The U.S. Climate Action Partnership recently came under scrutiny as a result of reports that several U.S. CAP members are currently affiliated with groups and organizations that do not support climate action. One of the U.S. CAP's founding NGOs is Environmental Defense. During today's OnPoint, David Yarnold, the new executive director of Environmental Defense and president of the Environmental Defense Action Fund, responds to these reports and urges U.S. CAP members to take a close look at the climate policy positions of the organizations they support or are affiliated with. Yarnold explains why he believes there will be a price to pay if the United States waits until 2009 to act on climate policy. He discusses the climate policies of the remaining presidential candidates and talks about the Environmental Defense Action Fund's new lobbying efforts for climate change legislation.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is David Yarnold, the new executive director of Environmental Defense and president of the Environmental Defense Action Fund. David, thanks for coming on the show.
David Yarnold: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: David, your organization recently launched an ad campaign featuring three governors, Schwarzenegger, Schweitzer and Huntsman. And the ad calls for federal action on climate change. It's a very different message though from some other environmental groups and their ad campaigns. Why do you think there's such a disparity in the enviro-community on climate change legislation?
David Yarnold: While, I think that there's general agreement that there's a need for climate change legislation. There will naturally be disagreements among that many different organizations about some of the provisions. The reason we chose to go with leaders like the three governors you named is that they have a deep commitment to the environment in their states and their message to Congress was one of urgency, and that's a message that Congress needs to hear.
Monica Trauzzi: What are your thoughts on Friends of the Earth's recent "Fix It or Ditch It" campaign? Is there any merit to what they're saying? Are there aspects of the Lieberman-Warner bill that do need to be tweaked?
David Yarnold: I think that Lieberman-Warner is a work in progress. We support many of its provisions. We're going to work with the staff and work with Congress as it moves along to try to fine-tune some of the pieces. It doesn't surprise me that there are some environmental groups that feel that it can be improved even more significantly.
Monica Trauzzi: And are there specific provisions that you think should be improved?
David Yarnold: Yeah, but I'm not sure that I want to get into the sausage making at this point.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. Why do you think that there has been this sort of growing opposition to the Lieberman-Warner bill in the mainstream media?
David Yarnold: I'm not sure that there has been opposition to Warner-Lieberman in the mainstream media. In fact, you've seen the Post support it, you've seen the New York Times support it. So I think the mainstream media actually looks at Warner-Lieberman and says, "This is our best hope as a vehicle."
Monica Trauzzi: Environmental Defense has teamed up with Akin Gump, we were discussing this before the show, to lobby for action on climate this year. How do you see this relationship impacting the overall climate discussion?
David Yarnold: Environmental Defense employees a range of consultants and we don't employ anybody at Akin Gump directly. Consultants at Akin Gump are paid by one of our major donors. But to your point about the importance of consultants, there's no question that they have perspectives on the political system and can help us be more effective in terms of the methods we choose, the messages we choose, and, of course, in terms of bringing their credibility with certain groups to bear. An example is that we have had nearly a three-year relationship with Whit Ayers, who is one of the most respected pollsters in the country, works predominantly for Republican candidates. And Whit has done some outstanding work that demonstrates that among died-in-the-wool conservatives who believe in preserving God's creation and among independent voters…and showing that independent voters will vote for candidates who favor climate change legislation and will vote against candidates who oppose it.
Monica Trauzzi: Many people are saying that Congress will make way this year on climate change legislation, but probably not pass any form of emission legislation. It's sort of up in the air at this point. But everyone's eyes seemed to be on 2009. Do you think that there's a price to pay though if we do wait until 2009?
David Yarnold: There's no question that every two years of delay causes an initial reduction path to double. And when that happens the costs can go up, the decline in CO2 becomes steeper, and it's harder to get to the target. So it's important to act now and not to wait two years.
Monica Trauzzi: How far do you predict the discussion will go this year?
David Yarnold: I think it's conceivable that you could get legislation this year. Do you want me to handicap it? I'm not oddsmaker, but is it 20 percent is it 25 percent, is it 30 percent? I think that there's a significant and measurable chance that there will be legislation this year that the president will sign.
Monica Trauzzi: Your group is one of the cofounders of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. And a recent piece in Business Week comments on how several members of the Climate Action Partnership are supporting efforts to oppose a mandatory cap. And they specifically list eight U.S. Climate Action partner members who are part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And they didn't make any attempts to oppose the U.S. Chamber's most recent ad campaign which opposed climate legislation. Are you putting any pressure on these groups to make a decision on what side of the line they're falling?
David Yarnold: Well, it's no secret that we authored a letter to the Board of Directors of the Chamber, including the U.S. CAP members saying to the chamber that their facts were misleading, that their claims of costs were grossly exaggerated and out of line with virtually every other model that looks at the costs of legislation. And I think it is a fair question for those companies as to what other organizations they want to belong to. But I will say this, and it's very important to understand this, all of the members as U.S. CAP have committed to the primacy of their support for U.S. CAP's targets. The real power of U.S. CAP is that the CEOs have established hard targets that look a lot like Lieberman-Warner's targets and they've committed to those and they have also committed to the fact that even if they belong to the other industry groups, which it's inevitable that they will do, that even if they belong to other industry groups that it's the U.S. CAP principles that are the ones that will be their guiding lights. Now, having said that, I think that when there are companies that belong to industry groups that are fundamentally opposed to climate change legislation, I think there's a test of reasonableness there that those companies probably ought to take a good hard look at.
Monica Trauzzi: Has there been movement since you wrote that letter? Have these companies responded?
David Yarnold: Yeah, but I'm not really in a position to speak for those companies.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. Let's switch gears to the 2008 elections. Do the environmental policies of any of the candidates stand out to you?
David Yarnold: Well, I don't think anybody could have predicted six months ago that the three leading contenders for the two party spots would all be fully supportive of climate change legislation. And there are some differences between the candidates in terms of allocations and auctions and allowances. And that is point I'd just as soon, we would just as soon let the process play out. Let's see what the will of Congress is. Let's see what it takes to get to a middle ground that can begin to put us on a path to save the planet.
Monica Trauzzi: You're a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Assess for us how you think the media is doing, the mainstream media, in terms of covering the climate change issue and making the public understand what exactly is going on here in Washington.
David Yarnold: I think that the League of Conservation Voters pointed out that the electronic media was doing a terrible job in terms of asking the candidates questions about one of the issues that's foremost on voters' minds, climate change. Having said that, I think that the media is doing a much better job than it did just two years ago in terms of giving people the nuanced picture of what climate disruption will look like. And I think the public's perception of climate disruption has fundamentally shifted in the last year. The public gets it. For me the telltale sign with the media was that the Associated Press and the New York Times, about 20 months ago, and I think only an editor would have noticed this, stopped using the obligatory "on the other hand" sentence every time they used the term climate change or global warming. And what that said to me was that those journalists and their smart editors acknowledge that the science is settled.
Monica Trauzzi: Last question here. You're in this new position at Environmental Defense, what are your immediate goals? What's on your to do list, at the top of that list?
David Yarnold: Well, at the top of the list is to get climate legislation this year. We work in four primary areas. Another is oceans and fisheries. And it's our goal to put market-based solutions in place across the country to restore fisheries. We work in land, water, and wildlife and we have an ambitious plan on the drawing boards now for rivers restoration. There's more than 4 million acres in the U.S. that's under protection in a program called Safe Harbor that we helped launch. And we're working with any number of companies, from Federal Express to Wal-Mart, on their energy usage, on progressive ways to save, to conserve. And it's our belief that aligning the incentives between profitability and environmental benefits is a straight line to the future.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, a good note to end on. Thanks for coming on the show.
David Yarnold: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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