NET's Clapp talks IPCC, expresses concern over Sen. Bingaman's emissions bill

As the House prepares to hold hearings on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth assessment, climate skeptics continue to disagree with environmentalists on the findings of the report. During today's OnPoint, Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, responds to critics of the report saying the climate skeptics no longer have a leg to stand on. Clapp looks ahead to what the IPCC findings may mean for climate legislation in the United States and expresses support for Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) emissions legislation. Clapp says he is "concerned" about Sen. Jeff Bingaman's (D-N.M.) proposed legislation and says NET does not support that measure. He also addresses how other major industrialized nations may pressure the United States into acting on climate change.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. Phil, thanks for coming back on the show.

Phil Clapp: Thanks you for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: The intergovernmental panel on climate recently released its fourth assessment. And basically it says that with 90 percent certainty humans have accounted for climate change over the past 50 years. What is NET's reaction to this report?

Phil Clapp: Well, we now have the smoking gun. The debate is fundamentally over. The very small handful of scientists in the United States, most of them funded by industries would interests in energy policy, really don't have a leg to stand on anymore. I mean 90 percent certainty. That's as certain as science ever gets.

Monica Trauzzi: On Friday though the Bush administration said it would continue to oppose mandatory caps on emissions. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman was quoted as saying, "The US economy is not something to be experimented with." Are you at all surprised that the U.S. government did not change its discourse after the report came out?

Phil Clapp: No, not at all. I think what's important about what Secretary Bodman said, and the other administration officials who were in that press conference, was that they embraced the science, that they agreed with the report and that they had actually invested in and contributed to the outcome. So now we have scientific agreement with the administration. Whether they're using the right policy is another question. I mean it is getting ...

Monica Trauzzi: Yes, scientific agreement or not ...

Phil Clapp: It is getting ridiculous now. They don't have a leg to stand on at this point. And to simply stand up all the time and wave the flag of, oh my heavens, if we try to solve the problem we'll destroy the US economy. That's pretty worn out too. To give you one example, Henry Ford II is on the Nixon White House tapes saying that if President Nixon imposed a seatbelt requirement on autos that it would destroy the auto industry. All of this is always predicted and, of course, it never happens.

Monica Trauzzi: But it would change the dynamic of jobs in the US. Some people would have to shift over to other industries. It would change things.

Phil Clapp: Not in the short run. What we're really looking at here is building energy efficiency into our economy. Let me give you one example. Coal-fired power plants are the source of 40 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions. They could seriously cut their emissions and actually meet maybe a third to a half of their portion of the Kyoto Protocol target simply by burning coal more efficiently, 10 percent more efficiently. And that's a change that could be made solely through operations and maintenance and without a dime of capital investment. There are scores and scores of investments like that that can be made in our economy that actually will get us a long way to capping the growth in our emissions. As you get further out, as you really have to get 60 and 80 percent reductions, which we do by the middle of the century, you have to have new technologies. And you have to develop new approaches to hydrogen technology for autos for example.

Monica Trauzzi: There seems to be international support for the findings of the IPCC report. We've seen Australia come out and they're willing to take steps that they weren't willing to take in the past. You know, they were allies with the Bush administration for a long time. Do you think that the U.S. will be pressured by other industrialized nations, such as Australia, to begin to start taking steps?

Phil Clapp: Yes, I think that Prime Minister Howard of Australia statement yesterday was extremely important when he said that Australia would have to go to mandatory emissions reductions. There's only - you know, the Bush administration is sitting by itself now. I think the first place that the administration is going to face this pressure is at this summer's G8. Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Blair of Britain have agreed that they are going to push for the adoption of an atmospheric limit on carbon concentrations at that summit and try to get an agreement from all of the leaders there. So President Bush is going to face that in a very clear public spotlight. Now, it appears that the British and the German governments have enough of an indication from the Bush administration that the President won't completely veto it, that they are planning to move forward because the G8 is a consensus process. But he is very quickly going to come under some pressure.

Monica Trauzzi: The George Marshall Institute, which is a critic of the report, cautions that the summary is not a consensus among scientists, but rather an interpretation by governments. They refer to what is in the report as scare tactics to spur government action, to suppress energy use, and impose large economic burdens on the U.S. economy. How do you respond to the naysayers?

Phil Clapp: Most of what you just read is false. Yes, what was released is a summary for policymakers, but there are over 2000 scientists from 154 different countries involved in the IPCC. The summary is based directly on thousands of pages of technical documents prepared by those scientists. And the policy summary is not written without the scientist's approval and involvement. So it's not scare tactics. This is the work of mainstream science worldwide.

Monica Trauzzi: AEI is being questioned about payments it made to scientists to refute the findings that appeared in the IPCC report. Does the fact that scientists need to be solicited for comments against the IPCC report say anything about the contrarian view?

Phil Clapp: Yes, actually it does because I think the small handful of scientists, Patrick Michaels, Frederick Seitz, these people whose names you've heard over and over again over the years, frankly, have lost all credibility and the press won't even quote them anymore. So AEI and other opponents had to go out trying to litter money around the scientific community to find anybody, any new voice that would step up and join them.

Monica Trauzzi: But should there be room for dissent in the argument? Isn't it important to have the dissenter's voice in order to sort of keep the scientists in check so the right information gets out to Americans?

Phil Clapp: You're not talking about scientists who have done, for example, any peer-reviewed scientific research in this field for years. These are a group of paid quacks, frankly. That's who they are and they don't represent mainstream opinion. It's fine for people to quote them as long as you make it very, very clear that they are paid by Exxon Mobil or they have done no peer-reviewed science in the field or they have no peer-reviewed scientific literature even to point to. That's one question every reporter should ask one of these people. Where is the peer review basis for what you're saying? Because all of the data that came out of the IPCC report this week was peer-reviewed by over 600 independent scientists.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're confident that the findings of the report will change the argument from a science-based debate to a policy-based debate?

Phil Clapp: Yes. It's no longer a question of whether it's happening, what human contribution is to global warming, it is now a question of getting busy and doing something about it and the time is very short. We have to have in place, according to the basic science in this report, within the next decade, the policies that will cap not just U.S. emissions, but world emissions and prevent them from going any higher. Then we have to begin reducing. That is an enormous undertaking and it has to begin now if we have to have those policies already in place and taking effect within a decade.

Monica Trauzzi: And, specifically, what kind of policy would that be?

Phil Clapp: Well, the first and greatest priority for the U.S. is to put a cap and trade regime in place that caps emissions in a market mechanism which minimizes the costs of reducing those emissions. That will allow us to join a world system and it is one that actually the US business community designed. A cap and trade process was designed and put into the Kyoto Protocol by the Clinton administration at the request of US business community. This is, in essence, the Fortune 500's preferred approach to how to reduce emissions and that's what Congress should be doing right now.

Monica Trauzzi: All things considered, which piece of legislation that's been introduced in Congress so far would NET support?

Phil Clapp: Well, there are a variety of pieces of legislation. I think one of the things that you're seeing up there is that they are converging by and large. The Waxman legislation in the House, which was also introduced in the Senate in the last Congress by Senator Jeffords and has now been introduced by Senators Boxer and Snowe, is legislation that describes the path we have to take, which is we cap U.S. emissions between 2015 and 2025 roughly, and then we begin to, say, a 1 to 3 percent reduction in emissions per year through 2050. And that's the pathway we'll be looking for in any bill that comes across the House or the Senate floor.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you at all concerned that a climate-lite bill, something that's a little watered down, will pass through because that's all that can pass?

Phil Clapp: Not really. What's very interesting is that the McCain-Lieberman bill, as reintroduced this year, which actually has roughly the same path as the Waxman and Boxer-Snowe legislation that I talked about, has the support of the three leading presidential candidates in the polls. Senator McCain, Senator Clinton, and Senator Obama, are all on that legislation. That tells you where the center, the consensus is moving on what we have to do. I am very, very concerned about the legislation that Senator Bingaman and the National Commission on Energy Policy have been proposing because that legislation would allow our emissions to continue to grow. It does not cut US emissions significantly. It's not too far from business as usual and that will not be enough to address the problem.

Monica Trauzzi: So you wouldn't support that in fact?

Phil Clapp: No. As a matter of fact, we're opposed to it.

Monica Trauzzi: Obviously '08 elections are coming into play. Any concern that legislation will be held off until the '08 candidate is voted into office?

Phil Clapp: Well, you can never tell what President Bush would do if presented a bill and I don't think anybody can speculate on that. But I think it's very important that the committees on both sides of the Hill, and broadly on the floor of both Houses, Congress really move forward and pass legislation. What is going to happen now is that members of Congress will start confronting the issue of, OK, now I know we're going to have mandatory emissions reductions. Maybe George Bush manages to delay it until 2009, but it's going to happen, and I have to figure out the strength of the emissions reductions I will support. And that's a long process and Congress needs to move forward and, frankly, send President Bush a bill. And if he vetoes it, fine. He's bought one more year. The next President most likely will sign it.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thanks Phil. This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

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