Former Cal EPA head Tamminen not confident CAFE increase will pass

As the head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, Terry Tamminen helped shape climate change policy that would eventually serve as an example for national legislation. Tamminen left his post at the California EPA in 2004 to pursue new goals -- to educate other state governments about California's plans and to discuss the damaging health effects of oil use. During today's OnPoint, Terry Tamminen, author of the book "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction" and a policy adviser to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), discusses why the tobacco and oil industries are so similar. Tamminen gives support to Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) emissions legislation. He explains why he believes a CAFE increase is unlikely during this congressional session and comments on the House's recent legislation on oil tax and royalty relief saying it is inadequate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Terry Tamminen, author of the new book "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction." Terry serves as a special adviser to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and is also the former head of the California EPA. Terry, thanks for joining me.

Terry Tamminen: Thanks for the invitation.

Monica Trauzzi: Terry, you are at the head of Cal EPA and it was a position of influence. California is doing a lot in the way of global warming. Why did you decide to step back from that and do more work in the private sector, put out this book? Why make that decision?

Terry Tamminen: Well, actually I was working on the book before the historic recall election in 2003 that put Governor Schwarzenegger into the governorship. And I couldn't resist putting the book aside for a while and helping him do the things that he's done on the environment, not just on climate change, but on land use and ocean protection and developing a hydrogen highway and a million solar roof plan and a lot of other things that we care about. But that said, I think now is the time for me to go out and talk about the issues in the book and, actually, to continue to advise him. And Johnny Appleseed a lot of what we've done in California to other states, not that one-size-fits-all, but that I think our experience can inform other states on how to tackle, particularly, climate change issues.

Monica Trauzzi: In the book you compare our current oil situation with the war that was waged against the tobacco industry. Why this point of comparison?

Terry Tamminen: Well, the interesting thing is that for the last 70 or 80 years oil and auto companies have acted in a very, very similar manner to tobacco companies in terms of lying to regulators, falsifying science, lying to the public, misleading them about a whole host of the problems that we know now exists with their products. And, of course, the emissions that come out at a tailpipe are chemically almost identical to secondhand tobacco smoke. So if the toxins are the same, the health harms and the other harms are very similar, and the corporate behavior has been similar, then why not treat them in the same way we treated tobacco companies, which is to say it's time to civilize them. It's time to make them disgorge some of their enormous profits and compensate taxpayers for health care costs and environmental cleanup costs, not to mention the cost of dealing with climate change.

Monica Trauzzi: And, in fact, you say yet it is not tobacco that is the biggest threat to human health from the smoke it blows in our faces, it is the petroleum industry that is listed by the Geneva Protocol on air pollution as the largest single source of harmful air pollution worldwide. We've certainly seen outreach and ad campaigns relating to the harmful effects of tobacco, why haven't we seen that relating to oil if it's even more harmful than tobacco?

Terry Tamminen: Well, I think we are beginning to see it. But, again, the oil and auto industry are particularly powerful in terms of the misleading ads. In fact, right now we see, in most of the major newspapers around the country, pictures of young children blowing into the air and little snowflakes and all these images brought to you by the oil industry and by the natural gas industry and by the auto industry. And Exxon Mobil and so forth continuing to try to mislead us about the climate science and about the impacts of their products and trying to suggest that there really are no alternatives when we know that are a significant number of other alternatives.

Monica Trauzzi: So we're told that in order to not be harmed by tobacco we shouldn't smoke. So in order to not be harmed by oil should we not use it? Should we be completely off of oil?

Terry Tamminen: We absolutely must move in that direction. You know, somebody famously said that the Stone Age didn't end for a lack of stones. We have to hope that the oil age doesn't end for a lack of oil, meaning that we would have burned it all up, because if we do that the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere will make this a very, very inhospitable planet for us to live on. And we already see the effects of climate change happening now, so we don't really want to dig it all out of the earth and burn it all. And even if we did, at some point it will run out. So for economic reasons, as well as environmental reasons we really must make this transition. And when we know, as we do now, that 100,000 people die in this country every single year from completely preventable petroleum-based air pollution and six-and-a-half million more go to the hospital with asthma and other respiratory diseases from the same reason, and when we see our armies marching across the globe killing people in other nations to secure our supply of this drug, I think it's time to kick the habit.

Monica Trauzzi: But even as we try to pursue our energy independence lawmakers are still trying to find ways to get oil in this country, like offshore drilling, drilling in ANWR. Should we be abandoning all of those attempts as well?

Terry Tamminen: Absolutely. It's absolutely unnecessary. We now know with alternative fuels, with biofuels, with battery electrics, with hydrogen we're on the verge of using for transportation, with a better investment in mass transit, getting people out of their cars with telecommuting and better land-use planning, we understand the problem now. It's time to take the great American ingenuity and apply it and say that we no longer need to be held hostage to oil and to the harmful effects of oil.

Monica Trauzzi: But we have growing energy demands. Can it really be done with all the alternatives you just listed? Is it possible to just wean ourselves off oil and rely on those sources?

Terry Tamminen: Well, I'd answer that in two ways. First of all, it better be possible because at some point we will run out of oil. There's dispute about exactly when, is it 50 years or is it 75 years? And of course there's coal, but at some point even that runs out. So we better figure this out because presumably our planet will continue to grow in those next 50 to 100 years. What will we do if we're having this same conversation hundred years from now and we've actually consumed all of these resources? But the second thing is, yes, there's enough sunlight that falls on the earth every hour to provide all the energy that humans need for an entire year. So that just gives you a sense of the scope, that if we simply harnessed more solar power, more wind, more geothermal and tidal energy. And you can capture much of this in the form of hydrogen. The wind blows, for example, at night when it may not be convenient to use the electricity. But you can use the electricity to convert water into hydrogen, store that for a transportation fuel or to run back through a fuel cell for electricity during the day. Just one of many, many examples of how you can take intermittent, renewable resources and make it a reliable and dependable source of energy for our future.

Monica Trauzzi: The House recently passed legislation that repeals oil taxes and also addresses royalty relief. It has yet to be considered in the Senate. How important is this type of legislation and where do you think it's going to go in the Senate?

Terry Tamminen: Well, unfortunately, the $14 billion in reduction of tax breaks and other benefits to the oil industry that is proposed in the House measure is a drop in the oil barrel; because as I explain in my book, we're actually providing about $114 billion every single year to the richest corporations in the history of commerce. And I say that advisedly. Exxon Mobil just came out with another fantastic quarterly report breaking all the records for profits, so the same thing with Chevron and most of the other major oil makers around the world. And even as some of our domestic automakers struggle the car companies are doing very well also. So we know that they're doing very well and there's absolutely no reason that they need these tax breaks and subsidies. And if you factor in the cost of health care and the other harms that are the direct result of these products my estimate is that we're subsidizing these industries to the tune of a trillion dollars every single year.

Monica Trauzzi: So would one step be more efficient vehicles?

Terry Tamminen: One step is more efficient vehicles, and also that all of us use the vehicles more efficiently. Every single one of us can strike a blow for energy independence literally overnight, first of all, obviously, using less. Figuring out how to walk more, take a bite, take mass transit, try to get out of our cars. But secondly, whatever we drive, whether it's a big car or a small one or a truck, inflating the tires properly will get you about two or three percent better gas mileage literally overnight. There's a number of other tips in the book that I describe that anyone can do that will get you about 10 or 15 percent savings of your fuel economy. And then, naturally, when you do change your vehicle, when you buy the next car, trying to get the most fuel-efficient one, in whatever category of vehicle you need, will send the message to the car makers that that's what we demand and that's what we need.

Monica Trauzzi: So was the President on track in his State of the Union address this year when he made a push for technology and also asked Americans to reduce their gas consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years?

Terry Tamminen: Well, I think he was on track, but, you know, the house is burning down and he's mowing the lawn. I mean it's absolutely, I think, a lack of leadership not to lay out the problem more fully, not to say therefore here's what our goals must be. I didn't hear him say we need an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases in this country by 2050, which is something that Governor Schwarzenegger has said and set California on a path to do. It's not crazy. In fact, it's what we need to do as a part of the world community, to do our fair share to solve this climate problem. He didn't say, you know, we're going to end our imports of oil. He said I want to reduce, by 75 percent, our import of Middle Eastern oil. So he's reducing a fraction of a much, much bigger import, which is, of course, a much, much bigger dependence on oil. Frankly, his State of Union address, to me, was a recipe for continuing our addiction, not ending it.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned what California has been doing and the goal to reduce emissions by 2050 and part of that is the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. These goals are aggressive. Is California really going to be able to meet these goals or are they just trying to serve as more of a model to spur others to act?

Terry Tamminen: Well, Monica, past is prologue and so I'm hopeful that, in fact, all of these are achievable goals both because we have the technology, we have the policies, our analysis shows that it's possible. It's aggressive and we're all going to have to sacrifice a little and work hard, but in the end the sacrifices pay off. For example, in our climate plan we analyzed that there are billions of dollars of benefit to the economy between now and about 2020 for measures of energy efficiency and other things that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will create tens of thousands of new jobs. It's not to say that there won't be some initial cost or some people may have to change jobs. Change, obviously, does sometimes come at a price, but it will ultimately benefit all of us. And that's why I'm confident that California's model will work and we're seeing other states do very similar things, even adopting some of the California plans. And that's part of what I'm going out and talking to other governors about and helping them do.

Monica Trauzzi: How hopeful are you that fuel efficiency will be raised, fuel efficiency standards, CAFE standards will be raised during the 110th Congress?

Terry Tamminen: I'm not confident of that at all. The oil and auto industries are incredibly powerful. Even President Bush, couple of years ago, as I document in the book, he talked about a 1 1/2 mile per gallon increase in the fuel efficiency standards over the next 10 years and General Motors immediately came out publicly and said it's not possible and that would bankrupt the economy and destroy the company. I mean just absolutely insane things that they've been saying for years about everything from catalytic converters to airbags. So even when President Bush offers a modest step in the right direction the oil and auto companies fight it. And they've spent $186 million over the last decade or so in Congress on campaign contributions. And for every dollar that they've invested they've gotten $1000 back in various tax subsidies or protections. So it's unlikely that they're going to make any kind of significant change, I think, in this Congress.

Monica Trauzzi: We've already seen several pieces of emissions legislation introduced. If you had to one of them which one would you support?

Terry Tamminen: In terms of the climate emissions I think the Waxman approach is the best one. It doesn't preempt the work that's being done at the states, which is extremely important because so much work is being done, not just in California. And, of course, a lot of federal legislation ends up just delegated back to the states anyway so we don't want so we don't want to step on their early efforts. But it also, if you kind of look at the chart of what our emissions are likely to be and then what each of the bills would do, the Waxman bill is one of the few that actually takes us down the path to reducing our emissions sufficiently over the next 50 years, if you extrapolate out their measures, to do our fair share on the world stage. Most of the others essentially level off our rate of growth, but they don't really take us on that path of reducing the emissions. And that would be a false sense of security. We know that Congress doesn't reauthorize a lot of these environmental laws as frequently as they're supposed to. I mean what was the last time that the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act was comprehensively reauthorized? So my fear is that some kind of a climate-lite bill will get passed. And then Congress will say, okay, we can check that one off. And it might be 10 years before we revisit it. And as we know from James Hansen and other scientists, we don't have that much time to seriously deal with this issue.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it on that note. Terry thanks for joining me.

Terry Tamminen: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

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