Campaign 2016

Former N.J. gov., EPA chief Whitman says 'great number' in GOP recognize importance of climate change

As Republicans convene in Cleveland for the party's national convention, how will the current political dynamic shape the future of energy and climate policy in the United States? During today's OnPoint, Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, a former administrator at U.S. EPA and co-chair of the CASEnergy Coalition, discusses the future of the Clean Power Plan and the transformation of the electric power sector in today's political climate.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey, former EPA administrator and now president of the Whitman Strategy Group. Governor Whitman, thank you for joining me.

Christine Todd Whitman: It's good to be with you, Monica. Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Governor, you're in town speaking at the Association of Climate Change Officers Climate Strategies Forum, on the energy ecosystem through the lens of the Clean Power Plan. Does the uncertainty that surrounds the future of the Clean Power Plan truly affect states and industry when we really see the momentum of the industry going in that direction?

Christine Todd Whitman: Obviously it has some effect, but you have some 20 states now that are already moving forward. As you point out, there's just a momentum going this way. You have a number now of major businesses with no requirement in law or regulation that are already taking significant steps to reduce their greenhouse gases and their carbon footprint in general, their water usage, to be better environmental stewards. I think it's going to come no matter what.

It's certainly happening around the rest of the world. Come being a cap on carbon, which is what the Clean Power Plan was really getting at and that's one of the reasons why I've been so supportive of nuclear energy because, well, we can and will do better with the renewables, with wind and solar and hydro, we're not going to be able to meet our needs if we're looking at a 40 percent increase in electricity demand by 2030 whatever the numbers are today; 23 percent demand. I can't even remember now, but we're looking at demand growing.

If we're going to meet that by 2040, we're not going to get there with renewables. We're going to have to have some other form of base power --

Monica Trauzzi: How about natural gas?

Christine Todd Whitman: Well, natural gas is certainly better than coal. No two ways about it as far as being clean, but not nearly as clean as nuclear. Nuclear's the only form of base power that produces no greenhouse gases while it's producing power. The good thing about nuclear is that uranium takes such a small amount of uranium to produce so much power that you can lock in long-term contracts. So you're not subject to the whims of natural gas fluctuations and prices and effects of weather and things like that that have an impact on the prices.

So it's an all-of-the-above strategy. We need natural gas and we're always going to have some coal, but if we truly care about clean air and healthier lives, then we want to reduce our carbon emissions.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you make of states who have halted any planning on the Clean Power Plan and are waiting to see what the courts are doing? Are they at a disadvantage in a sense?

Christine Todd Whitman: I think they will be over the long term. I think it's wise to get prepared because they're going to feel such pressure no matter what happens. Something's going to happen. How it comes and what form it comes -- we have to remember EPA really didn't want to do this. They would have far preferred to have Congress act, but Congress has not been able to act on a whole lot of things or much of anything might one say recently.

So it came down to the agency to take some action because they're required to under the Clean Air Act once the Supreme Court had said that carbon was, in fact, a pollutant. So EPA had to take action and this is the action they chose to take.

You can argue the method that they used to do it, but as far as taking action, looking for a curb in greenhouse gas emissions, that is something that's inevitably coming. You see it happening around the world and they're going to put pressure on our country for international businesses trying to do business in other countries where you have to certify what you've done to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions.

They want certainty and they'd like to have harmonized regulations. We're going to need to get in step. While the president did participate and signed on the United States, the president did. Not the Congress yet. To COP 21, the Paris accords.

You had over 190 nations saying this is a real problem of which we had to deal.

Monica Trauzzi: What are the most critical hurdles then to advancing the transformation of the electric power sector here in the U.S.? We have many nuclear facilities closing down. It's a very dynamic situation and there's a lot in flux. So what are the hurdles?

Christine Todd Whitman: Well, really nuclear needs to be recognized for the outsized role it plays in getting us to clean air. Right now most of the regulatory structures are based on getting the lowest price. Natural gas is very low right now. Easy to access with fracking. We have a plentiful supply.

So we should take advantage of that. It's natural, but if we're truly focused on cleaning up our air and giving people a healthier quality of life, then we've got to recognize that those parts of our energy grid, whether it be nuclear or solar or wind or hydro that don't produce those greenhouse gas emissions or those other pollutants and carbon pollution, should get more credit. That should be recognized in the regulatory structure; not just the price.

Monica Trauzzi: But utilities, when they're making their decisions, they're looking at the price and what makes the most sense --

Christine Todd Whitman: Oh sure. But that's part of the regulatory structure in which they work. So if the states actually can change and give them more credit for using something like nuclear or more of the renewables, then they will start to pivot that way because they understand it's dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket and they've been doing so much investment in natural gas and now they're slowing that down because the price has gone.

So you see all these fluctuations at play and it reminds you that you really need to have an all-of-the-above strategy. We're going to need all the different forms of energy. Just hopefully over time those that produce no carbon emissions, have no carbon emissions and no greenhouse gases are going to start to take over and be the dominant forms of our energy mix.

Monica Trauzzi: I want to talk politics for a second. You've been vocal about your opposition to Donald Trump. Is his dialogue on climate change in line with what average Republicans believe?

Christine Todd Whitman: It's hard. If you want to talk about the average Republicans you'll find at the national convention this week, probably it is, but if you talk about Republicans in general, no, I don't believe it is. There are a great number of Republicans and there's some very active Republican organizations that recognize the importance of climate change and the necessity of dealing with it.

The fact that this has very serious implications for our country from a national security point of view, from an economic point of view and a health point of view and want to take some action on it. So I do believe he's out of step with a majority of Republicans not his base. His base is very firmly I think with him on this.

Monica Trauzzi: If he were to be elected, how would that affect your work?

Christine Todd Whitman: Make it much more difficult I believe. He'll do everything he can, from what I understand, to move away from any kind of a commitment to climate change. He said he has no interest in the COP 21, the Paris accords. He has no interest in the Environmental Protection Agency, which again I think will run him into huge amount of problems besides the fact that a lot of what he wants to do he can't just do unilaterally.

He is not going to be a czar. He's not a king. He is a president in a democracy and he's got rules and laws by which even he has to live, but it will make it much more difficult.

He's going counter to what people want because so many forget. EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, was not established because Congress thought this was a good idea. It was because the public demanded it because they were seeing so much pollution. They were told to stay indoors numerable times in the summer because of bad air quality.

The Cuyahoga River in Ohio spontaneously broke into flames, spontaneously combusted. The land was looking like a garbage dump and the people said enough. Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring." That was enough to do it to get a Republican president, Richard Nixon, to work with a Democrat Congress in the midst of a huge amount of turmoil back in 1970.

You have to remember that was the height of the race riots in our cities. The anti-Vietnam riots on college campuses and yet they took this issue up and came to agreement and established it and the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act.

Monica Trauzzi: So as you alluded to, the Republican Party is clearly very divided right now in terms of next steps. What do you think the solution is then for the party moving towards November or do you think it's past the point of no return and that it's really too late now?

Christine Todd Whitman: Well, I think there's something to me. A major appeal that would solve the problems. I really long ago got over wondering why people do things or wanting them to only do them for the right reasons as long as they do them. That would be to support something like nuclear, which is a huge job creator, among other things.

There are over 100 different nuclear reactors being built around the world. I think we would want our technology to be at the forefront because it's among the best. We don't really want people, the Ukraine for instance, to have to rely on Russian nuclear parts.

They're now trying to pivot to Westinghouse. Westinghouse is building four right now under construction for nuclear reactors in China that's accounting for 15,000 jobs in this country. So that will address climate issue.

No matter where those nuclear reactors are built although I would they'd be built in this country as well and especially small modular reactors, the next generation, but still that's a job creator. That's something Republicans should like.

So whether they believe in climate change or care about clean air, OK. Take that off the table, but say here. You can get to where we want to go on those other two issues, but do it without emphasizing that.

Monica Trauzzi: Is nuclear energy lacking a true champion in Congress? Is that one of the reasons why there's so much --

Christine Todd Whitman: There are a number of people who are supportive of it, but nobody's taken on it as the major issue, but we need it. When you do polls with people you will see that people are overwhelmingly in favor of Congress taking up energy and starting to address our coming energy needs.

They really do favor improving our quality of life. So they want to see reliable, affordable clean energy. That's what we need. We need a national energy policy that just says that and then gets Congress out of the business of all these determinations of how that should be done.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it right there. Thank you so much for coming on.

Christine Todd Whitman: Pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Nice to see you. Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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