NRDC's Beinecke previews Senate climate debate, Copenhagen talks

With both the Senate and U.S. EPA moving one step closer to regulating greenhouse gas emissions this week, all eyes are on the United States ahead of next month's Copenhagen meeting. During today's OnPoint, Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of the new book "Clean Energy Common Sense: An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change," discusses the long-term prospects for the Senate's climate bill. She gives her take on whether EPA will move to make a final endangerment finding before Copenhagen. Beinecke also discusses the challenges to educating Americans about climate change.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Frances is author of the new book, "Clean Energy, Common Sense; An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change." It's great to have you on the show.

Frances Beinecke: Monica, thanks, it's great to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Frances, the Senate EPW Committee successfully passed climate legislation last week and it's now set to make its way through several other committees with jurisdiction. The bill did not have the support of Republicans in the EPW Committee however. What does that partisan divide sort of indicate to you about the long-term prospects of where we might see this bill going?

Frances Beinecke: Well, first of all, I think it's very important that the bill passed EPW last week, so that's one more step in the process to get climate legislation in the United States Senate and for the country as a whole. So, that's very positive from our point of view. Also, there is a bipartisan effort going on. Senator Kerry and Senator Graham have gotten together. They had a powerful op-ed in the New York Times about maybe a month ago, which really outlined what a bipartisan agreement should be and they're working hard on putting a design around that op-ed. So, we're actually very optimistic that we can reach a bipartisan solution and move forward on getting climate legislation in the Senate fairly soon.

Monica Trauzzi: And that Kerry-Graham compromise agreement would include support for offshore drilling and nuclear power. Are those items that the environmental community feels good about supporting in a final bill?

Frances Beinecke: Well, you know, the op-ed was an outline and we need to see what the proposals would be. Of course, the environmental community is not enthusiastic about nuclear or offshore. We are very focused on getting a cap on carbon, putting a price on carbon and reducing our carbon emissions in this country. So, you know, we will work hard to advance environmental safeguards in whatever bill is designed. That's what our mission is and we look forward to getting more information so we can participate in those discussions.

Monica Trauzzi: In order to get those 60 votes in the Senate the bill will likely have to change significantly from what came out of the EPW Committee. Will you continue to support the bill if it's further weakened? Is it better to have a weak bill rather than no bill at all?

Frances Beinecke: Well, first of all, I think, Monica, that there are a lot of things that need to be worked out. We know what the issues are that senators are concerned about. Cost obviously is one, competitiveness is another. We look forward to actually engaging in conversations to see how those issues can be addressed in the legislation and I don't think you can assume that that means that the legislation is weakened. It means that the legislation is more robust and has more features that go directly to the concerns of the senators that we hope will come on board. So of course, we will look at a final product and make a decision at that time. But our job as environmental advocates is to work as hard as we can to get a result that will really put a price on carbon, create a target for the United States to reach and get us on the pathway to reduce our carbon emissions over time. So, that's our mission and we're going to keep at it.

Monica Trauzzi: Does the bill have the legs to make it through the first quarter of next year when we might actually see a floor vote?

Frances Beinecke: I think that we are definitely on the path. The president has a strong commitment to getting legislation in his first term. It's one of his top two priorities with health care. And Senator Reid has certainly indicated that he's going to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. So, we're still in this stage of what's the design of it and that's what happens in the Senate process and it's something that we welcome participating in.

Monica Trauzzi: And something that might put little pressure on the Senate is an EPA endangerment finding and EPA sent its endangerment finding to the White House just this week, sort of setting the stage for EPA emissions regulations. OMB has up to 90 days to review this. Is your sense that they're going to try to make a final determination prior to the Copenhagen meeting so that the U.S. has something to come to the table with?

Frances Beinecke: Well, first of all, the U.S. has definitely moving forward on the regulatory front, on automobiles, on power plants, the endangerment ruling. I mean these are… just as in the legislative process, we passed the House, we passed the EPW Committee. We're working in the Senate. Similarly on the regulatory side, EPA is moving very deliberately through the regulatory process. Whether or not OMB makes that decision before Copenhagen, I view it is really immaterial, because the U.S. has a lot to bring to the table to show progress, as well as the president's very strong commitment. So, I don't know whether they'll decide before Copenhagen, but even if they don't, there are so many building blocks in place to show a dramatic shift in policy on behalf of the United States and a real determination to control carbon emissions in this country. It's going on two different tracks, the legislative track, the administrative or regulatory track. We will get there.

Monica Trauzzi: But would you agree that the legislative track is the more successful route?

Frances Beinecke: The legislative track is the preferable track; I think that's certainly what the Congress thinks. That's what the president thinks. That's what the business community thinks. That's why that track is very important. On the other hand, it is time for the United States to step forward and take a leadership role and take action on carbon. So, having EPA prepared to do that and move forward in a regulatory format I think is absolutely critical, because we have to do it one way or the other.

Monica Trauzzi: We have about a month to go before the Copenhagen meeting. What does President Obama need to say and do ahead of that meeting to put the U.S. in a good negotiating position and make it so that it doesn't become a blame game?

Frances Beinecke: Well, I think first of all the president has done consistently what I think is necessary, which is show his personal commitment to getting legislation in Congress and getting the U.S. on that pathway to reduce emissions. His commitment is absolutely significant and his direction to his agencies to take the steps that they need to take, whether through implementation of the stimulus package or through the Clean Air Act, as well as working very collaboratively with the Senate to get that legislation. So leadership here at home is number one. Additionally, he's in active conversations. Just this week he's on his way to China, meeting with President Hu Jintao, talking about what the United States is doing, listening to what China is doing, because they're doing a lot too, and then looking for areas where we can be collaborative and find agreements on how we can advance technologies together. Remember, global warming is a global problem. It's a problem we're all part of and we all need to take action, but the United States has not yet participated fully in the international process and I think we're definitely on a path to get there.

Monica Trauzzi: Does he very specifically need to lay out targets and numbers for the international community?

Frances Beinecke: Well, that's really the Congress's job to set those targets in the bill. Both the EPW bill and the House bill have targets. One is 17 percent, one is 20 percent. You know, we've basically told the world what range we're looking at and the president supporting the action that's going on in the Congress I think is absolutely critical. But I think that he has indicated, up until this point, that he's going to work closely with the Congress to get an outcome here. But he's going to look to them to create the design of how that actually happens.

Monica Trauzzi: Back here domestically, the Chamber of Commerce recently took some heat for its stance on climate legislation. Has NRDC been pressuring companies to leave the Chamber of Commerce because of their stance?

Frances Beinecke: Oh no, no, we haven't. We've been acutely aware of what the chamber's stance is and it's a disappointing stance in our view, because, in fact, there are a lot of U.S. companies who are also part of the chamber, who've made it very clear that they really support action now in Congress on climate change and many of them are part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership that NRDC is part of as well. So, we are concerned that the chamber doesn't fully reflect the full body of its membership. We've made that clear. They actually have sent a letter last week, I think it's to Senator Boxer and Senator Inhofe, which I think opened up a conversation for further discussions about how a climate bill would get constructed. And I imagine that they will have conversations with Senator Kerry and Senator Graham and Senator Lieberman as they go forward. But remember, the chamber, in this instance, doesn't represent the business community across America, because there is a lot of business leadership calling for action on climate right now.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. Part of the real challenge on climate change is getting the American people to care about the issue and really to understand it and you explore that in your new book. How do you see the American public perception of the issue sort of evolving over the short term?

Frances Beinecke: Well, you know, I think…I wrote this book "Clean Energy, Common Sense" because it's a small book and the idea was to give something very accessible to those who still wondered. And I go out and travel across the country and there are people who just still wonder, what's the science on climate change? Is there really a solution? So the intent of the book is to walk very quickly through the issues of science, impacts, and opportunities to solve it. The American public cares about two things. They care about jobs. They care about security. As the climate legislation gets designed I think it will be designed to create American jobs, to enhance our security, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, create domestic technologies and sources that will provide a clean energy future and really ensure the well-being of our citizens going forward. So, I think the American public wants to know how do you solve these problems and that is really what the book is intended to tell them.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Frances Beinecke: Monica, thank you, my pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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