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How will environmental policy change under the next Congress?

Energy and the environment have been core issues in Senate races in at least seven states. From oil and gas development, to the regulation of greenhouse gases and power plants, what's at stake as voters go to the polls? Judy Woodruff gets debate from Daniel Weiss of the League of Conservation Voters and Scott Segal of Bracewell & Giuliani.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's look at another set of issues playing a role this cycle: energy and the environment.

    In some cases, the battle is over the regulation of power plants and greenhouse gases. In others, it's focused on oil and gas development. One analysis found there have been over 125,000 ads on these topics aired in Senate races. And it's been a core issue in at least seven of those states, including Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Louisiana.

    So, what's at stake tonight?

    Dan Weiss is the director of campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters. His group has spent $25 million-plus during this election, more than any other environmental group. And Scott Segal, he's a partner at the firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, which lobbies on behalf of utilities, power plants and other energy companies.

    We welcome both of you.

    Scott Segal, what is it at stake? What energy and environmental policies are on the line in this election?

    SCOTT SEGAL, Bracewell & Giuliani: Well, the president has served notice that he assumes his clean power plan, which is the name for the proposed rule for existing power plants, that that's a major part of his legacy.

    And, as a result, we — a lot of studying has been done on what those rules would do. They'd cost $47 billion. They don't do very much to reduce carbon over and above what the power industry has already done by doing some fuel switching to natural gas, so lots of cost, very little benefit.

    That's a major question. Will the next Senate engage in oversight? Will they legislate regarding this rule? Will they make changes?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And you're saying, if it's a Republican Senate, they're more likely to try to…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    I think the chances are more likely, because if there is an equitable, more equitable distribution of political leverage, so that the Congress can uniformly speak with the president, that is a recipe for actual negotiation on this complex topic.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you see this balance changing, depending on what happens, Dan Weiss?

    DAN WEISS, League of Conservation Voters: Well, first, Senator McConnell has already said that if he is the majority leader, he will use the budget process to try and stop EPA's clean power plan, the first rules ever to reduce pollution from power plants.

    It's important to remember that Scott, last time he was here, was against reducing mercury and lead poison from power plant. So, of course he's against reducing carbon pollution too.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, we're here to talk about what is going to happen with policy.

  • DAN WEISS:

    What McConnell has said is, he will use the budget process.

    What that means is, he will stick a rider into a must-pass spending bill that the president will have to either sign or veto, and if he vetoes it, it will lead to a shutdown of whatever government agencies are part of that spending bill. What McConnell made clear is he will seek a confrontation with the president over whether or not we're going to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And if that happens, who wins?

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    Well, of course, I don't see it that way.

    The way I see it is this. This is one of the few opportunities for both parties, for the leadership in the United States and for the president of the United States to act like adults over an issue as important as global climate change. And if they come together and they actually negotiate on the topic, there are changes that can be made to the president's proposal that make it less costly, but do not reduce the benefits that are attributable to it.

    Why wouldn't anyone want to do that? Right now, we have gridlock. With more equitable distribution of political authority, we can negotiate, and I think that's important.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, in fact, Dan Weiss, today, the president's press secretary, Josh Earnest, said that look for the president in the next two years to exercise more executive action when it comes to dealing with climate change. So, what do you look for, again, whether it is a Democratic, still Democratic-controlled Senate, Republican House, of course, or whether the Senate goes Republican? What do you look for?

  • DAN WEISS:

    Well, the most important thing is that the president is enforcing existing laws passed by Congress, interpreted by the courts that would require him to reduce carbon pollution, not only from power plants. He's going to be doing it from heavy trucks as well by making the — go further on a gallon of gasoline.

    All of the steps we need to take to reduce climate change can happen over the next few years through the president enforcing the law. Congress…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Even with a Republican — even if the Senate flips to Republican?

  • DAN WEISS:

    That's right. That's right.

    The other avenue that we have is going to be in the states, where a number of states have taken — states have taken leadership to reduce their carbon pollution. And with some luck tonight, and we win some seats in Oregon and Washington at the state level, we could have even more leadership from those in other states.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you see that?

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    Well, actually, the states is where a lot of these battles are going on.

    And what I will tell you is the rules as currently proposed by this administration, which represent an unprecedented power grab by the federal government, mix up and scramble exactly what the state authorities have been so far. They are topsy-turvy. And, frankly, the governor's races will be just as important to determine whether we can even implement these rules.

    Look, we talk about an unprecedented use of executive authority. And then Dan wonders why the appropriations process, which is the only constitutional power that could possibly combat that, is in play? The answer is obvious.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But I hear both of you saying that a lot of the action is going to be heading to the states anyway, no matter what happens in Washington.

  • DAN WEISS:

    That's right.

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    That's right.

  • DAN WEISS:

    And it's important to note that, today, President George W. Bush's EPA administrator, Christie Todd Whitman, endorsed the president's clean power plan.

    Why? Because it's a flexible mechanism — flexible mechanism that allows states to set up plans that make sense for them to reduce their carbon pollution. It's not a power grab. What the president is doing is enforcing the law as interpreted — excuse me — as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    I think Dan needs to read that rule a little bit more carefully.

    It is an unprecedented extension of federal authority into areas that the EPA, the administrators from — from Christie Todd Whitman to the present have never had that type of authority and that type of power. It goes down to the very appliances in our homes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just very quickly to both of you.

    Scott Segal, this report that came out in the last day or so, another global group warning about the dire consequences of climate change. Just quickly, what do you see as an appropriate action on the part of an administration, whether there's a Republican Senate or a Democratic-controlled Senate?

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    Well, we believe that there are several important parts that I think there would be consensus and support.

    Improving energy efficiency is one of those. And having the Environmental Protection Agency not sue power plants that are attempting to make improvements in energy efficiency, that's a good start.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And what would you add or subtract?

  • DAN WEISS:

    Well, it's very important to note that the alarm bells keep ringing louder and louder.

    What we'd like to see is the Republican Party, which had a lot of climate action people in it through 2008 — Obama and McCain's climate plans were very similar — stop being a climate science denial party and deny that there's a consensus that humans are responsible for climate change. They are that today, and that's unfortunate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We are going to have to leave it there.

    Gentlemen, we thank you for coming in on election night, both Scott Segal and Dan Weiss. We thank you both.

  • DAN WEISS:

    Thank you for having me.

  • SCOTT SEGAL:

    Thanks.

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