Climate Change

NET President Phil Clapp goes behind-the-scenes at G8 summit, Capitol Hill

Supporters of a stricter approach on global warming were dealt two significant setbacks earlier this month. First, world leaders made little progress on climate change at the Group of Eight summit. Then a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the U.S. EPA on a major climate lawsuit. Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust -- who travelled to Scotland for the G8 meetings -- explains the ramifications of these two events and discusses how the White House will respond to persistent international pressure on global warming. Plus, Clapp gauges the odds for climate legislation in Congress and addresses a major split in the environmental community concerning the use of nuclear power.


Brian Stempeck: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Brian Stempeck. Joining me right now is Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. Phil thanks a lot for being here.

Phil Clapp: Thanks for having me.

Brian Stempeck: Had a couple of major decisions on climate change in the past few weeks, it's kind of a mixed bag. I want to start off with a major court decision last week in the D.C. Circuit Court, basically a pretty major loss, two-to-one decision. A number of these judges basically said the state's lawsuit and a bunch of environmental groups, including your own, saying EPA should regulate greenhouse gases from new cars and trucks, they shot down that case. What's your reaction to the judge's decision?

Phil Clapp: Well actually that's not what the judges did. I mean it was a split two-to-one decision, so you had a split court, but what we were asking was that the court decide that EPA did have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The court sidestepped that issue entirely. All the court decided, the two judge majority decided, was that assuming EPA, and they say this throughout the decision, assuming EPA had the authority they would uphold their discretionary right not to regulate. So the court did not settle the issue at all that we were seeking to be settled, which is, are greenhouse gases regulated under the act?

Brian Stempeck: At the same time though in the decision, I'll read you a quote. Judge Randolph said this, "The understanding of the relationship between weather and climate and human health is in its infancy." Basically he was taking issue with the state of climate science and did that throughout the decision, which he wrote as the majority decision. Does that trouble you at all?

Phil Clapp: That's right, the dissenting judge, Judge Tatel said exactly the opposite.

Brian Stempeck: Right.

Phil Clapp: So, you had two judges to one, number one. Number two, judges aren't scientists. What judges were asked to do, in this case and what they decided to do essentially, was, did EPA act appropriately using its discretion under the act? And that's what the decision said, was, OK, there's enough question that EPA has some leeway to have discretion. The issue we were trying to settle was were greenhouse gases appropriate to be regulated under the Clean Air Act and the court sidestepped that entirely.

Brian Stempeck: The court, in its decision, Judge Randolph was also talking about how he didn't want to see EPA setting up a scheme where they're regulating emissions from cars and trucks, but not from power plants and other parts of the economy. He kind of upheld that segment of EPA and DOJ's argument. Does that suggest to you that maybe if you brought a case, some kind of case where you challenge nationwide, industry wide climate change that that might have more success with these judges?

Phil Clapp: Not necessarily. I think at this point you're in a position where it is a very high bar to convince any court to overturn a decision of a federal agency. I mean only in cases where the decision is arbitrary and capricious. In this case, two judges said, well, we can't argue at this point that it's arbitrary and capricious to refuse to regulate.

Brian Stempeck: There was also, as you mentioned, in the dissent one of the judges basically said he upheld ... he thought that the arguments from the environmental groups and from the states had a lot of merit. Did that encourage you at all? That basically any of the three judges, one judge didn't like the science at all, one judge said, well, we don't think anyone has the standing to bring this case and the judge who dissented says we uphold the science. How much encouragement does that give you?

Phil Clapp: Well, and I would say the dissenting judge actually went further than that. He flatly said that EPA indeed had an obligation to regulate. Not only did they have the authority, but had an obligation to regulate. So you had a broad spectrum of opinion and remember it's only a three judge panel.

Brian Stempeck: Right. Where do you see this case going from here? I mean there's a possibility of an en banc appeal where you go through the entire circuit court or possibly to the Supreme Court. What do you think is happening next?

Phil Clapp: Don't know the answer to that. That's all under discussion at this point. So the decision hasn't been made.

Brian Stempeck: Do you think this case has any ramifications for the other climate suits going on right now? There is one up in the Northeast also, suing some of the major utilities for their emissions. The state's also going after them. Do you think this has ramifications for that decision as well?

Phil Clapp: Not really because it's a very, very narrow decision. Again, it was looking at an explicit regulatory decision and saying was EPA's action arbitrary and capricious? That's a very different issue than is being litigated in all the other cases.

Brian Stempeck: OK. The other major action on climate we've seen recently is you were at the G8 a couple weeks ago in Scotland, where we didn't see too much come out of the ... basically at President Bush's inclination, come out on climate change. How much of a loss is that for the international movement on climate and for Tony Blair, who is making this a top priority?

Phil Clapp: Well, I don't think it was much of a loss at all. I don't think there was any serious hope that the president was going to significantly change his position on climate and I think the British figured it out very early in the negotiations. I was part of sort of an advisory group at the Royal Institute of International Affairs that advised the 10 Downing Street team and the prime minister on actions out of the G8 and I think that the British were very taken aback that there was still ... even though there has been movement in the Senate, there's clear movement on Capitol Hill and the prime minister has met with innumerable senators on this issue. Every time he's been here he's had dinner with senators and I think they were rather surprised at the continuing intransigence of the administration. As far as a setback, I think the prime minister did actually accomplish something, which is not substantively getting the administration to agree to move, but to set up a process. He achieved agreement from President Putin of Russia and from Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan and from the Germans that for the next three G8's global warming will be on the agenda. Now, that's very, very important because that hasn't happened since President Bush has been in office. It literally has dropped off the agenda of the big 8 leaders. That's number one. Number two, one of the key issues indeed is what will India and China do? And we are about to begin negotiations on another round of post Kyoto, you know, post 2012, international emissions reductions. The China and India issue is an issue across the board there. The Clinton administration had actually picked up the ball was trying to figure out ways to move China and India and things that they could do short of taking on hard targets for reductions. Blair has now picked that up and in the G8 communiqué there was an agreement that Britain will be the lead negotiator and particularly since he's now president, for the next six months of the E.U., will be the lead negotiator and there will be a first discussion meeting in London on the first of November, leading into the Montreal talks.

Brian Stempeck: As the G8 was getting under way though, there was a lot of speculation, mostly in the press, but a lot of people were saying because Tony Blair has been such a strong ally for President Bush on the war in Iraq there was some expectation that maybe President Bush would basically throw him a bone on climate. Was there disappointment? I mean you said you were talking with a lot of the British officials, was there disappointment that that didn't happen? Was that their sense as well?

Phil Clapp: Oh yes, very much so and I think they were very startled at the level of intransigence. For example, one of the things that they thought, well, let's try to approach George Bush on it from an energy point of view as opposed to from a global warming point of view. Maybe we could all agree to make our electric utility sectors more efficient in a small way, by 10 percent, which would actually reduce a lot of greenhouse gases in the United States.

Brian Stempeck: Sure.

Phil Clapp: Emissions in the United States and they got the door slammed in their face on day one. So I think it was very clear, certainly by April, that they were not going to get a lot of substantive movement out of the president and I think they were indeed shocked and disappointed at that. At the same time ... and they papered over what is really an agreement to disagree, which is that in the final press conference Prime Minister Blair was asked are you going to go forward to negotiate another round of mandatory emissions reductions in the post Kyoto process? And he said yes. So there's still a massive split there.

Brian Stempeck: After the G8, we saw Jim Connaughton and other White House officials come back and basically say we see this as a victory for U.S. policy, the White House policy on climate. It seemed like the statement that came out of the G8 was talking about how there needs to be more technology, more investment in clean coal, more investment in nuclear power, things of that nature. Do you think the rest of the world is in fact going in the direction of the White House?

Phil Clapp: That's absolutely ridiculous. Jim Connaughton was running around all over the British press saying, well, you see everybody's adopted the intensity approach, you know, let's reduce the intensity of greenhouse gas per unit of GDP and nobody over there had ever heard of it or had any interest in it. No. I mean what they basically agreed to do was to try to get the U.S. to do what it would do no matter how minimal it was while everyone else proceeds to come up with a new round of emissions reductions.

Brian Stempeck: As you mentioned, this is going to come up in the next few G8's, all the leaders have agreed to that. With continuing pressure on the administration do you expect any change from the White House, in the remainder of President Bush's term, on climate?

Phil Clapp: They won't initiate anything obviously. I think that the action's going to come on Capitol Hill. What is clearly happening here is exactly what happened with President Reagan in the '80s on acid rain. President Reagan took exactly the same position on acid rain that President Bush is taking on global warming, which is there's, well, you know, there is evidence of damage here, but the science doesn't really tell us what we should do in terms of how much the emissions reduction should be, etc., etc., so let's kind of work on technology and research. And that worked probably for the first four or five years that President Reagan was in office, but the minute he was no longer ever going to run again and Republicans on the Hill began looking around and saying, well, this issue's not going away and the science is getting stronger and stronger, they began to look for positions. They were going to have to live with the issue and have to deal with it and you had all these compromise bills start being introduced and so forth and literally by 1990 we had legislation in place. I think the same thing is happening on global warming. We are now in a, actually, post George Bush political situation in the Republican Party because he will never run again.

Brian Stempeck: Right.

Phil Clapp: So all of the Republicans on the Hill know that this issue's not going away, 2006, 2008 they are going to have to deal with it somehow and that's why you're seeing people like Senator Lugar, Senator Warner, all those people move over the line and say yes, we really are going to have to go to mandatory emissions controls. I'm not yet ready to say or negotiate out what the details of that is, but I accept the fact that we've got to go to mandatory emissions reductions.

Brian Stempeck: Right. In fact there are two hearings in the Senate this week, both dealing with climate change. We've seen a lot of climate hearings in the past, but after the energy bill debate where we saw this resolution go through that was very encouraging to a lot of environmental groups and people who were in favor of doing something on climate change, how much encouragement does that give you? The fact that the Senate once again is doing hearings on this and, I guess, what do you see as the near term outlook for legislation moving perhaps independently of the energy bill?

Phil Clapp: Well I think it's extremely important obviously that Senator Domenici has picked up the ball here and has moved to the point where he really believes that some form of mandatory reduction system has to be put in place. That is a complete watershed in this debate. The outlook, legislatively, first of all depends on how much the White House decides it wants to invest in fighting it. Number two, it depends a great deal on what the president's store of political capital looks like over a period of time and that seems to be getting thinner and thinner. Number three, I think that it's going to depend a great deal on the science here and I think one of the things that's happening is that through the '90s a lot of the conservative think tanks and various ... Exxon Mobil, for example, you know, asked questions about the science and raised questions because it was sitting there based on modeling and projections.

Brian Stempeck: Right.

Phil Clapp: We now have day after day after day after day of scientific studies coming out that are identifying actual impacts that are happening. I mean we have massive melting of the Greenland ice sheet. We have a huge shrinkage of summer ice around the polar ice cap in the Arctic. We have the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf in the Antarctic. Those are only the most glaring of evidence. So it's now very, very hard for people to say that, no, it's not happening. They've abandoned that and it's even abandoned that it's not caused by human activity. So the debate has shifted. We're going to see more and more and more of that over the next two or three years and I think that's going to drive a lot of the legislation.

Brian Stempeck: That's something I've noticed as well, think tanks, Competitive Enterprise Institute, groups like that typically have been attacking the science for the past few years, now are coming out with more of an economic argument really, saying that a lot of these greenhouse gas regulations are going to be too costly. But doesn't that argument have some merit? Right now we have ... emissions trading is going on in Europe, for carbon dioxide, and its trading for about $30 per ton, which is a lot higher than ... Senator Bingaman, in his approach on climate was talking about kind of a cap on prices, about $7 a ton. So this is ... I mean that's a lot of money. If you're a utility trying to reduce your emissions and you've got to pay $30 per ton of CO2 you're putting into the atmosphere, isn't that going to put you out of business?

Phil Clapp: No. First of all, the electric utility industry in the United States is perhaps our most inefficient energy industry. Our coal fired power plants, many of them built in the '50s, '60s and '70s, are just massively inefficient. I mean across our ... and this is true across our economy, I mean Europe's economy is 1.5 to 2 times more energy efficient than ours. We have a huge amount of waste that we can get out of the system. DuPont for example, invested about $20 million in its first round of greenhouse gas emissions cuts and saved $1 billion. So there's huge savings. These are efficiency issues. The first round of reductions, the levels we're talking about now, are not things that require, for the most part, major new technologies in major industries or things like that. They really are, OK, let's just look around and find out how we make ourselves more energy efficient and that's a saving.

Brian Stempeck: OK. One thing I wanted to ask you about was, as we saw the climate debate going forward in the Senate this year, one big provision in the McCain-Lieberman bill, which really kind of split the environmental community was the inclusion of nuclear power. You had groups like Environmental Defense that said we're in favor of this approach. We think it's OK to have nuclear power in this bill. It's part of the solution towards global warming. And you had other groups like Greenpeace, National Environmental Trust, the majority of probably the environmental community, saying we don't think this is a good idea. How do you resolve that split? And if you're going to really address climate and talk about reducing emissions 50 percent over the next 50 years, how do you possibly do it without nuclear power?

Phil Clapp: Well, first of all, let's remember the history of nuclear power in the United States. This industry did not die, either because of Three Mile Island or because of environmental regulation. The last completed nuclear power plant in the United States was ordered in October of 1973, six years before Three Mile Island, alright? The reason the industry stopped buying nuclear power plants is that it is the most expensive way to boil water ever invented. They suffered huge massive cost overruns and I was actually on the Energy and Commerce Committee staff back in those days when we had to go bail out utilities like the Washington Public Power System, WPPSS, which defaulted on $2.5 billion in bonds because of cost overruns in building nuclear power plants. That's where the nuclear power plants always fail. My concern actually about what Senator McCain did was that it was a complete distortion of the energy market in the sense of throwing tons more money at a mature technology that has been in the marketplace over and over and over again and keeps failing. When you ignore investments or don't ... when we have under invested in everything from efficiency to other renewable technologies. So it was kind of throwing good money after bad in a way that would distort the marketplace even more.

Brian Stempeck: So does that mean you don't oppose the idea of having more nuclear power? I mean are you just opposed the financial incentives going towards it or are you opposed to the general idea?

Phil Clapp: Well, I mean, look, you have a whole variety of other issues. I was talking about the economic issues, but you have a whole variety of others. No nation on earth has solved the nuclear waste problem, OK? And if there's one thing that should have changed after Sept. 11 it is our concern about nuclear materials and nuclear technology lying around and being spread around, whether it's in the United States or everywhere else. So we have to really have a serious debate about nuclear power. From an environmental point of view the waste issue is huge. I mean we have tons of nuclear waste just sitting all over this country. If you put it in a centralized repository, not only do you have all the issues of Yucca Mountain, but then you have huge transportation insecurity issues. So there really needs to be a renewed debate about nuclear power and national security and costs, before we just simply say, oh well, we couldn't do anything about global warming unless we go out and go nuclear.

Brian Stempeck: But at the end of the day, does the National Environmental Trust support the use of nuclear power to address global warming? Assuming some of those issues can be addressed by Congress, by this debate.

Phil Clapp: Well that's a ridiculous question to be honest with you. Nobody's addressed ... I personally do not believe that the nuclear waste problem will be addressed anywhere in the next 30 or 40 years. I mean I was on the hill when we wrote the legislation that ended up with the Yucca Mountain situation and it took huge amounts of time just to get the legislation passed and here we are, 25 years later, and we don't have a nuclear waste repository. So I'm not going to postulate on, well, if you solved all those problems would you? I'm not sure that those problems are solvable in any reasonable amount of time.

Brian Stempeck: All right. I'll take that as a no. Phil thanks a lot for your time. We're out of time right now. I'd like to thank our guest today that was Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. I'm Brian Stempeck. This is OnPoint. Thanks for watching.

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