Campaign 2016

LCV's Karpinski says Clinton most effective on advancing new energy economy; state races to shape power plan's future

On the heels of the signing of the Paris Agreement, climate and energy issues continue to play an oblique role in the presidential race. As the general election nears, how will climate and energy play, and how could these issues shape the final outcome? During today's OnPoint, Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, explains why he believes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is best-suited to advance the new energy economy. He also discusses key Senate and House races that will directly affect state action on climate change.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. Gene, it's always nice to have you on the show.

Gene Karpinski: Great to see you again, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Gene, so on the heels of the signing of the Paris Agreement, climate and energy issues continue to play more of an oblique role in the presidential campaign. We see more discussion, of course, on the Democratic side. Much has been said about Hillary Clinton's acceptance of money from fossil fuel companies, and of course LCV has endorsed Clinton for president. Does this hurt her environmental record, the fact that she has accepted money? Or the confidence in her commitment to advance the Obama climate agenda? Do you think there's any impact?

Gene Karpinski: No, actually, we don't. And to be clear -- and thank you for noting that -- we got into the presidential race the earliest we've ever been in a presidential race by far, before any votes were cast back in November. We interviewed all three Democratic candidates, none of the Republicans. We didn't make the time for them because they were all climate deniers and opposed to a Clean Power Plan. We got in early and we were all in for Hillary because, most importantly, she's the most effective person to get the job done starting on day one.

As you know, we've made incredible progress in the last nine months, from the Clean Power Plan to the rejection of Keystone to the Paris Agreement back in December, and the signing, as you said, earlier this month, to a moratorium on coal leasing, extended wind energy tax credits -- it's a whole host of progress. That just shows all that's at stake in November. Because clearly Hillary Clinton is a leader on these issues, she's speaking.

We liked the fact in the Democratic primary there's been competition among all three candidates as to who can have the best plan. That's what we like. But clearly she's had a very strong plan, she'll be a great leader, she'll get the job done from day one, and that's what it's all about. And as you know, sadly, the two leading Republican candidates, not do they only oppose the Clean Power Plan, which is silly in and of itself, but they're hard-core climate change deniers. They're really doubling down on the denial. Donald Trump has said publicly it's a hoax. Ted Cruz has said it's pseudo-science. They don't get it at all. So the good news about that, I think there will be a sharpened conversation in the general election, because Hillary Clinton has been leaning into these issues, talking about it all the time. And both of the leading Republican candidates are hard-core deniers.

Monica Trauzzi: So you don't worry about any ties to the fossil fuel?

Gene Karpinski: No, look, clearly she's been a leader, she's been a champion, she speaks about this all the time very strongly, so that's not a concern. The concern is making sure she wins in November, because all that's at stake, given all the progress we've made particularly in the last nine months with President Obama really in ... the issues, using his executive authority, we can't go backwards. That's what's at stake, she gets it, and we need to build on that progress, and that's why it's such a critical election.

Monica Trauzzi: Wall Street's ties to the energy industry run deep and Clinton has spoken before Wall Street audiences, this has been widely reported, and received hefty payments for those speeches on several occasions. Are you privy to what she said during those speeches, and should there be cause for concern among Democrats who are looking for her to move the country towards a more clean energy future and away from Big Oil?

Gene Karpinski: I obviously was never in the room for those conversations, haven't been privy to what went on. But again, we're not at all worried. Most importantly, you have to look at what she's talking about, what her plan is, who her advisers are. She's clearly leaning in one direction. She's seen what President Obama has done and she's said that's the right direction, we need to double down and do more. Solar panels, renewable electricity, reduce carbon pollution, be a world leader like she was when she was secretary of State. That's what it's all about. It's about what the candidate's been saying, what the candidate's been doing, what their track record is, and we are totally confident that when she gets in that office she'll be building on the progress we've made and do a lot more. Sadly, it's very clear that both Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz will go in the opposite direction, and that's why so much is at stake in November.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think she should release those transcripts?

Gene Karpinski: You know, no. I think what she said is what she says, which is, if everyone releases all their transcripts to every private speech they gave, then let's have at it, but I don't think that's going to happen. If you ask the voters, that's not what they care about. That's not an important issue in the campaign. So that's up to them to figure that out, and I think she's made clear what she said about that. I don't think that's going to happen on the other side either. That's kind of like a red herring, so to speak, about what's really at stake here, which is the clean energy future and solving the climate crisis. She's laid down a strong plan. Republicans want to go backwards. That's what's at stake here.

Monica Trauzzi: Bernie Sanders has a 95 percent lifetime score from LCV. Why not endorse him?

Gene Karpinski: Well, you know, hats off to him for being not just a consistent vote as he has been as a senator, but also talking about this issue all the time. But like I said, we interviewed all the candidates. We had lengthy conversations with all of them, and we have a political committee that has that interview. Then we go to our entire board. It's the only endorsement decision we go to our full board. We had a great conversation with them last year. And it was very clear from all the conversations we had that Hillary Clinton would be the most effective from day one to get the job done. She's worked these issues, she knows these issues, she understands how the executive branch can work, she's been around it for many, many years as you know, so she'll make sure we build on that progress.

We'd like to think that we can legislate in the Congress. Some day that will happen again. We actually did get the extension of the solar and wind tax credits in the last year, that was great, but most of the effort is going to have to be in the short term at least through the executive branch. She gets it, she knows it, she has people around her that know how to do that. We're totally excited about having her be the next president.

Monica Trauzzi: Let's talk about the other side. With the limited policy information we have, what do you believe realistically a Trump presidency would mean for energy and environment issues, and particular the energy economy?

Gene Karpinski: Well, he just doesn't get it. Everything we've heard about him he says climate change isn't really a problem. That was the interview with The Washington Post. He literally is in public town halls saying it's a hoax. He just doesn't understand what the future's about. So I think it's scary from all kinds of levels. Understanding what the new energy economy should be about and building for the future, it doesn't seem like he understands that at all. Being an international leader, you know, President Obama has really stepped up, as you said, both in Paris back in December and signing the agreement with Secretary Kerry last week, that's hugely important leadership in the world. Because if we don't lead ... the fact that China and India are in these conversations is because we became leaders in going forward and cutting carbon pollution. We need that kind of leadership.

I don't think Mr. Trump gets that at all. And Mr. Cruz, you know, from Texas, tied to the oil companies, his lifetime score is less than 5 percent. They just don't get this. They have a different view. They're totally aligned with the fossil fuel industry, and that will just take it backwards. Given the stakes, given how serious the climate change crisis has become, we see the evidence all the time, we have to keep going forward. Both of them will take us backwards, they just don't get it.

Monica Trauzzi: Much of the success of the Clean Power Plan will be based on what happens at the state and local levels, and what members of Congress do. Are the state and local races just as critical as the presidential race to either advancing or derailing the Obama climate agenda?

Gene Karpinski: Let's start with the fact that having a climate champion in the White House is probably the single most important thing. But as you said, in implementing the Clean Power Plan, one, you have to have a court that gets the plan. So what's at stake in November, we wish the Senate would do their job now and put a new justice on the Supreme Court. That's a difficult challenge, as we know, but we're all in for that effort, but we need to have a court that gets it, and eventually we'll get there. But then really a lot of the decisions, as you said, Monica, are going to be back at the states.

So take an example, we're heavily involved in some governors races this year. Someone like Jay Inslee from the great state of Washington, they have been a leader in pushing forward on a clean energy future. In fact, Jay wrote a book about it. He has a cap on pollution as part of his program. I'd like to call him the greenest governor in the country. We'll be helping to make sure he gets elected.

A place like North Carolina, Governor McCrory, is horrible on this stuff. But the current attorney general who refused to join the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan is trying to be the next governor. So you have Roy Cooper, an environmental champion, against Mr. McCrory, who is horrible. So the stakes are high in a place like North Carolina, a place like Washington and other places.

And if you look forward to 2018, there are a lot more governors races at stake. Some of the biggest polluting states like Ohio, like Pennsylvania, like Michigan, like Wisconsin, where a lot of these coal-fired power plants are, those governors are up in 2018. So a lot of what happens, in particularly the governors races, when it comes to implementing the Clean Power Plan, they're at stake -- some in '16 and even more in 2018.

Monica Trauzzi: And obviously the balance of the House and Senate are at play as well heading into November. Which races have you identified as the most crucial particularly on energy and environmental issues?

Gene Karpinski: We're looking at a handful of Senate races in particular where the contrast between the candidates is very sharp. So take the example of Pennsylvania. We got in early in the primary to endorse Katie McGinty. She just won her primary last Tuesday. Her whole life has been about fighting for environmental protection and for climate change. I first met her when she was working for Al Gore back in 1989, this has been her life, her commitment. We got in early, she won the primary. She's got a really tough race against Mr. Toomey. Toomey's lifetime score I believe is a 7, so he almost always votes the wrong way. Having Katie McGinty rather than Pat Toomey in the Senate from Pennsylvania is one example.

Go to Wisconsin -- Ron Johnson, 5 percent lifetime score, consistent climate change denier. And he's actually proud of it. And again, he just doesn't get it. Russ Feingold trying to become the new senator from Wisconsin, he was the senator of Wisconsin, had a 95 percent lifetime score. He's campaigning on these issues, he's talking about these issues, that's an important race. And again, we're looking at places where there's a sharp contrast between a climate change champion like Katie McGinty or Russ Feingold, and a climate denier like Pat Toomey and Ron Johnson.

Monica Trauzzi: It's an exciting time to be involved in politics.

Gene Karpinski: It's a scary time because so much is at stake, but our issues are part of the conversation, which is important. And the good news, as you know, the public's on our side. The public supports the Clean Power Plan, they support the clean energy future, they support what we did in Paris. So we need to make sure that public gets out and votes, and that's what's at stake.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you. Thank you for your time.

Gene Karpinski: Good to see you, Monica, thank you.

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

[End of Audio]



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