For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Proponents of the EPA’s role in regulating heat trapping gasses associated with climate change are calling it a win. Others are not so sure. The ruling only applies to plants already required to limit other kinds of air pollutants. It’s the first time since 2007 that the Supreme Court has weighed in on the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory authority. A new privately funded bipartisan report estimates climate change will cost billions of dollars over the next two decades. Please join us to discuss the Supreme Court, the EPA and climate change.
- Scott Segal head of The Policy Resolution Group, Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. He specializes in energy, the environment and natural resources. He is the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council.
- Coral Davenport climate and energy reporter, The New York Times
- Michael Brune executive director, Sierra Club
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. Before we get to the program, I would like to take a moment to share some sad news with you. John Rehm, Diane's husband of 54 years, died yesterday. Diane thanks all of you for the good wishes during his long illness. She hopes to be back on the air with you next week.
MS. KATTY KAYYesterday, the Supreme Court weighed in on the EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The court ruled that the EPA did have the authority to regulate emissions from power plants, but with some limits. Joining me to talk about efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the risks of climate change, Scott Segal. He's an attorney in private practice specializing in energy-related issues.
MS. KATTY KAYCoral Davenport's with me. She's from the New York Times. And by phone from San Francisco, Michael Brune. He's the executive director of the Sierra Club. Thank you all so much for joining me.
MS. CORAL DAVENPORTIt's great to be with you. Thank you.
MR. SCOTT SEGALIt's great to be here.
KAYWe will be taking your calls, questions and comments later on in the program, 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. You can also email us, of course, at email@example.com and send us a tweet as well. We will be taking all of those in during the course of the program. Coral, I wanted to start with you. The Supreme Court's weighed in for the first time in seven years on this issues. What was the case that they ruled on yesterday?
DAVENPORTSo the question -- it was a very complicated question. Essentially, the Supreme Court weighed in on the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases from a wide variety of polluters. What's sort of special about greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide is that it's a different kind of pollutant from soot or smog or ozone. We're emitting carbon dioxide right now.
DAVENPORTIt comes from a wide variety of sources. The drycleaner across the street is emitting carbon dioxide and so under the law, if the EPA had the authority and the requirement to regulate every single building or source that polluted or emitted carbon dioxide, that would essentially give it the authority and the requirement to regulate millions of sources, small businesses, schools, apartments.
DAVENPORTThis would've been a regulatory nightmare. And essentially what the Supreme Court decided was that the EPA does not have the authority to regulate all of these small sources that are just emitting small amounts of CO2, the schools, the apartment buildings, the Dunkin' Donuts, but that once you get into the realm of a polluting source that emits other sorts of pollution, such as soot or smog, these big industrial polluters, like, coal fire power plants, then the EPA does have the authority to additionally regulate the carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases from those large sources.
DAVENPORTAnd so the court took away some of that authority from the EPA, but by and large, the EPA is very happy with this outcome because they really didn't want the complication of regulating all those small sources. They really wanted to get at the big source of pollution. So they're taking it, by and large, as a win, but the court, in addition, did kind of sound a warning for the future, saying EPA going forward with climate change regulations is going to have to be careful.
DAVENPORTThe court kind of has its eye on it. We'll see more of these fights in the future.
KAYOkay. Scott, I'm not sure the drycleaner across the street has ever been called out on the program, but maybe they're listening, too. I read in The Washington Post that this ruling was described as simultaneously very significant and somewhat inconsequential. Which is it?
SEGALYeah, yeah. I think that's -- both are true. It is somewhat inconsequential in the sense that we were fairly clear that the court would probably go in a way like this and preserve EPA's permitting authority. Now, there's two ways the Clean Air Act regulates something, by permits or by generating rules that are of sort of general applicability.
SEGALSo here's what happened. If you already had to have a permit, then the court said, okay, you can put an additional requirement in that...
KAYIf you're one of the big businesses that Coral was describing.
SEGALCorrect. So those big businesses would've already had a need to have a permit like that. But here is why I don't think, in their heart of hearts, the EPA is particularly happy with the outcome here, because in the first part of the majority decision, they talk about the future, essentially of where EPA's regulatory authority may go.
SEGALAnd one of the things they say, and I think it's important to actually read it out loud, any EPA interpretation for future rule-making would be unreasonable if it would bring about an enormous and transformative expansion in EPA's regulatory authority without clear Congressional authorization. When an agency claims to discover in a long extant statute an unheralded power to regulate a significant portion of the American economy, we typically greet its announcement with a measure of skepticism.
SEGALWe expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign an agency decisions with vast economic and political significance. That, Katty, is a better description of President Obama's recently announced rules under the Clean Air Act than it even is of the stuff that was at issue in the Supreme Court case. So that's an unmistakable signal that the court has troubles, perhaps troubles related to separation of powers under out constitution or the allocation of responsibility between Congress and agencies.
KAYOkay. Michael Brune, joining us from the Sierra Club in San Francisco on the phone, I mean, presumably supporters of more controls of greenhouse gas emission like the Sierra Club are basically satisfied with what -- despite the caveats that Scott has just mentioned -- are basically satisfied, right, with what the Supreme Court ruled yesterday. Michael, can you hear me? Hello, Coral, you...
MR. MICHAEL BRUNEYeah, sorry, yeah.
KAYMichael, go ahead.
BRUNEI was (unintelligible)
KAYSo basically the Sierra Club would be happy with what was ruled yesterday?
BRUNEYeah, we are. And first, let me just say thanks for having on the show.
BRUNEAnd our thoughts and prayers go out to Diane and her family.
KAYThat's very kind.
BRUNEBut about yesterday's ruling, you know, it's funny, I knew Scott was going to read that section. It comes from Justice Scalia. And the, you know, the response is that the EPA, the big question that all of us are asking on all sides of this issue is what effect does this ruling from yesterday have on the big ruling coming from EPA regarding their clean power plan.
BRUNEAnd it's important to note that yesterday's ruling, which Coral was right and Scott were right, this is a complex ruling with a bunch of different ramifications. Environmentalists and EPA are very happy because the clean power plan comes under an entirely different part of the statute that has different requirements and a different level of specificity to it.
BRUNESo what Justice Scalia wrote is accurate, but it's also slightly irrelevant because what the EPA will be doing when it focuses not on drycleaners and on Dunkin' donuts, but on big polluting power plants like coal fired power plants will come under a different part of the law and so the requirements are also much different. So we're very encouraged by the ruling and we're not that concerned about what Scalia wrote.
KAYSo basically, it's now being clearly established, you're suggesting, that the EPA does have the authority to regulate CO2 emissions with the goal of reducing climate change.
BRUNEYeah. That's an established...
KAYThat's what you read from yesterday.
BRUNEThat's been established for years and then reaffirmed both yesterday, but also several times by the Supreme Court over the years.
KAYOkay. The House Science Committee, Coral, is voting today on legislation to require the EPA to make its research on climate change public. Now, this has been a source of criticism from critics of the EPA, saying why are you keeping some of the research out of our hands. We should have access to the research. Everyone should be able to see the research.
KAYWhat is it that they're not being able to see, that they'd like to be able to see?
DAVENPORTSo some of the research that EPA does, I think, falls into the category of being confidential because it's connected with medical research. But I'm not -- are you nodding your head, Scott?
DAVENPORTOkay. You might, you know, you might actually know a little bit more about that than I do.
SEGALYeah. This is the tip of an iceberg of a long, long standing discussion. Basically, the EPA makes a lot of claims regarding the health impacts of its rules. Sometimes from the direct impact of those rules, like reducing a particulate matter, which is sometimes called soot, or sometimes as an indirect benefit, as they are with the power plant rules, by saying that those rules will also indirectly reduce soot.
SEGALBut the data that tells us that there's a linear relationship between the reduction in soot and actual public health effects, the EPA keeps a big secret. And there's really no good reason for it. The argument they've made in the past is, it's health data. We don't share health data. But this is blind data. We don't -- people aren't asking for names and addresses of the individuals.
SEGALBut the raw underlying data that agency refuses to share. This is very, very important because every time the president or the EPA administrator stands up and says our rule will save -- stop 100,000 asthma attacks, that's based on a data point which the EPA keeps secret. And even proponents of environmental regulation would like to see that data, understand it and better be able to support the president.
SEGALBut, of course, the data is not available and they don't want to make it available and I have a prediction for you. If it were available, we would find a giant ghost in the machine in that data that would tell us that this linear relationship is not as strong as has been suggested.
KAYMichael, isn't the problem with the EPA keeping this data a secret is it fuels the possibility for conspiracy theories and for misinformation on an issue which is already riven with intense partisan debate. Look, you have today a Republican congressman from Texas, Lamar Smith, writing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, what is the EPA hiding from the public? Michael?
BRUNESorry. My sound isn't working here. Hi, I'm back. This is a manufactured controversy. There is plenty of data that's out there, that's publically available about the contributions that coal fired power plants and other fossil fuel facilities have on public health. We know that coal contributes to four out of the five leading causes of death. We know that the particulate matter, the soot pollution that Scott was mentioning cost the economy more than $100 billion per year.
BRUNEEPA has lots of data that is uses, but it also compliments a lot of the public data that’s out there coming from medical professionals across the country. It's no secret that fossil fuel harms people's health and that clean energy, as an alternative, would help alleviate some of those concerns. So that's at the heart of why EPA's making this decision.
BRUNEBut a lot of what we're hearing from mostly Republican lawmakers is trying to gin up some controversy as a way of scoring political points.
KAYOkay. We'll go back to panel on that point, Michael, just in a minute. We're going to take a short break. Michael Brune is with us from the Sierra Club. We'll try and fix those sound issues. Coral Davenport's here from the New York Times. Scott Segal, an attorney working energy issues is with us as well. Keep listening. We're gonna have a short break.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're discussing the Supreme Court's ruling on the EPA yesterday. And of course all the prospects for climate change in the future. We're going to look at the economics of climate change in just a minute, but I want to get a little bit more into some of the regulations that are already on the books at the moment, Coral. Give us some outline of the limits that the EPA is proposing to put on new power plants as well as existing power plants, because yesterday's ruling dealt with existing power plants. Let's look at new power plants.
DAVENPORTThat's right. So the hallmark of President Obama's climate change agenda are two major EPA proposals that his administration has put forth. Last fall the EPA proposed a regulation that would cut carbon pollution from future coal-fired power plants, so rather limit carbon pollution from future coal-fired power plants.
DAVENPORTAs written, that proposal would probably halt construction of all future coal-fired power plants. It's a really big deal. Earlier this month on June 2, the Obama Administration put forth a second power plant proposal. That one would cut emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. Combined if these two regulations are enacted, if they stand up to legal challenges, they could lead to a freeze in construction of coal-fired power plants plus the slow shutdown of a lot of existing coal-fired power plants.
KAYAnd what different would that make in overall terms of carbon emissions?
DAVENPORTThat would be tremendous. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. If these regulations go as the administration hopes, it would begin to lead to a slow transformation of the entire U.S. electricity sector from coal and fossil fuels, slowly and eventually to renewable and low-carbon sources of energy.
DAVENPORTThat's a huge transition. It's very disruptive. In the long run though that could fundamentally change and lower the U.S. energy economy and the U.S. contribution to global warming. So it's a really big deal. The question is, will these two regulations stand up to the legal challenges to come? And that's where I think looking at yesterday's decision, looking at those little remarks that Justice Scalia put in, yesterday the EPA got what it wanted. The EPA upheld its authority to regulate these power plants.
DAVENPORTHowever, Justice Scalia was clearly saying -- as we see these additional major regulations come forth, these are going to be challenged. It's almost certain they'll end up before the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia was saying, not so fast. You know, we are going to be very -- paying very close attention to these new regulations that involve, in some cases, creative interpretations of the 1970 Clean Air Act.
DAVENPORTJustice Scalia made a remark. He said something to the effect of, we're not going to stand on the dock and wave goodbye as the EPA sort of does what it wants.
KAYOkay. Scott and Michael, Scott first, do you think that the president's proposals for future regulations will stand pretty much as they are?
SEGALWell, I do think that the regulatory program the president has announced is in somewhat of legal jeopardy. And yesterdays' decision's a good reason why, as Coral was indicating. I would point out, it's not just what Justice Scalia said. In fact, he was joined by the four liberal dissenters in one part of the opinion. And in that part of the opinion it told EPA, don't take any comfort from the part of the law we upheld today. The doesn't save you for other parts.
SEGALBut the other thing I would point out is there are significant areas of legal uncertainty that Michael Brune is correct, were not addressed yesterday, but that shouldn't give them any comfort because these are very, very serious arguments. And some of these arguments go to the very fundamental heart of the rule. For example, if my authority tells me I can regulate a power plant, does that mean I can regulate the electricity that that power plant produces? Can I tell people to use less? Can I force states to tell people to use less? That is extraordinarily controversial.
SEGALAnd in fact, our own District of Columbia circuit court of appeals, which has a lot to do with the interpretation of the Clean Air Act, recently said that the Federal Power Act, another statute, says that the feds cannot tell the states how to adjust the demand for electricity in the context of electric utilities. So there are lots of problems yet to come.
KAYMichael Brune, what do you reckon? How do these regulations stand up to legal challenges?
BRUNEWell, the reality is that nobody knows because we haven't seen those challenges come out yet and we probably won't until sometime next year. What we do know is that yesterday's ruling did not speak at all to what's known as 111D, which is the section of the Clean Air Act that the standards on power plants will come from. So what we have to do is we have to wait until the legal challenges come. But also we can view those challenges in the context of what's already happening across the country.
BRUNEIn the last five years we've seen 20 percent of the U.S. coal fleet has already either been retired or will soon be retired. They've already been announced to be retired. So we're seeing hundreds of individual coal-fired boilers being retired and replaced with clean energy across the U.S. And what we're seeing at the same time is that more is that more jobs are being created in the clean energy industry. And we're also seeing that in many cases the rates for customers are going down in the process.
BRUNESo this isn't -- when you get outside the courts, this is not a controversial policy. This is not a controversial decision by the Obama Administration. What we're seeing is that this rule will help to accelerate a process whereby the U.S. economy is becoming decarbonized. The electric sector is becoming more clean. And in the process we're saving money and creating more jobs.
SEGALI was interested to hear Michael Brune say that the rule doesn't go particularly far and therefore it's not controversial. And it makes me wonder if folks in the environmental community are also going to sue to set aside this rule in favor of a more aggressive approach. Because I've already seen folks using my favorite form of legal research, Google, tell me that there are all kinds of press statements out of the environmental community saying that they think the rule is not legal because it doesn't go far enough. In which case, what does that mean for the cost assessments that the agency is pre...
KAYCoral, I just want to ask you something. We're getting a sense, you know, listening to Scott and listening o Michael, of the intense political debate surrounding climate change. You have opponents of the EPA saying that the EPA is being dishonest about the research and of climate change activity generally. You have the environmental community and supporters of more regulations saying that critics are just defending the energy industry. Is it possible in this political partisan environment for there to be a sensible long term discussion about what is in the best interest of the American economy and of our environmental future?
DAVENPORTIn the current political environment it's hard to find that conversation. I think that that conversation is probably inevitable though because, you know, the scientific evidence establishing climate change is real, it's there. And we're starting to see the real life economic impacts of climate change adding up. And increasingly it's becoming something that outside of the political realm there is consensus both among scientists, among economists, among independent voters.
DAVENPORTThis is going to be something I think that -- in 2016 during the presidential election I think that this is going to be something that candidates are not going to be able to run away from. They're going to be forced to confront it and they're going to be forced to confront it as a real world economic issue that is costing taxpayers money, that's costing voters money. And it's going to have to be dealt with in a real world way rather than in an ideological fight.
KAYBut are you seeing any of those changes taking place within the energy industry?
KAYChanges of attitude taking place.
DAVENPORTOh, oh, absolutely. I mean, companies that acknowledge not only that climate change is a big problem but that it's a cost to their bottom line include Exxon Mobil, you know, largest oil producer in the United States. Very open about how climate change is costing it money and is preparing already for a price or a tax on carbon in the future. Companies like Shell, like Chevron, all of the big oil and natural gas companies, very open about this, preparing to deal with the impacts of climate change. Willing to come to the table and talk about a price on carbon or a cap in trade policy.
DAVENPORTI think the one industry where you see real resistance where the major companies still don't acknowledge their contribution to climate change is coal. I think they are an outlier broadly in the fossil fuel industry on this.
KAYMichael Brune, would you agree with Coral's analysis that the conversation really has shifted in America in industry as well as in politics.
BRUNEYeah, I sure would. Absolutely. You know, just look at today. There's a front page headline in the New York Times. It reads bipartisan report tallies high toll on economy from global warming. It's a report that comes from Hank Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury under Bush, Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Reagan, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg.
BRUNEAnd what it says is that we need to act. We need to act now. We need to begin to transition away from fossil fuels in a reasonable, measurable way in a quick way, as quickly as we can overtime in order to save our economy and improve prosperity as well as to protect public health and prevent runaway climate disruption.
BRUNEWe're already starting to see changes politically, certainly across the population. We're seeing strong support for clean energy as a solution to fossil fuels. But what Coral said is right. Probably the one industry that is the most opposed to action is the coal industry. It's the industry that probably really can't survive in a climate-safe world.
BRUNEAnd so what we need to do is we need to find a way over the coming years to retire old and dirty in often cases deadly coal-fired power plants, replace them with clean energy and find a way to take care of the workers who are working in those facilities so that we're not making this transition on their backs. And I think that we can do that in a responsible way.
KAYScott, what do you make of that?
SEGALWell, I would add to the list that Coral gave and that Michael seemed to agree with that the utility sector has also been making large motions toward diversifying the sources of where their energy comes from. In fact, I'll say something a little shocking today. There's really no such thing as a coal-fired utility anymore. You can pick any name of any utility in the country and we look at balance portfolios now. In most cases, the amount of natural gas, for example, that's consumed exceeds the amount of coal that's consumed.
KAYRight. But do you agree with the broader point that Coral and Michael were both making that the coal industry is the outlier in resisting regulations that would diminish greenhouse gas emissions?
SEGALWell, one has to have a certain amount of sympathy for the coal industry since carbon and coal are synonyms. It does make sense that they would have a very deliberative approach before embracing any of these policies. By the way, with respect to the report that Michael talked about, I thought it was interesting. I will say this, that more reports that describe climate change as dangerous are not necessarily what's needed right now. What is needed is a more robust discussion of solutions. And this report, the Hank Paulson report was a little bit short on discussion of solutions.
SEGALIt seems to embrace carbon tax. And there are some brilliant economic minds that went behind this report. I would've loved to have heard their statements on how we structure a carbon tax, how we avoid the regressive impacts of carbon tax, how we make sure that internationally it doesn't just shift manufacturing production overseas. I would've loved to have seen that. That was a golden opportunity in this report. None of it is there. Instead what we hear is that Hurricane Sandy cost a lot of money. And let me tell you something, no carbon tax is going to keep a Hurricane Sandy from occurring.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of BBC World News America. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, do call. 1-800-433-8850 is our phone number. You can send us an email as well of course, firstname.lastname@example.org. We are going to go to the phones now. Jack in Fort Worth, Texas, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show." Welcome to the program.
JACKYeah, thank you. You know, I heard one of your guests mention that, you know, there's not going to be much clarity on this issue because of gridlock in congress, and I agree. And I think everybody can. If they'll just focus on 2020 when our next census occurs and we have reapportionment. And there's a real undercurrent in the country to reapportion our districts in a more natural way so that they're not so extreme and have doglegs from Houston to San Antonio and up to southern Dallas and Fort Worth where they're getting pieces of districts that they want for their purposes. And I think we can basically go to sleep until 2020.
KAYRight, Jack. Well, on the impact of gerrymandering or redistricting or whatever you'd like to call it on climate change specifically you think is what?
JACKWell, I think that you'll have more sensible opinions when you have better districts. But when you've got extreme districts you can't expect anything is going to be agreeable. But when you get people in the middle who can talk and discuss things, then you're going to be able to arrive at a better conclusion.
KAYOkay. Let's go to Alex in Indianapolis, Ind. Alex, thanks so much for joining the program. You want to make a comment on job creation and clean energy.
ALEXYeah, thanks for having me.
ALEXSomething that never gets mentioned during this conversation is that when we switch to new energies and transition coal-fired plants to natural gas plants, that wouldn't create jobs. The same millwrights who build coal-fired power plants now have jobs building natural gas plants. The same technicians and engineers who run coal-fired power plants to be trained with the massive record profits that the energy companies are reaping right now to transition their workers to new -- you know, to be doing the jobs at the gas plants.
ALEXI mean, this is kind of one of those classic polarized conversations where we get thrown a lot of buzz words and a lot of, you know, really harsh consequences. Nobody in American wants to see anybody lose their job anymore. We want to move forward. And I think that what we need to do is have a conversation about what the solutions are and do them.
ALEXIt's just not a myth that this causes some problems. I think as a human society we need to do better.
KAYOkay. Alex, I just want to put that as a question to Coral because there was, of course, Coral, a lot of excitement a few years ago actually after the financial crash about how do we stimulate growth in this economy. How do we create new jobs in a post-manufacturing world? And people looked to the green energy movement as perhaps a job creator. Give us some statistics there. Has it actually lived up to that promise?
DAVENPORTNot really. Green energy is not a major -- it's not a major part of the economy. In general, jobs within both the fossil fuel industry and the renewable energy economy make up less than 1 percent of total jobs. The caller is right however, that as we see transitions from traditional forms of fossil fuel energy to other forms of clean and renewable energy, there probably will be a transition in those numbers. It will probably be about equal.
DAVENPORTThere will be jobs created in new sectors. A really interesting one is called Demand Reduction, which is these new EPA regulations really put -- emphasize energy efficiency. And the idea of getting as much light and heat and economic juice out of less energy, out of less electricity. That requires a lot of engineering, new technologies. That's kind of a job creator. On the other side of that though you do have coal miners who may lose their jobs. So it kind of balances out.
KAYWe're going to carry on that point just after the break. Coral Davenport is with us. We'll have more on our conversation after this short break.
KAYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Katty Kay, of the BBC, sitting in for Diane. You've joined our conversation on the EPA and regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I'm joined in the studio by Scott Segal. He's head of the Policy Resolution Group at Bracewell & Giuliani. He specializes in energy law. Coral Davenport -- she's the climate and energy reporter with the New York Times -- is with me.
KAYMichael Brune is also with me. He's the executive director of the Sierra Club. We are taking your calls, questions and comments. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number here. I just want to read -- with respect to Scott who says everybody knows this already -- I want to read the first paragraph of The New York Times report on that bipartisan report this morning.
KAYIt reads, "More than a million homes and businesses along the nation's coasts could flood repeatedly before ultimately being destroyed. Entire states in the Southeast and the Corn Belt may lose much of their agriculture, as farming shifts northward in a warming world. Heat and humidity will probably grow so intense that spending some time outside will become physically dangerous, throwing industries like construction and tourism into turmoil."
KAYScott, is it that dispute what scientists say could be the outcome of global warming if we don't do anything or you think everybody knows all this, why are we talking about it?
SEGALWell, it's more the latter than the former. My view of it is this…
KAYBecause, actually, when I read this I didn't know all of this.
SEGALOkay. Okay. Well, let me put it into -- I see the climate debate falling in to two buckets. One bucket is, how harmful is climate change? Okay. And there in is the discussion between those that the activists' community labels deniers versus those that produce reports that suggest it's quite dangerous. And then the other bucket -- and the one in which unfortunately is my lot in life to swim -- is what should we, as a society, do about it? What would make sense?
SEGALSo I scoured this report for evidence that they would talk about an actual solution. And the closest I came to -- and, of course, it's also reflected in Hank Paulson's editorial in The New York Times -- is the support for a carbon tax, which, actually, as a mechanism is more intriguing than some of the other regulatory mechanisms that are advanced. But there are some smart economists working on this report.
SEGALWhy didn't they talk about some of the important impediments and implementation issues that are associated with the carbon tax? That would have been a very, very useful report to take a look at. And one other thing, when they describe the substantial impacts of climate change, there was also a disconnect because there is no evidence that the adoption of a carbon tax in the near term would address those types of impacts. Okay.
SEGALBecause they are complicated and they are related, in fact, to a world economy where China's production of carbon dioxide has gone up by 170 percent over the last 10 years, while ours has fallen. India's up by over 95 percent, while ours has fallen. So, you know, it's much more complicated than just saying, will there be floods? We also have to talk about what is the appropriate response based on societal resources.
KAYMichael Brune, I mean, whatever the practical merits of -- or otherwise of a carbon tax, it seems to be politically a nonstarter, doesn't it?
BRUNEYou know, something in Congress can go from impossible to inevitable pretty quickly. But beyond a carbon tax, I want to just focus a little bit on what Scott is saying. You know, Scott's firm represents the coal industry so we don't often agree on too many things. But I appreciate his focus on solutions. I think that folks who look at the climate change issue, many people see this has a huge obligation. And increasingly, more people are seeing acting on climate as a huge opportunity.
BRUNESo a focus on solutions is great. It's great for our country. It's great for economy. Beyond a carbon tax there are lots of ways in which we can accelerate this transition. Like the caller Alex was saying, from Indiana, there's a lot of ways in which we can accelerate a transition in ways that stimulate clean energy, create more jobs and improve public health at the same time. And, ironically, most of those solutions are found in the Clean Power Plan, as put forth by Obama. Because what Obama did and what the EPA has done under this statute, is they are recommending four types of solutions.
BRUNEWe can make coal plants more efficient. We can switch from coal to other fuel sources. We can invest in energy efficiency. And we can invest in clean energy. Four different types of solutions that can be used in combination with each other, that can provide states with the flexibility and the creativity they need to do what works in their state, for their communities, for the workers in that state and simultaneously cut the carbon pollution that could create some of the runaway climate disruption that you saw in this article.
KAYCoral, to what extent have advances in technology surrounding fracking and natural gas extraction changed the debate surrounding coal plants and EPA regulations?
DAVENPORTIt -- they've changed it tremendously. As a result of advances in fracking, we've seen this boom in domestic production of natural gas, which has just half the carbon pollution of coal. So we've got this big glut of newly cheap, readily available, lower carbon fuel source. And what has happened is the market, the electric utility market, has, on its own, been driven to this lower carbon fuel source because it's cheaper.
DAVENPORTAnd, as Michael pointed out, what these regulations are doing is they come in, they kind of solidify and accelerate this transition that was already happening, away from coal towards natural gas. Electric utilities weren't investing in natural gas because it was cleaner. They were doing it because it was cheaper. Now, they're going to keep doing that. And for the time being, as long as there's all this cheap natural gas available, it probably won't hurt their bottom lines too much.
DAVENPORTIt probably won't hurt consumers' bottom lines too much. So in some ways it was a really big gift to Obama, that he had nothing to do with, that there was this glut of cheaper, cleaner energy available. The hard part, the big question will be, what will be the cost of taking the next step of going from natural gas to a much larger share of solar and wind?
DAVENPORTSwitching just to natural gas is not going to be enough to lower CO2 emissions substantially, to offset the worst of what scientists say is coming as a result of climate change. There's going to have to be a next step after that. I think that's going to be a lot harder, more destructive, more difficult.
KAYOkay. Let's go to the phones, again. To Michael, who joins us from Maryland. Michael, thanks very much for joining the program. Thanks for waiting.
MICHAELGreat. I wanted to know -- the gentleman from the -- that represents the coal industry, we don't hear much about them making coal burn cleaner. I mean, we've done it with automobiles and now wood stoves are making huge advances with catalytic convertors. And why not put some money into that because if we make coal go away in this country, it's still going to be very popular in some other countries around the world. And it is a global pollution issue.
KAYGood question, Michael.
SEGALYeah, I thank the caller for the question. The first thing I'd say is just to correct the record a little bit. I represent utilities. I'm not -- I'm not really here to speak on behalf of the extraction of coal. But nonetheless, his question is a really good one. First thing you need to know is that the industry has spent literally hundreds of billions of dollars over the last 10 years on new clean-air technologies to reduce the amount of pollution that comes from coal-fired power plants.
SEGALAnyone that tells you that a coal-fired power plant is not regulated or is under regulated is simply not sharing with you the actual facts. And so we've had big technology development.
KAYHow effective have they been?
SEGALUnbelievable effective. In other words…
DAVENPORTJust to be clear, though, none of that has anything to do with carbon…
SEGALCarbon. That's right.
DAVENPORT…pollution. There has been no technology that is commercially available to regulate carbon pollution. Until now coal plants have not been regulated for carbon pollution at all.
DAVENPORTWhat you're talking about is other pollutants. Things like soot and smog and ozone.
DAVENPORTIf the caller is talking about carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, that technology has not been put out there. And it has not been regulated. Just to be clear.
SEGALSure. And -- yeah. And I -- frankly, I don't think that's what the caller was talking about. But if he was talking about carbon, let me say this about that. The…
KAYWell, it's carbon that contributes to CO2 emissions that are creating greenhouse gas problems.
SEGALThat is true. That is true, but what contributes to public health impact are conventional air pollutants and not carbon dioxide. And there we've had not only substantial reductions in those emissions, but the EPA itself has said in its Clean Air Trends report, that we've had substantial impacts on human health related to those. So that is a success story.
KAYRight. So on that issue things have been done.
KAYBut on the issue that leads to global warming, which is what we've been talking…
KAY…about during the course of the program, that has not been done.
SEGAL…that's, Katty, that's the stick part about carbon. Is that carbon doesn't have end-of-the-tailpipe solutions in the same way that other conventional pollutants do. One of those end-of-the-tailpipe solutions that is promising, but is not yet widely adopted or available, as Coral was indicating, is called carbon capture and sequestration, where you literally capture the carbon, subject it to pressure and inject it into the ground, sometimes to produce additional oil and gas by changing the underground pressure.
SEGALNow, that system works well if your coal-fired power plant happens to be located near a geological formation that can take that carbon. And, in addition, we need some technological advances to make that work.
KAYOkay. I want to go to Michael and look forward a little bit on what the latest scientific estimates are on what it's going to take, Michael, to slow global warming. What are the kinds of numbers we're looking at? What are the kind of the things we need to do and in what time frame?
BRUNEGreat. Let me just add one last comment to the previous topic. What Coral and Scott were talking about is entirely accurate. There's -- you can separate the conventional pollutants from the carbon pollution. Here's the problem for a lot of Scott's clients, is that if you try to scrub coal plants from the mercury and the soot and the smog and the coal ash and all of the conventional pollutants coming from coal, and if you try to take -- find ways to get the carbon impact to be much smaller, coal can't compete.
BRUNEIt just can't compete. Particularly in a world where you have cheaper, other types of fuel sources that are much cheaper. The price of wind has dropped by 40 percent in four years. The price of solar has dropped by almost 50 percent in four years. That is why you're seeing so many utilities switch from coal to other fuel sources, because it's cheaper. And as the EPA pushes the industry, the coal-burning utilities, to modernize their pollution controls, they are faced with choices.
BRUNEDo we install scrubbers? Do we install pollution controls? Or should we invest in cleaner energy sources that often are much cheaper? And…
BRUNE…of course, they're choosing the latter option.
KAYMichael, give me the longer-term picture of what we need to do.
BRUNEWhat we need to do is, economy-wide, we need to find emissions reductions by the end of next decade to the tune of 40 to 50 percent across the economy in order to have a shot in the U.S. of making enough carbon reductions to keep global warming below 3.6 degrees -- an increase in temperatures below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the challenge. And when you read the report in The New York Times today, you hear about all the things, the manifestations of runaway climate disruption, the solutions are profound.
BRUNEThe need to scale up our solutions at a very quick pace are profound. We have to reinvent the way in which we are powering our economy in the electric sector, which is what we've been talking about, but also in transportation. And so what Coral was talking about, that we not -- not only do we need to move beyond coal, but we also need to move beyond gas. And we need to do both in a very rapid time frame in order to hit the target that climate scientists have put in front of us.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Coral?
DAVENPORTAnd there's one other piece of that puzzle, which is huge. Even if the U.S. achieves everything that Michael just talked about, it makes no difference whatsoever unless the U.S. also achieves a global deal with the other major emitters. The biggest carbon polluter in the world right now is China. India is on pace to be one of the largest, if the largest carbon emitter in the coming decades. Global warming is a global problem. This is the ultimate problem of the commons, what the…
KAYIs there any indication that in either China or India they're moving in that direction?
DAVENPORTYeah, so India is giving a lot -- sorry. China is giving a lot of really interesting indications that it might be looking at -- it's sort of floating the idea of putting forth a carbon cap, a cap on its carbon emissions in the coming years. Right now, in China, there are five provinces that have put in place cap and trade carbon pricing systems. China's emissions are still high and getting higher, but the government is working very closely with the U.S. government on possibly achieving some kind of deal between the two countries.
DAVENPORTIndia's a different story. They've just got elected a new government that is very pro-development. The attitude there is very much, you know, we have so many impoverished people we can't possibly be looking at cutting emissions. We've got to focus on lifting people out of poverty. The U.S. can't tell us what to do. So this is a major diplomatic problem as well.
DAVENPORTAnd in this way, when the U.S. -- which is historically the world's largest emitter and world's largest economy -- goes to these international negotiations and says, "Look at these strong actions we've taken at home," it does give the U.S. some more leverage to push the other economies to do something, but the question is, will they come to a deal, will these other economies move forward?
KAYOkay. I want to go to George in Orland, Fla. George, you've been waiting to join the program. You have a quick question, I think, for our panelists.
GEORGEYes, yes, really quick. What jobs retraining programs are there for coalminers? Because I know it's not a problem that we don't have enough money. I mean, we had 1.7 trillion to spend at -- to waste in the Iraq invasion. So I don't see where -- why we can't do it.
KAYOkay. Scott, why don't I quickly put that one to you?
SEGALWell, you know, one of the first problems is, is that the technologies that would replace base load electric power, are not very labor intensive. So it's not a matter just of retraining. You know, we had a previous caller talk about millwrights and construction workers, but once you build something, you're gone. That job is gone. And the folks that are needed to operate the solar and the wind are far less and they're not of the same type of union jobs that we have with respect to our base load fossil fuels.
SEGALAlso, you can't just snap your fingers and expand renewable power. In fact, no one knows better than the Sierra Club that you have to have the infrastructure to bring that electricity to market. And the Sierra Club in California opposed solar plants. The Sierra Club in Maryland opposes wind power because you have to put it in the Allegheny Ridge. Since 1974, it's been Sierra Club's policy not to support the expansion of the nuclear industry, which, of course, is a zero carbon industry.
SEGALAnd Sierra Canada opposes all hydro. So, you know, the fact of the matter is I love the tenor of this conversation we're having, but I think Michael needs to work with his chapters to insure that if we do go in the direction of renewables, at a heightened pace, that he clears away the underbrush of constant opposition to new construction and constant opposition of infrastructure.
KAYMichael, I'm going to let you respond. We have one minute left on the program. So be brief, please.
BRUNEGreat. Thanks for the question, George. There are lots programs at the Department of Labor and also Department of Energy on worker retraining that have been established to help coal miners. And the Sierra Club is working with both the utility workers' union, as well as the steel workers' union and labor's union, as well as International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to support both wind and solar, as well as clean energy transmission that would create jobs.
BRUNEWhat we're finding is that growth in the solar and wind industries outpaces the growth in any other fossil fuel industry. And, though, that's a small number right now, as Coral mentioned, it's one that I think offers a lot of hope for working families across the country.
KAYOkay. Michael Brune from the Sierra Club, Coral Davenport has been here from The New York Times, Scott Segal has also been here. This is a fascinating discussion. I hope we can do more of it on a later show. Thank you all so much for joining me.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. Thank you all so much listening.
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