on Capitol Hill doing these issues. And I have never seen an administration so politicize agencies. Muzzle scientists, skew data and, frankly, lie to the American public about critical public health issues.

MOYERS: Now, as an environmentalist you have a bias when you look at the situation, right?

CLAPP: I have a bias in the sense that I believe in strong environmental protection. But I've also been around the data and the information long enough to know what's real data and what's spin. In reality, this administration has gone further than any other and I include the Reagan Administration in this. In naming the foxes to guard the henhouse.

MOYERS: Is that what you mean when you say you've never in 30 years seen it the way it is now?

CLAPP: That is exactly what I mean. The person who is the supervisor of the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture was the chief lobbyist for the timber industry. The Deputy Secretary of the Interior was a chief lobbyist for the coal industry. And millions and millions of tons of coal mined in the United States comes off of the federal lands that he regulates. You go across the board and that's the case.

MOYERS: The Chief of Staff at the White House now was at one time the chief lobbyist for the automobile industry in Washington.

CLAPP: That's one of the reasons that the President opposed any significant increases in fuel efficiency standards even though these are the… that's the only energy efficiency measure which will either cut our dependence on foreign oil or protect consumers from spikes in gasoline prices. He did it for one reason, because of his closeness to the auto industry and because of officials in his administration that work for the industry.

And you find this throughout the Bush Administration. I mean, the oil industry is one perfect example. We have an energy bill which is 70 percent fossil fuel and oil and gas industry subsidies. We have a President and a Vice President from the oil industry. And we even have a National Security Advisor who had the Condoleezza Rice, an oil tanker, named after her.

MOYERS: But I would think that Andrew Card, the Chief of Staff at the White House and all those people you just mentioned would say, "But you know when Bill Clinton was in office he put environmentalists in control of everything. It's time for us to have a different perspective.

CLAPP: Well, you know, in reality, no administration has ever put just environmentalists in control of anything. And I, for one, and many in the environmental community felt that the Clinton Administration made a lot of promises on the environment on issues like global warming that they never followed through on. So it wasn't any sort of serious question that the environmental community had taken over the Clinton Administration.

MOYERS: And yet the President insists that he is a friend of the environment. He had five environmental events in the last week and he has two more coming up very quickly. He says that he's a friend of the environment.

CLAPP: I think that's more a recognition that the environment is a critically important issue to him in 2004. And the public's rating of his performance on the environment is very low. There was a very interesting memo that was put together by Republican pollster, Frank Luntz which is quite famous in Washington now because it advises those who are opposed to environmental protections on how to talk about the environment and make it seem like they are environmentalists. The President uses the words and the spin from that memo all the time. Frank Luntz advised the administration to say, "Instead of global warming, which is actually very frightening to people, call it climate change which sounds like a natural process."

He said, "Use the words common sense. That's always very soothing to people." "Talk about we need a balanced policy." All of those words are designed to be extremely soothing. They're like sleep teaching and they just are the total opposite, the mirror image of what the real administration policies are.

MOYERS: Here's something that I truly don't understand. Tony Blair has just announced that his government will reduce emissions by 60 percent over the next 30 years. That the Russian government has said it's going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. President Bush insists on going it alone. What are the consequences if he continues on that course?

MOYERS: Internationally there are huge consequences. I don't think the President has any idea how important these issues are to our allies and to developing countries around the world. I actually saw Secretary Powell booed at last year's environmental summit in Johannesburg because the United States would not recognize the necessity to move on global warming. This is a serious international and foreign relations issue.

Let's just start with global warming. We're seeing a situation where Europe's weather is already changing. And we're going to see massive impacts ranging from flooding to the kind of droughts and deaths we saw this year. That's what is predicted that global warming will start doing all over the world. So there are very serious physical consequences to people and consequences to our international relations and our relations with our allies.

MOYERS: Aren't there businesses that actually want us to tackle global warming?

CLAPP: No question about it. Any industry has its spectrum of viewpoints. Companies that are really progressive and really recognize issues and want to deal with them. And others that want to stick their head in the sand. In this case, you have many, many companies ranging from Shell Oil, the second largest oil company in the United States, BP Amoco, all of whom are working actively to reduce their emissions, who support putting in place programs now to start getting all companies to reduce their emissions.

But there are a few companies like Southern Company in the utility industry some companies in the coal industry, Exxon-Mobil that for the moment just want to stick their head in the sand. And those are the ones that, frankly, are closest with the Bush Administration. The President is listening to a very tiny segment of the right-wing of American business in each one of the affected industries. He is not listening broadly to what American business wants. To give you one example, the Kyoto Protocol was both a set of targets and a process for coming up with future targets and mechanisms for reducing global warming pollution.

The process was actually won by the Clinton Administration at Kyoto and it was what the American business community wanted. A flexible trading system so that at low cost, you could reduce CO2 emissions. It was entirely the proposal of the U.S. business community and it's in the Kyoto Protocol. He, however, walks away and rejects the entire protocol, the entire effort on the behalf of a few companies in the coal industry, one big company in the oil industry, a few big utilities.

MOYERS: Let's talk about the energy bill that is right now in conference in Congress between the House and the Senate and seems certain to come out and go to the President before long. What's your opinion of that energy bill?

CLAPP: There was a book that many of us used to get assigned to read in high school. It was called LOOKING BACKWARD by Edward Bellamy. That's what it is. Looking backward. It was an energy policy that was tried in 1970. It's failed again.

This bill is nothing but a very large set of subsidies for more oil and gas tax breaks. $33 billion over ten years and I would point out…

MOYERS: Which means?

CLAPP: Which means money out of the taxpayers' pockets. Actually it means borrowed money out of our children's and grandchildren's pockets to pay for further oil and gas industry tax breaks. Now…

MOYERS: But we do need more energy.

CLAPP: No question about it. But we already know that the solution is not just try to put the pedal to the metal here at home and produce. The United States has only three percent of identified world oil reserves. Saudi Arabia has 65 percent. No matter how much we produce at home, we're at best going to stay flat in our oil production. The issue is moving forward to diversify our energy resources. Moving to things that are already economic ranging from wind energy to solar energy as other countries in Europe and Japan are already doing.

MOYERS: Would you concede that the President and corporations have something going for them when they say, you know, we can't any longer do what we have to do with command, control from the top down regulations. We need private/public partnerships.

CLAPP: We've always had private/public partnerships. But the other side of the coin is that major industries do not clean up and make millions of dollars of investments that it takes to clean up pollution often unless they're told to. Let me give you one example: the auto industry.

I like to call it America's can't-do industry. Because they have fought every major step forward in auto safety, air pollution, energy efficiency for 30 years.

In 1975 after the first oil crisis, Congress passed auto efficiency standards. The auto industry said, "We can't meet them. Thousands of workers will be thrown out of business. Industries will go under because of it." And in reality they used available technology and doubled the fuel efficiency of American cars when they were required to between then and 1988. So there's a lot of can-do. But there's a lot more "don't touch my bottom line."

MOYERS: When the President was at that coal plant on Lake Erie a few days ago he said this, a direct quote, "The rules created too many hurdles and that hurts the working people."

CLAPP: That's absolutely false. We've had massive job creation in the United States through the entire 30 years of modern environmental protection. Most recently actually when we were moving forward on a number of environmental issues in the 1990s and we created record numbers of jobs.

So, there is no cost in jobs to protecting the environment. As a matter of fact protecting the environment creates whole new industries in environmental protection technologies that create jobs.

MOYERS: Do you really think that grip on that system can be broken?

CLAPP: In the long run I think it will be broken and it's gonna be broken by events. One is oil cut-offs from the Middle East and frankly our relationships with oil-producing nations are going down, not up. And number two, we're looking at volatility in energy prices that American consumers are gonna be increasingly less tolerant of. And eventually…

MOYERS: What do you mean by that?

CLAPP: Well, I mean, we've seen two big run ups — actually three in the last year — run ups in gasoline prices. And, you know, nothing makes consumers squawk to their members of Congress louder than paying $2 and more per gallon at the pump. Or in the Midwest paying higher and higher prices for natural gas in heating.

Those are very big issues. And that eventually is gonna break the back of the control of the energy industry on the Congress because they are gonna have to move at some point. The question is how big a crisis is it gonna take?

MOYERS: If people want to know more about your work and the National Environmental Trust what do they do?

CLAPP: They can go to our Web site which is

MOYERS: Philip Clapp, thank you for being with us on NOW.

CLAPP: Thank you, Bill.

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