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Fred Palmer

photo of Fred Palmer
He is President of Western Fuels Association, Inc. and maintains that many scientists, politicians and environmental groups have greatly overstated the threat and consequences of climate change. He argues that inexpensive fossil fuels such as coal are an essential component of U.S. economic success and cutting back fossil fuel use would seriously affect the world's social and economic progress.
Is this global warming issue a threatening issue for the fossil fuel burning industry?

It's very threatening. It's a game-ending kind of issue for the American coal-fired electricity industry.

Why is it so serious? In principle, you might not survive it?

If society decides--as part of an international treaty, as part of U.S. energy policy, however you want to characterize it--that we are going to set policy based on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions coming from various sources, they come to the coal plants first. We are at the top of the food chain insofar as CO2 emissions are concerned. So if you get in the business of limiting CO2 emissions, of taxing CO2 emissions, of creating a value in CO2 emissions where people trade them in this emissions trading scheme, you go to the coal plants first because of the fact that that's the greatest source --single source--of CO2 that there is.

So in the firing line, you're ahead of gas, oil.

I like to say we're at the top of the food chain, quite literally. The carbon content of the fuel, of the fossil fuel, determines the amount of carbon dioxide that is created in a combustion process. And coal is the most carbon-rich in terms of the content of the fuel, and it's 60 to 65 percent carbon. So compared with natural gas, that's down in the 30 to 35 percent range, I believe.

You've had to deal with environmental issues before. What makes this one different?

This is different because this is a lifestyle kind of an argument. In the past, we've had these great struggles over pollution in the United States. Sulphur dioxide is a pollutant. We have a coming argument over air toxics, mercury and the like. Those are pollutants. Carbon dioxide is a benign gas required for life on earth. It is not a pollutant. It is not regulated. There are no state laws dealing with CO2. There are no Congressional laws that give any agency the right to regulate based on CO2. So when the environmental community gets their hands on our policy apparatus in the U.S. and says, "We live too well, or there are too many of us, we have to cut back in this area or that area, we have to put less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," they come first to us, because we are not only the biggest source of carbon dioxide, we're the biggest source of electricity. And the electricity--the low-cost electricity that the coal plants provide--has enabled our society to have the economic success that we have.

In the coal industry, you're not denying that CO2 is a greenhouse gas?

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

And you're not denying that its concentrations in the atmosphere have increased since the Industrial Revolution?

They have increased. Now, there have been some recent studies that throw into question why they've increased, but we accept that people burning more and more fossil fuels will increase the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide. We do accept that for purposes of this debate.

And so, do you accept that it's a legitimate concern that people would say that if you had something which would be trapping energy in the atmosphere, and that this was on a trajectory which seemed to be increasing, that there might legitimately be some questions about whether this might change the climate?

I have met reasonable people that are concerned about it. The way I put it is that there are reasonable people that have speculative fears about more and more CO2 going into the air, impacting climate. But the science to me--and I have been involved, not as a scientist but as a lawyer--the science to me suggests, in the ten years I've been involved in it, that there is no basis, no mechanism that anybody can point to or look at to say that more CO2 in the air is going to lead to catastrophic global warming or apocalyptic global warming, as opposed to some mild warming, which is nothing to be concerned about at all. So I would concede that reasonable people are concerned, but to me the concerns are speculation and not based on observations or on any scientific mechanism that they can point to.

There's uncertainty about the way that climate would react to different perturbations and simulations. So we don't really know what might happen. All we know is that something might happen. So, what would be a reasonable way to proceed, given that, in your view?

The insurance policy argument. Actually, the way that it's phrased is the so-called precautionary principle. And the way that the environmentalists come at it is to say that we are putting more and more CO2 in the air every year; we don't know what's going to happen, therefore we should do something to restrain what we're putting in the air, out of precaution, even though we can't really sit here and say what's going to happen. I understand that people get uneasy over the concept of more CO2 going in the air, but you can't live your life based on speculation. There's another side to that, that gets totally overlooked. In ice ages, it is historically a fact that carbon dioxide--atmospheric CO2 levels-- are driven down to very low levels. And we are starting out now, even though CO2 levels have been coming up for the past 100 years or maybe a little longer, from a very low level. It used to be that people in the United States--the scientific community--worried about ice ages. You could go over to the Smithsonian. It's not up there any more, but when you walked in about eight years ago (and I remember it; I wrote it down), the very first thing that hit you when you walked in was that we are in an interglacial period; we're going to have another ice age. So the precautionary principle might say that we should put more CO2 in the air to prevent CO2 levels from being driven down to such low levels in the future by an ice age that it extinguishes plant life. And there are scientists that believe this.

So the precautionary principle is one way or it's the other way, depending on how you want to view the thing. Therefore the precautionary principle--if you can't identify a mechanism to say something good or bad is going to happen, you can only speculate--should not be the basis for setting policy.

But we could say that, at the moment, it's only like 30 percent above the preindustrial levels, but if, as you say, there's a lot of coal in the world, and then there's a lot of clathrates, and there's probably hundreds and hundreds of years of the stuff. And if the developing countries develop and approach our standard of living, you could easily get four, five, six times the concentration of preindustrial levels. There's no reason why you couldn't get that. That would be unusual. It would be a long way away from too little, in that case.

Well, there's a debate over what humans actually could--if you had everybody on earth consuming the amount of fossil fuels that we do in the United States, for example--how much CO2 you would ultimately end up with in the air. There is one body of thought that says that the mechanisms of the planet--the biosphere--that because it responds positively to more CO2, which is the Greening of the Planet Earth thesis, that the biosphere will soak this up so that you really don't have much of a risk of ever getting above--much above--1,000 parts per million. And in the European greenhouses, for example--and this is in our second video, Greening of Planet Earth Continues--they run those at 1,500 parts per million.

I think you'd say the view would be: It's one thing to do in a greenhouse, but basically, on a global level, you have to prove that this is a sufficient sink to be able to keep up with the increasing levels. That's the issue.

There is no mechanism that anybody can identify today that says any level of CO2 in the air is good or bad, from the standpoint of apocalyptic global warming. It's just not there. Dick Lindzen from MIT says, "It's not that I would believe the models if they only showed cooling." He says, "There's just no basis to believe the models." So I understand that people get uneasy over the concept of more CO2 going in the air, but you can't live your life based on speculation. And we know today that using fossil fuels is a good thing. It leads to economic growth. It allows more people to live longer on earth. There are positive goods that come from using fossil fuels. There's a speculative bad that people are holding out there, saying, "Therefore let's stop using fossil fuels." And I think that's an imprudent approach. Now, I'm all for research and development. I'm for watchful waiting.

Explain a bit about how important coal is to our lives. Most people don't think much about coal, do they?

People don't think a lot about coal, and they're not required to think about coal. But coal in the United States is the major driver of our economy, in that it supplies 56 percent of electricity generation. And the graphs on the correlation are complete and clear that more electricity consumed in a society means more wealth, more economic growth. The linkage between coal, electricity, and economic growth in the United States is as clear as it can be. And it is required for the way we live, the way we work, for our economic success, and for our future. Coal-fired electricity generation. It is necessary.

Break it down. The electricity that I get in my house, roughly what comes from different sectors?

Depends on where you live. On the coasts--in California, for example--there's quite a little bit of hydroelectricity from the projects in the Pacific Northwest and in the Sierras. As you get to the interior, it becomes coal-fired--70 to 80 percent in the interior parts of the country. On the East Coast you find more oil generation and gas generation. Nuclear is an important source. In certain instances, it's very important. Hydroelectricity is an important source. But the major driver is coal. Gas, natural gas, is more and more becoming an important source. And I think a lot of the new units will be natural gas.

Can you distinguish as well between the types of electricity, baseload and others? Coal is baseload?

Coal is baseload electricity. The nuclear units, they tend to run as baseload units. The natural gas units, they put in as peaking units, but more and more baseload natural gas units are being planned and installed. But the gas units are not as good as baseload as the coal units, but you can have gas baseload units.

So we have a situation where we have these projections. We have the current situation with coal, the deeply offending fossil fuel with the highest carbon content, used for 56 percent.

Depending on what you think of CO2.

And we have projections over the next 100 years, and with countries like India and China, which have a lot of coal too. And in trying to change the concentrations of CO2, people come up with different scenarios. One scenario is called the optimistic ecological scenario, where they have 60 to 70 percent of energy coming from renewable sources.

That's the no-electricity scenario.

Talk about that scenario.

What we know now about renewables is two things. One, we know we can make electricity with renewables. But two, we know that the electricity would be expensive, and that we cannot make as much electricity as we need for our society with renewables. We know those two things for a certainty. I do believe that we should do research and development on renewables. And I think the federal government--our federal government--ought to be in the business of providing R&D money for renewables. The current batch of renewables (the solar and wind) I really do not believe, long-term, are going to be viable. To create the amount of electricity that we need in the United States for our growing economy with solar and wind is not possible.

Say I'm a utility owner, and I currently get 60 percent from coal and 20 percent from nuclear, and I've got green expectations, so I want to build big wind farms, big solar plants, big biomass plants. Talk me out of it.

Well, the massive scale of these coal units...first of all, the coal units are very, very efficient in that you can put them in a spot, you can move very, very large amounts of coal in and out--rapid unit train rail transportation services. For example, a power plant we are involved with in southern Wyoming burns 7 million tons of coal a year. It's 1,500 megawatts of generation. It supplies electricity for a million and a half people. Now, if you take that amount of generation and say, "I want to have solar," for example, you might have to cover 10 percent of the state of Arizona to put in your solar plant--panels which have their own set of problems in terms of manufacturing. By the way, it takes electricity to manufacture those panels. [There are] environmental problems in terms of covering the land. It's not as good an energy resource in that you don't have the density of energy per unit of substance that you're converting into electricity. The wind: You'd have to cover the plain states with windmills. And the wind is intermittent.

The biomass units have their own set of problems. They have to be specific to a location where you can get the substance that you put in there. And the heat content of the biomass does not approach coal. Coal is a wonderful fuel for making electricity, and that's why we use it.

Are you saying it's really an energy density issue?

I think that's a big part of it. Clearly, it's cost. You know, we have been saying for the last two decades that as time goes on, the cost is going to come down. Well, maybe so. The cost of coal has been coming down too. And our ability to generate...we haven't been standing still in our part of the industry. And we are getting better and better at generating with coal--cheaper and cheaper electricity. So we're staying ahead of that curve.

But aside from the cost standpoint is this density question. And people really don't focus on that. We have a lot of people in the United States--almost 300 million people now. We use a lot of electricity. And to get it from renewables is a wildly impractical idea from the standpoint of current technology.

Now, it could be that we could go to something like a hydrogen or a nuclear fusion or things of that nature. I'm all for R&D money going into making electricity better and cheaper for people, because energy is a necessity for people, and anything we can do to make it more abundant and less expensive I am for. I think that's a positive good, and I think the government ought to be in that business. But this notion of punishing what's on the ground today because of some ephemeral fear of catastrophic global warming 50 or 100 years from now, and taking away this positive good that we're providing to people today--low-cost electricity using American resources--is a very bad idea.

So all right, you've convinced me that maybe the renewables are just niche players.

They are niche players right now.

What about increased hydro?

That'd be fine with me, but you might have an argument with the environmental community. Bruce Babbitt, our Secretary of the Interior, runs around the American West talking about taking out hydro projects, let alone letting people put in more hydro projects. In the Pacific Northwest, this debate over salmon, in terms of under the Endangered Species Act, may lead to turning some of these magnificent hydro projects into run-of-the-mill river ladders. Hydro also is very specific to a river in a canyon. But forgetting about that, the political climate for hydro is more difficult--if that can be imagined--than it is for coal-fire generation.

Well then, why don't you greatly increase your nuclear capacity?

I'm not in the nuclear business. I don't have any problem with nuclear. If people want to put in nuclear plants, that's fine. But there's no reason for us to take out our coal plants. They are regulated. The sulphur emissions from these plants are regulated. The regulations are getting tougher. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and there is no demonstrated basis today to say that we ought to do something different with these coal plants because of carbon dioxide.

When we had the Kyoto protocol, which many environmentalists thought was really a sellout--that it wasn't very much of a reduction--what was your reaction?

That was a photo-op for the Vice President of the United States. The notion of reducing carbon dioxide emission levels in the United States 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010 is a complete fantasy. The notion that we are going to pretend like we're serious people in trying to achieve that goal is complete fantasy. This whole business of Rio and the Kyoto protocol is a blind man's alley. Nothing's going to come of it. We're not going to reduce coal or gasoline consumption in the United States.

We will put R&D money into technology. And in the event we have a problem long-term to take CO2 out of the stack gases, that's one thing we can research. We're doing R&D on the super car. We're doing R&D on renewables. But this notion that the United States of America is going to back down from its energy consumption is not right. And people that think that that is right...[they] don't understand the United States.

Let me take the other argument. These people gathered at Kyoto believed that this was a problem, and they thought that the poorer developing countries didn't want to get into this now because it might hurt their development, but the very rich country producing most of the CO2 could tighten its belt a little bit, could work more efficiently. What's wrong with that as a basic principle?

Energy is a positive good. Energy is like air and water. We need it to live. Energy is not a luxury. We don't succeed in the United States in spite of energy consumption. We succeed in the United States because of energy consumption. We are criticized for being the highest per capita consumers of fossil fuels in the world. It's a positive good. There is a correlation between our energy consumption and our success. In rural parts of the country, they for sure are the highest per capita consumers of energy in the United--in the world. We make enough food in the world to feed 50 percent of the world, if people could distribute it. It's dependent on fossil fuels. Food, energy, fossil fuels, air, water. These things go together. If you say "Tighten my belt on energy," I say, "Tighten your belt on food. Eat less food. Breathe less air. Drink less water." It is an antipeople, an antihuman proposal to say to the human community that you are going to use less energy.

I think many people from environmental groups, and many people generally, would feel that we use energy excessively, more than other countries, exorbitantly. What do you think?

It's not true. The only reason people think that is because that's what they read. What I call big media in the United States is Malthusian. Everybody that writes for the Washington Post, the New York Times, even the business magazines by and large, start from the premise that we ought to limit what we consume in the way of natural resources. I go, "What? Why do you think that?" Why are more people living better? Is it in spite of natural resources, or is it because of natural resources? When people get into this issue and sit down and take the time to understand what's involved, how important energy is to them--and I've given speeches on this all over the country for the last ten years, in front of big groups and small groups--I never have anybody coming up to me afterward, going, "That's totally irresponsible." They come up to me and they go, "Oh, I understand." Because people are not given the full set of facts to understand how important energy is--fossil fuels are--to our life. It's life.

When you heard about Kyoto, were you worried? Or did you just dismiss it as being unrealistic?

Oh, you have to be worried. I mean, this is the United States government identifying with a policy that would be devastating, not just to us but to the rest of the world. You know, the people that get in these rooms in these international conferences, I don't know what motivates them, and I'm way beyond trying to figure out people's motivations in this thing. I just go along. I try to do our business and state our point of view and let people decide what they will. But I'll tell you one thing they don't understand: The U.S. economy is what is driving wealth in the rest of the world. We're the biggest economy on earth. We're $9 trillion out of $27 trillion, the United States economy is. For us to say that we are going to cut back, or for them to tell us to cut back, means we will consume less. If we consume less, they export less. If they export less to us--we're the biggest market--their wealth goes down, their well-being goes down, their joblessness comes up. And the impact on the Third World, where two billion people already don't have any electricity, would be devastating.

They're not talking about hurting the economy. They're talking about basically reducing the amount of carbon that's emitted. And so to go back to my analogy when I'm asking you to decarbonize the power source, what's wrong with switching to natural gas? Here we have another source which works. It just has less carbon in it. Why can't you just take half of your coal electricity and turn it into gas?

It's disingenuous to say that natural gas is the solution. If you study greenhouse theory--and I have studied greenhouse theory--7 percent below 1990 levels does nothing. What the long-term goal of the Vice President of the United States is, is to ultimately eliminate all fossil fuel used in the United States, to return CO2 emissions to preindustrial levels around 1900. That is their goal. When they get up in a political context and someone asks them point black like that, they'll dance around it. But if you read what they have said, if you study what they're doing, President Clinton in connection with Kyoto said it was --his words--"a good first step." A first step to what? A first step to eliminating fossil fuel utilization in the United States.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel. You could convert all of the coal plants in the United States to natural gas and, under greenhouse theory, have zero impact on the apocalypse looming 50 or 100 years from now because natural gas is a carbon-based fuel. We are, by the way, a carbon-based life form living on a carbon-based planet, consuming carbon-based fuels. So the notion of decarbonizing energy is another way of saying we are going to decarbonize life, which is another way of saying we are going to reduce the amount of life on the planet.

The White House has a problem because we're committed under Kyoto to be 7 percent below 1990 levels. How are we doing?

We're going up! Instead of going south, we're going north. We're doing great, thank God. The American economy is flourishing. We're using more fossil fuels. We're putting more CO2 in the air. The coal plants are running at record levels. Business has never been better. We're doing great.

Do you think there's any chance of Kyoto being ratified?

No. There's no chance of Kyoto being ratified. We are not going to do it as a society. Moreover, we are not going to return to 1990 levels of CO2 emissions as called for by the Rio Treaty. We are not going to do that. And people who think we are do not understand the United States.

Here's a scenario which I can imagine: that the U.S. uses a trading system, so we buy credits from Russia and the Ukraine, who aren't producing much CO2, and with a bit of bookkeeping, we get to compliance. Can you imagine something like that?

If that were a stand-alone proposition, I probably wouldn't have a big problem with that. But I know it won't be a stand-alone proposition because it is the goal of the Vice President of the United States to completely eliminate all fossil fuel consumption in the United States of America over the next 30 to 50 years. That's his goal. So we're not going to achieve that goal by pretending we're eliminating fossil fuels. You have to achieve the goal by eliminating fossil fuels. That's what they're trying to do.

But your point is that even if he were right about climate change, it would be impossible to eliminate fossil--

If he is right about climate change, if there is some basis to be concerned about this, the way to do it is the approach that is now embodied in legislation that will shortly be introduced by Senators Murkowski and Hagel, which has the federal government developing technology to scrub CO2 out of gases and to sequester it. That's the way to do it. If you want an insurance policy, I'm for that, because that doesn't punish anybody.

The coal industry did not create this problem. The automobile industry didn't create this problem. The airlines didn't create this problem. The steel people didn't create this problem. If there's a problem, it's a societal problem, and the society develops the technology to let us all continue to live our lives the way we are living our lives, without taxing us and punishing us. But the environmental community can't think in those terms. And they won't be for this bill.

This bill...this kind of future would envisage a continuing fossil industry, dominant fossil industry--

Yes, right. Dominant fossil industry.

But what you're doing is, you're removing the offending ingredient. Explain that idea.

Right now, we scrub gases for sulphur dioxide. That was the Clean Air Act and the Clean Air Act amendments. In the seventies and in the nineties, we had big arguments as to that, but those are in place. That's working. We're taking sulphur dioxide out of the gases by scrubbing. And the scrubbing technology for carbon dioxide has not been developed, but it is theoretically possible to do that. And what this bill would entail would be to have the government getting in the business of developing that scrubber technology.

Now, the term used here is "sequestering". What does that mean, literally?

Well, it's used in a lot of different contexts. Plants are already sequestering more and more carbon dioxide every year, because we see a more robust biosphere, greater agricultural production, more robust forests, more robust plant life--all contrary, by the way, to the vision of the apocalypse . But that's sequestration. Pumping it into the ground is sequestration. Carbon dioxide is used for tertiary oil recovery from depleted oil fields, as a gas to increase the pressure to force the oil up. That's sequestration. You could find caverns, I'm sure, like these old salt caverns in Louisiana, where we store oil in the event of an oil emergency, where you could pump CO2 in, and I'm sure that there would be R&D. Research and development would be done on making plants respond even more vigorously to carbon dioxide so that you would have more plants sequestering CO2. So you could have sequestration in a number of different contexts.

But the idea is that the plants themselves, or new plants, would sequester the CO2 at the point of combustion?

Once the CO2 goes into the air, it's ubiquitous. So it doesn't matter very much where you put the plants. But tree planting would be one thing you could do.

This scheme, if it worked, you'd obviously use energy to do this. There'd be an energy penalty. You'd actually be producing more CO2 in order to sequester it.


Does that make technological sense? I'm not saying whether we should or shouldn't do it. Does it make technological sense?

That would be part of the R&D process, to see whether you could do it. Certainly when they talk about renewables, to create the technology to have renewables, you need electricity to create that. So where does that electricity come from? Are renewables energy-efficient on a net basis? Do you get more or less energy out of renewables? That's something we're looking at, by the way. But this would be an open question, and a legitimate one, in terms of: Is there a net gain by putting this technology on and sequestering? And that would be part of the process.

Let's say the engineering answer comes out as I expect it would, that for a certain price, you can sequester it. There's plenty of places to put it. There's even a scheme of making it into carbonate rocks. But to get you to move in that direction, how do I encourage you without some sort of government control?

It's not government control in this context. I go back to my point: If we decide as a society that this is a problem, it is a societal problem. It's not my problem. It's not your problem. It's not the airlines' problem. It's not the autos' problem. It's society's problem. Society ought to pay for it out of general funds. So you would have...if you developed a technology, we decide we want the technology, we need the technology, we're willing to pay for the technology, the United States of America would pay for the technology in terms of having it installed, not individuals, not this company or that company. We haven't done anything bad. We put these coal plants in because the government asked us to put the coal plants in. We didn't wake up one morning and say, "I know what I want to do when I grow up. I want to be a greedy polluter that confuses the American people by having a scientific argument over something that is threatening the future of the globe. That's my aspiration as a human." That's not how this happened.

These coal plants came from a federal policy to make us energy-independent. We put them in, in good faith. We're operating them in good faith. We're trying to protect them. We think they provide goods for people. If we decide that we want to do something different with them, then the government ought to pay for it, not the people that put them in. And that's the argument where it stands now.

But you're going to have to build a lot more coal plants just to keep up with demand, aren't you?

We are going to have to build more coal plants. And the government recognizes that.

But I could apply the argument with nuclear: We didn't tell you we were going to require all these additional regulations when you started, but we do, because we think safety requires it. And we're saying to you, maybe we did say that in the seventies, but now we're worried about CO2. You're going to have to sequester it.

Well, I understand that point of view, and I'm not going to be argumentative about it. I'm not here representing the nuclear industry, and I don't know what happened then. I know what happened with the coal plants, and I know that that result would not be fair, is not fair. And I think there would be a very, very large legal argument over the government's ability to come in after the fact on these coal plants and say, "We're going to penalize you for making CO2." And I promise you, I will be leading the pack on that one.

With new plants.

Well, new plants: You just go to efficiency levels. That's how you do that.

Some countries already have a carbon tax, like Norway.

Yeah. They say they do. I haven't really studied it, but--

Do you think it would be possible to have an upstream carbon tax? Not one on individual motorists but one which just applied to people who made electricity?

Here's what I think about a carbon tax. I'm accused of being dishonest because everybody knows a tax is the easiest thing to fight. Nobody likes taxes. So instead, they go off to this market-friendly stuff, like emissions trading. I've been in Washington long enough to know that if we went to emissions trading, it would make tax reform look tame by comparison in this town. If you had the United States government in the business of saying who gets to use what energy, where, under what circumstances, paid for...the lobbyists will be crawling all over this town. That's who's pushing emissions trading, by the way, are the lobbyists.

So ifyou decide that you want less carbon energy, the simplest, the fairest, the most straightforward way to do it is a carbon tax. Now, you would have to accommodate people that are especially energy-intensive in the U.S., like agricultural people, because it will annihilate them. You have to accommodate that. But if we really decide that we want less carbon in our fuels, taxation is the way to do this. And I do believe that.

From your standpoint, that would be the fairest way to go?

It's really probably the only workable way to do it.

It would depend on what the tax was?

Sure. How large the tax is, and how expensive you want to make electricity.

Could you stomach something on the order of $25 to $30 a ton?

In today's market environment? Per ton of carbon dioxide, or per ton of coal?

Per ton of carbon dioxide.

I think the coal plants would still run at $25 per ton of carbon dioxide, because it's not a one-to-one; it's 60 percent. So the tax per ton of coal would be in the $12 or $13 range. Now, it would hurt a lot of people in a very serious ways. I would be very, very opposed to that. But if you ask me, would coal still be burned at those levels? I would say yes.

What do you think is going to happen on this issue? You've been with it a long time. Where is it going to go?

Watchful waiting. Research and development. We have a wonderful system in the United States. We're very contentious. We argue a lot. We yell at each other a lot. But the system is such that it is very, very difficult for somebody with a radical idea, particularly a radically wrong idea, to come in and impose that way of thinking on the American society. And we have seen examples of that in the last .. couple of Congresses, haven't we? Well, what is being proposed here is a radical proposal. I think gradually we will move toward more energy efficiency. I think gradually you'll see more renewables in niche applications. I do think technology will keep driving important gains, both in our ability to burn things more cleanly and to use things in a better way. But in terms of somebody coming in five years from now or three years from now or eight years form now and saying, "Hey, you're not going to use fossil fuels in the United States any more," I don't think so.

Does this then cease to be an apocalyptic issue? It's not going away.

It's not going to go away.

But on the other hand, how do you keep the show on the road, if nothing's happening?

Well, one thing we will keep doing is, we will keep funding scientific research to try and help answer the question: Are we going to have an apocalypse or not? So far, everything we see is extremely reassuring in terms of not only are we not going to have an apocalypse, but things are going to be better on earth because we're putting more CO2 in the air. And we will keep promoting the value of what we do for people in terms of representing coal and coal-fired electricity, because it is so important and people need to understand that we need to protect what we have on the ground, and that we're going to need more capacity in the future. That's how...that's the role we'll play.

But you know that things can turn on individual events. So it's interesting. Like nuclear power turned on Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, CFC's turned on that ozone hole. You could have some event which might not, strictly speaking, be possible to link to global warming--

A weather event?

A weather or flooding event. Something. Right?

Yeah. I don't think so. I disagree.

But with public opinion, you don't--

No way.

So you think this is different from those examples?

It's totally different. I'll tell you one reason why it's different. And I...you know, in the ten years I've been in this argument, I've looked at just about everything you can possibly look at. One thing I started looking at was historical extreme weather events. And there have been plenty of things that happened way before CO2 got in the air, worse than anything we've seen today. For example, the Dust Bowl. How's that? The Dust Bowl was in the thirties. That was way before the buildup of CO2 gases. How about an ice age? Is there anything more extreme, in terms of an ice age? You can get records of floods in various parts of the world and various times of the world, records of drought in California. The Anasasi Indians were driven out of .. their cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, where I grew up and I love it, into their pueblos along the rivers. Obviously it was a more temperate, more benign climate for them. They had agriculture out in areas that's now desert. And I have no doubt of our ability to reassure people that anything that happens anywhere is nothing compared with what's happened in the past.

But you could get that message over, you're confident? Because obviously--

Absolutely we'll get the message out. We're getting it out. We're having this conversation, aren't we?

But Gore's been getting the message out. He's there in front of the forest fires.

Yes, he goes in front of the forest fires. But when I've talked to people, and I ask them what they think about this, I'm telling you, this is a Beltway deal, period, finish, end of story. If you go to where I was yesterday in Palmyra, Missouri, near Hannibal, or you go out to Ames, Iowa, where they went out and they had a global warming conference out there--or the Administration did--and they brought in someone from the European Union, a commissioner, to tell the farmers out there they had to use less fossil fuel so they'll...so the grape growers in France could breathe easier about future climate, I'm sorry, we're not buying.

Polls that I'm aware of show there is some concern with this issue, and that people would be willing to pay $25 a month. Have you seen these polls?

Oh yes. Sure, I've seen them.

And beyond that, interest disappears.

I don't worry about those polls. Not at all. I was here for the BTU tax, 1993. I mean, you'd have thought it was the Civil War revisited. And you know what they ended up with? Four cents a gallon of gas. [laughs] I don't worry about the polls. When people see that the United States government is getting ready to raise their energy prices, I promise you, they pay attention.

Might we become isolated on this with the other OECD countries?

There is a risk of that. And I do worry about that. I'm not involved in the foreign trade issues. I am a lawyer. I study these things. I know that the World Trade Organization exists. I know that there are discussions about putting environmental standards in there. It's conceivable to me that at some point somebody goes to the WTO and says, "America can't export X product because it uses too much fossil fuels." I don't see that as a short-term threat, but I think that is a potentially a long-term threat.

But I think the thing that will stop that is that we are the biggest, most important market on earth. And they quit us from exporting things abroad, they better think twice if they want to sell stuff here.

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