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Senator Chuck Hagel

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The senior senator from Nebraska, Hagel, a Republican, has served in the Senate since 1996. In 1997, he and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) sponsored a resolution opposing certain provisions of the international climate change protocol then being negotiated in Kyoto, Japan. Here, Hagel discuss that resolution, why he still thinks Kyoto was a bad idea and why he is now convinced that global warming is a serious concern. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted April 5, 2007.

Senator, why do you think that global warming is a national security problem?

Well, global warming, like all environmental issues, affects our energy resources, our energy base, our use of energy. It affects our economy. ... If a nation does not have strong, stable, vibrant economic and energy bases, then it has a weak national security base. So global warming, climate change all affect that, because it is all woven into the same fabric.

And so you want to push the security apparatus in the country to take a look?

Well, I have maintained for many, many years that energy should be a very significant part of our strategic planning and thinking for our national security interests. Up until just a few years ago it really had not been, and still isn't factored in, in many ways. Certainly it has to be factored into our economy.

Look what we're paying for oil these days; I know it depends on what week, but $68 a barrel the week that we're doing this interview. That has an effect on the nation's economy, our national security interests. We need to start paying attention to environmental issues and to science as to how they could affect our national security. ...

Back in 1997, you were a co-sponsor of a nonbinding resolution in the Senate. Did you mean, then, to kill the Kyoto climate treaty, or did you mean to change it?

Well, if you go back to that time when Sen. [Robert] Byrd [D-W. Va.] and I introduced the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, it was to put the Senate on record as to what kind of environmental treaty the Senate would ratify and what kind of an environmental treaty we would not ratify. It's a very simple, straightforward resolution. It says the Senate will not ratify an environmental treaty ... if it does not include all the nations of the world in some way, and second, if it does economic damage ... to our country. Those are the two guidelines.

I don't think that [Kyoto] was in the interest of our country. I don't think it was in the interest of the world.

It was not set out to specifically kill Kyoto. Most of us knew at the time that Kyoto was headed in a different direction. Some of us worked hard to try to maneuver that ... in a way that we could, in the Senate, come to some resolution where we could support it. But this was, I think, in July of 1997; Kyoto was signed in December of 1997. I was there at Kyoto and recall it rather vividly. And then you might recall that after that protocol was signed by Vice President [Al] Gore, of course then-President Clinton never brought it before the Senate, knowing that he would lose. ...

Do you think that Clinton should've brought it to Congress? Do you think there should've been a debate?

Well, that was up to the president, but I thought it was a little disingenuous to try to score political points and go sign the treaty and never bring it before the Senate or even fight for it or even push it on us. ...

Why didn't he do that? Why do you think he didn't come back and make the argument?

Well, I don't know why he didn't come before the Senate to make the argument. I do know that the following year, 1998, Sen. [John] Kerry from Massachusetts attempted to work on some kind of an alternative to Byrd-Hagel that would essentially rescind the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. And I do know that President Clinton worked quietly with a number of Democrats in the Senate to try to enlist their support to find an alternative to Byrd-Hagel.

But there were a number of senior Democrats -- starting with the most senior of the Democrats, Sen. Byrd from West Virginia -- who would not agree to that, as well as others like Sen. [Fritz] Hollings from South Carolina, who was very senior at the time. The president and Sen. Kerry and others just could not find a way to undermine or rescind Byrd-Hagel.

Then-President Clinton knew that he could not bring that treaty before the Senate, because it would suffer a rather humiliating defeat, after we had passed Byrd-Hagel in 1997 with the specific mandates that it addressed. And we had passed it, I believe, with a vote of 95-0.

You did. We spoke to Frank Luntz, pollster and strategist, and he said, "I volunteered to work against Kyoto." And he came up with the phrase "Kyoto is not fair," which was an effective way to talk about it. Did you think at the time that Kyoto was not fair?

I did think it was not fair, because it did not include all the nations of the world. ... Only 30 nations of the world, essentially, were given mandates as to roll back their manmade green[house] gas emissions to some 5 to 7 percent below those 1990 levels. But it did not include nations like China, South Korea or India. Most nations of the world were left out. So how was that fair?

The obligation was all on nations like the United States. Many European nations were essentially held harmless because, for example, the British were using natural gas and discarding coal because of the large natural gas fields of the North Sea. And they were under the 1990 levels, emissions levels, by a significant percent. Many of the nations in Europe, their economies were way down, and so their emissions were way down. It was nations like the United States that really would have been hit hard on this. And so yes, I thought it was unfair.

In Rio, when the first President Bush went, everybody agreed -- it was nonbinding, but it was passed -- that the developing nations would go first, and then China and India would go second. And the argument was, "We put it up there, so we should go first." ... And that seemed to be acceptable as an argument, until Kyoto. And I wondered why you thought that all of a sudden it became so important that we all went together? ...

Well, first of all, I wasn't here in 1992. ... Whether that environmental decision and argument was made for political reasons or not, I would not venture to guess. But I do know ... that the Bush administration was under an awful lot of political pressure to do something about the environment.

Now, that was then, 1992. You roll forward to 1997 based on, to your point, the Rio agreement. China and India and a number of these large developing countries wouldn't even acknowledge in 1997 that they at some later date would sign on. They wouldn't even acknowledge or agree to a voluntary standard. So I'm not sure, when you really look at the language of '92 or the intent of what everyone thought they were agreeing to, was in fact what we saw in 1997.

When a nation like China says, "I won't voluntarily step up with no mandates, nor will I agree to anything in the future; we'll see how our economy works," well, that's asking the United States to take a tremendous leap out into the unknown. I don't think that was in the interest of our country. I don't think it was in the interest of the world.

Do you think it was a lost opportunity, that particular treaty? It sounds like you agree that we have to do something.

I do. In fact, I was asked to give the new Bush administration, in the spring of 2001, a briefing at the White House in the Cabinet Room, on what I thought as to where we go next. ... Secretary [of State Colin] Powell was there. I remember Karl Rove was there. The president was not there. Andy Card, then the chief of staff, was there. The vice president [Dick Cheney], I believe, was there. Most of the Cabinet was there. ...

I suggested at the end of the briefing that what the Bush administration needed to do next was to put an alternative forward; that climate change was nothing new. Climate change had been with the earth since the big bang or whatever theory you believe that we got here. That wasn't new. ... The issue was, is there something going on out there that is directly related to manmade greenhouse gas emissions? Is it directly related to man's behavior and abuse of the earth? And that's what we had to focus on through sound science.

But I said, "I don't think you can walk away from this," because, if for no other reason [than] you have an entire international community that's upset with us; an entire international community that believes that we use most of the Earth's resources and we squander them. ...

I also said I thought it was a sound and wise course of action to lay an alternative out. Let's find out what's going on. Let's use science; let's use technology. Let's invest some money. Let's come up with some initiatives. Let's find some partnerships with developing countries. ...

We need to focus on China and India and other countries in great ways, because we still have some time to have technology impact their future uses of energy. So I said that's where we should be focused, and that's where our partnership should be, and we need to find an alternative. But this administration really never came forward in the next few years with any alternatives.

In March 2001, you write a letter to the White House, and you and three other Republican senators wanted clarification on both where the administration stands on Kyoto and where it stands on CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions. What prompted that letter? Why did you write that?

Well, for exactly the reason we wrote it: a clarification. We wanted to know what was the administration's position. There was talk within this new administration that EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] had the power, through the Clean Air Act, to be able to enforce, in particular, carbon dioxide emissions. We didn't think that the EPA had that power. ...

Did you see Christie Whitman on CNN talking about that?

I don't recall if I saw her or not. I do know that when she was the EPA administrator, some of the issues were coming out of the EPA. That's fair; that was her job.

And she certainly was a supporter of CO2 as an emission and that the EPA should regulate it. And she understood that so did the president.

Well, that's why we wrote the letter.

You didn't think so?

I didn't know. That's not what the president said during the campaign.

Although, if you look at his campaign rhetoric, actually he did say that.

Well, he didn't ever say it that way; they always hedged a little bit on it. And then he said two different things in the campaign of 2000 as well. So we were hearing things out of Vice President Cheney's office, who certainly made it very clear they didn't think that was the case. Then we're hearing things from the EPA administrator. We weren't sure where the president was, so the only way to deal with it is write a letter and get it on the record: "What is your position?" And that's what we did.

[Former Treasury Secretary] Paul O'Neill writes in his [auto]biography [written with Ron Suskind] that the vice president prompted you to write that letter to the president.

That's not true. That's not true.

He had nothing to do with that?

No. I wrote the letter. ... I remember having Secretary O'Neill in my office. I remember talking to him about a number of things. I do remember I was a bit astounded that he wanted to just talk about climate change, not his portfolio, which was the Treasury. And I do remember asking him about that, and he told me that he had an agreement with the president that he would have a say in all matters, which I thought was interesting. ...

In the president's response -- it comes very quickly, like five days later -- he says, "CO2 is not a pollutant; we're not going to cap it, and we are going to pull out of Kyoto altogether." Was that what you wanted out of that letter?

Well, first, what we wanted out of the letter was a clarification: Where was this administration? Because for us in Congress to deal with the issue, we needed to have some clear understanding of whatever the president was talking about, whether he was talking about what Whitman was talking about or not. ... Second, I was always opposed to Kyoto, and I thought it was not only unfair, but I didn't think it made any sense, thought it was the wrong way to go. ...

Bush saying, "Pull out of Kyoto," I always found that kind of interesting, because the president who signed it never brought it to the Senate. So what did you have? You had kind of a limbo situation. ... So you have now a new president who says he's against it: "No, I'm not going to participate in this." So why are we surprised? ...

There's many accounts of this moment where Bush reverses his campaign pledge, pulls out of Kyoto. Christie Whitman writes about it; O'Neill writes about it; and Powell writes about it. And what they all write about is the same thing: Christie Whitman's at the White House. The president says, "Sorry, we changed our mind." She comes out. The vice president has got the letter, and the letter is to you. Can you tell us, does he bring it to you?

No. I mean, the vice president doesn't often hand-deliver messages to my office. ... The vice president may have taken it to his office in the Capitol and from there it was sent over to our offices. I don't know. ...

Do you think that we should be capping carbon?

Oh, I think we should do everything we can to cap carbon, absolutely. All our technology is driven that way. The legislation that I'd been introducing for 10 years -- every Congress I've introduced legislation. Matter of fact, the Energy Act of 2005, the two titles regarding the environment, Titles 16 and 17, those are my bills.

Those are focused on billions of dollars in loan guarantees and structures and having the secretary of state and the secretary of energy and our trade ambassador involved in partnerships with developing countries and new technologies in this country to focus on finding technologies that will cap carbon, do everything we can to do that, of course. But in my opinion, there's a smart way and a right way to do that, and a dumb way and a wrong way to do it.

Do you think this administration, the Bush administration, has done enough to promote a global warming policy? ... Even the president, as late as 2006, said, "We don't know yet whether it's manmade or not." ...

Well, of course everything that we do in the world today, 6.5 billion people, is going to have some effect on the environment. We pollute. We pollute our air; we pollute our water. But ... there's far more carbon dioxide, for example, given off by just the natural effects of the world. It's not even close as to what the human carbon dioxide emission is. ...

So what some of us have been saying [is] let's not be silly with the science here; let's understand all of it. ... And obviously, the more we can find ways to cap carbon, we should do it. Obviously, the more alternative fuels that we can find to replace fossil fuels, we should do it. But we're going to get there not through U.N. mandates, not through arbitrary timelines or not through arbitrary percentages of: "Get 7 percent under 1990 emissions." We're going to get there through technology. ...

You can see -- by the decisions in California; big businesses come to the Hill, they're demanding caps on carbon, demanding it -- that there's been a tipping point in the country. ... Why hasn't the federal government been able to deal with this? State governments have; the Supreme Court has. Individuals, business, everybody else has come to a moment to say, "The argument is over; we must deal with it." ...

Well, first of all, when you say "deal with it," a decision to pass a law in California is not dealing with it. I think what they've done out there in California is going to be a catastrophe for California. Where are they going to get their energy? ... California is the most significant net importer of energy -- they don't have enough of their own -- but they shut off contracts with any facility that uses coal to generate electricity. So what you're going to find out there, unless there's some miracle, is you're going to find California without any energy. ...

So when you say "deal with it," they're not dealing with it. ... Now, dealing with it is to actually fix the problem. Why is the federal government taking so long, you ask? Well, first of all, the federal government represents all of the United States. It represents all the energy resource companies; it represents all the interests; it represents labor unions; it represents business; it represents environmental people; it represents agriculture. All these need productivity, and that productivity comes from energy.

They also have federal regulatory agencies they're dealing with. They have laws -- not just federal laws, but state laws. So it is very complicated. Now, should we have done more? Can we do more? Yes, yes. Have we been slow to really try to bring some consensus to this? Yes, no question about that. But it is far more complicated at the federal level than in any state laws. And again, we don't know how many of these state laws are going to turn out.

What we've been hearing from everybody we've been talking to is in 2008, every presidential candidate is talking about capping carbon; that we will have a system in place by 2009, maybe 2010, that is essentially what Kyoto was, with some changes.

Well, we'll see. And we might be able to work out a program that makes some sense: that doesn't inhibit our energy production; that continues to grow our economy; that continues to generate a productive and vibrant economy, which is essentially the core and the base of national security. ...

But for the first time ever, you have the [Sir Nicholas] Stern report [from Great Britain] and others who say ... it's worse for your economy if you don't take on the price of more severe weather patterns, ... because global warming takes a long time to play out over time, and it will become more and more expensive to not to do something.

Well, you can't not do something. It's not the argument. I mean, who's arguing? I suppose some up here are, but I'm not. Most of us are not arguing not to do anything. Most of us are not arguing and never have said that nothing's going on. Of course something's going on. But that's just a dynamic world; we had that from the beginning. The real issue is, how do you balance the interests of responsible environmental issues and ... a responsible approach to economic growth and opportunities and productivity? ...

It sounds to me like you're saying, "We don't know what that is yet."

Well, we know a good deal about it. We know technology. I mean, the bills that I have written that are now law, and the guarantees and the technologies and all the different ways that we can approach these things, like sequestering greenhouse gas emissions -- we've made tremendous strides over the last 30 years in cleaning up coal. ... And I think one of the things right before us that we need to be doing far more is more nuclear power plants. That's where India is going. ... That's where many countries are going. ...

So there are ways to do this: more renewables and alternatives and obviously windpower. But you can only get so much out of those. Transportation is the big issue, because over 60 percent of all the oil used in this country goes to the transportation sector. Hybrids, electric engines and all that will change that; that is changing.

I think we can do it, but we've got to have some plans laid out. It has to be some leadership; we have to have some tax incentives; we have to have some loan guarantees. Those are all the approaches that I've taken in the bills that I've introduced. Those are the ways you get to the carbon issue; that's the smart way to do it. ...

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posted april 24, 2007

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