Air Pollution:

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) talks about growing momentum for four-pollutant bill

As members of Congress continue to debate global warming policy, legislators are also working on proposals to regulate traditional forms of air pollution. During today's OnPoint, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) explains why there is new support for his power plant emissions legislation -- a proposal that would reduce mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, along with greenhouse gases. Carper also discusses the role climate change policy could play in the 2008 presidential election, and addresses how a faceoff between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) might bring the issue to the forefront.

Transcript

Darren Samuelsohn: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Darren Samuelsohn. Joining us in Washington is Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware. Senator, thanks for coming on the show.

Senator Carper: Darren, it's great to be back, thanks.

Darren Samuelsohn: You reintroduced a bill recently on power plant pollution and global warming. Tell us, why did you reintroduce this bill?

Senator Carper: Well, when George Bush ran for president in 2000 he was up in Saginaw, Michigan and he said if I'm elected president we'll do four things. One, we'll reduce the emission of sulfur dioxide from power plants. We'll reduce the emission of nitrogen oxide from power plants. We'll reduce the emission of mercury from power plants and we'll reduce the emission of CO2 from power plants. And when he became president he offered legislation that did only three of those, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. Meanwhile my friend, Jim Jeffords, introduce legislation to go further and faster than the president on sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury and to take sort of a Kyoto-like approach on CO2, but there's nothing in between. I'm one of those guys or gals who looks for a third way, a centrist approach, and we found it. And Lamar Alexander and I and a bunch of our colleagues have introduced a revised legislation that sort of builds on what we offered before. I think it's the only bill out there, Darren, that has support from Democrats and Republicans, support from some of the environmental community and from the utility community. And that's the kind of approach that I think is going to be needed if we're going to make progress here.

Darren Samuelsohn: You had three Republicans before, Lincoln Chafee, Lamar Alexander and Judd Gregg. And now you've added another one, Senator Lindsey Graham. What did you have to say to Lindsey Graham to get him onboard?

Senator Carper: "Please." [laughter] I think he, like a number of our colleagues, really, I think like Americans, have awakened to the fact that something's going on on our planet, that this planet of ours is warming up, that we do have something to do with it and we need to get started. With apologies to the Rolling Stones, time is not on our side. This is something we've got to get started on.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you expect more Republicans to come onboard? It seems like every single time that you announce one it's a big deal. It causes a lot of people to perk up their heads.

Senator Carper: It's a big deal to us and we're happy with this. We're also delighted that senators like Dianne Feinstein from California and Chris Dodd, our new cosponsors, and I think we'll add another cosponsor to this week, maybe one of each. Like Noah's Ark, one a Democrat and a Republican and we'll keep working on it. And I've been talking to a number of our colleagues in the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, to see if they might like to introduce a companion bill. And it looks like that they will. And we're hoping to have even more cosponsors there when it's introduced probably next month.

Darren Samuelsohn: You have some utilities on your side. And one of the anecdotes I've heard you share before is that you told President Bush that there were some utilities that actually supported CO2 regulations and he was surprised. Can you share that anecdote again with us?

Senator Carper: I don't know. I don't know if I should share these private conversations. But he said to me, at dinner at the White House, oh gosh, a couple of months ago. And we were walking around after the dinner and I said can we talk about clean air for a minute? And he said sure. Then he said to me, he said Clear Skies, my Clear Skies bill isn't going anywhere is it? And I said, no, it really isn't. Then I said but there's an alternative that Lamar Alexander and several of us have offered and introduced and we're going to introduce a revised version of it this year. And he said does it have caps on carbon? And I said, yes, it does. And he said, oh, the utilities would never go along with that. And I said, well, some will. And I said utilities want us. I don't know what these CEOs of the utilities have been telling you. I know what they're telling me. They want some certainty. They're prepared to make these huge investments, multibillion-dollar investments in power plants in the next couple of months and they want to know what the rules are. And I said sometimes, you know he had said during dinner talking about the Iraqi war, sometimes, he said, I'm concerned that my generals tell me what they think I want to hear. And I said I think sometimes utility CEOs tell you, and your staff, tells you what they think you want to hear on this stuff. What the businesses, what the CEOs would like is certainty. And they realize that this is coming, and frankly, some of them understand we need to get started. And if they can find a way with our legislation, which is trying to entice, to capture -- we use market forces to get this done, all the better.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you think that President Bush has a chance of signing something into law before he leaves office in 2008?

Senator Carper: Well if he wants to leave much of an environmental legacy, I think he needs to. And there's a way that he can do that. It really depends on, I think, what kind of legacy he wants to leave. He'd probably argue that he's already got a great environmental legacy. There are others who would question that. So there's a way to do something about it and this could be it.

Darren Samuelsohn: The negotiations on Clear Skies and the other power plant pollution bills, about a year ago those were going pretty rapidly. There hasn't been much talk since then. Have you seen any movement, since you've introduced your bill, from Senator Voinovich or Senator Inhofe or anybody else to really talk about negotiating and actually trying to mark up a bill?

Senator Carper: I've actually spoken with -- I met with Senator Voinovich just before we introduced the bill. And he was sort of hoping that we'd just like come his direction, sort of like to the utilities, the coal burning utilities, in their direction, reintroducing our bill. Actually I think the argument -- I think the American people -- I think the Congress has moved in the other direction. And I believe that our legislation, while it's still a centrist approach, reflects a change in attitude. I will say this, we've talked not only with a lot of environmental groups in recent weeks, but also with the leaders of a number of our biggest utilities in the country, and just laid out what we are proposing to do. And it's not that the utilities were ready to embrace what we were proposing, but they realize that something is going to happen. They realize that eventually the Congress is going to impose caps on carbon. And what I say to them, right now, if the election were held today, we'd probably be nominating Hillary Clinton and the Republicans would be nominating John McCain. And they both, frankly, think that they would like to put caps on carbon and maybe go even further than we go in our legislation. So I said that's coming and you've got to know it's coming and one of them may end up being president and you may not like what you get then. You need to think about this today.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you see, if McCain and Clinton are the two nominees, a debate, a back and forth on climate change and air pollution issues?

Senator Carper: I see a love fest. A warm embrace.

Darren Samuelsohn: So no matter what, either one of them, you're pretty much in good hands I guess it's what you see?

Senator Carper: Um-mm.

Darren Samuelsohn: Okay. And what about other candidates, I guess? Do you think that there might be a debate, where you're going to see some candidates from the right kind of pushing Senator McCain and maybe candidates on the left pushing Hillary Clinton in the presidential campaign?

Senator Carper: Usually what happens, to get the nomination, you've got to know a party. You've got to run to the left and then come back to the center. The Republican Party, you've got to run to the right and then come to the center. I think for Senator Clinton and for Senator McCain, their position is pretty well staked out here. And at least on these issues, I expect them to stay pretty much where they are. And I think they realize, in the end, to get stuff done you have to have an approach where we don't wreck the economy, we don't we don't push more use of natural gas, that we don't cost consumers an arm and a leg. There's actually an approach that does that, that still reduces the emissions of carbon, and it's the one that we've introduced.

Darren Samuelsohn: Former Vice President Gore has a new movie coming out about global warming. It's a documentary, his slideshow, I don't know, have you seen it?

Senator Carper: I saw the slideshow about two weeks ago. He was up and spoke to the Democratic Caucus in Philadelphia and if the movie is half as good as the slideshow I look forward to seeing it. In fact, we've talking about trying to show it in different forums throughout every county in Delaware. There's three counties in Delaware, so it won't be hard.

Darren Samuelsohn: Do you think that it's a platform of his for possibly running for president in 2008?

Senator Carper: It's funny, a couple of people have suggested that to me. It would seem like an unlikely platform, but I'll say this, he knows his stuff and presents a very compelling case. I don't know that this is the end all be all issue that can really grab the American people, but it's, I think, a very important issue.

Darren Samuelsohn: On your bill you did move a little bit to the left. You had criticism from environmentalists who urged you not to introduce the exact same bill that you had introduced last year. They were warning that if you did and then you started into negotiations with Republicans things could happen that would not satisfy them. You did move it to the left. You did satisfy the environmentalists it looks like. Why did you do that?

Senator Carper: Again, as I said earlier, I think the argument has changed here. The center has really changed in the last couple of years as a majority of the Senate now and now the majority of the House has actually gone on record that global warming is real. In fact, we need to do something about it. There's still not agreement over what to do about it, but I think the mood of our people has changed. By the same token one of the things we did I think is very warmly welcomed by the utility committee is we provide incentives for burning coal. Not just any old coal operation, but clean coal, IGCC.

Darren Samuelsohn: You decided also not to trade mercury emissions and actually cap every single power plant in the country. Did you get some push back from utilities on that one?

Senator Carper: You know we did. And concerns are being raised it's very expensive. But the EPA did a study around Steubenville, Ohio recently that I know you're familiar with, where they found that about three quarters of the mercury that came down around Steubenville, Ohio -- this was as recently as a couple of months ago, came from a source within 400 miles of Steubenville. And there's a lot of concern in the past about mercury hotspots. This is one of the most current studies, I think reputable studies, that have been done, it actually showed, hey, a lot of times when the mercury that goes up in the air, it actually does come down. Not on the other side of the world, not on the other side of the country, but, in this case, 400 miles from Steubenville, Ohio.

Darren Samuelsohn: Not too far. Your bill focuses just on power plants. A lot of the debate on Capitol Hill has been about the entire US economy; Senator McCain's proposal, Senator Bingaman had a proposal last year. First off, you support McCain-Lieberman, isn't that correct?

Senator Carper: I do. And it lost support. When it was voted on last year I think it got less than 40 senators who supported it. It had provisions in there that were supportive of nuclear power. And I think that, with respect to nuclear power, it doesn't do anything to increase our dependence on foreign oil. It decreases our dependence on foreign oil. These nuclear power plants don't put up SOX, NOX, mercury or CO2 and I think they have a fair amount to recommend them. That's not to say that waste is not a problem, but there's a fair amount of virtue as well. But a number of people in the Senate, who might otherwise support the McCain-Lieberman approach, are uncomfortable with nuclear. So I think that cost them some votes this last time.

Darren Samuelsohn: And your bill, focusing just on power plants, I mean what's the difference between your bill in terms of strategies for moving yours forward versus an economy wide approach, which --

Senator Carper: I think we're several years away from getting an economy wide approach. And I describe McCain-Lieberman as a freeway, like the interstate freeway to a less wasteful world in terms of global warming. There needs to be an on-ramp to the freeway. We think our bill is the on-ramp.

Darren Samuelsohn: But of course environmental legislation doesn't come up every single year or every couple of years. So are you concerned at all that if you were to get your bill to move, you know the options of Congress taking this thing up again and taking on maybe more caps and bringing up the entire economy, that might be five, ten years away.

Senator Carper: I think to the extent that we can actually be successful in moving our legislation, I think it enhances the ability to bring up and to pass an economy wide bill. And 40% of the CO2 that's emitted into the air, at least in this country, comes out of our utility plants and a fair amount of mercury and SOX and NOX as well.

Darren Samuelsohn: Okay. Senator Carpenter thanks so much for your time. We hope to have you on the show again and be a regular guest.

Senator Carper: Well, thanks very much much.

Darren Samuelsohn: Okay. Until next time, this is Darren Samuelsohn for another edition of OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]

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