Pew's Reichert, NET's Clapp discuss new merger, talk upcoming G8 and fuel efficiency

This week the Pew Environment Program and the National Environmental Trust announced they plan to merge at the end of this year to form the Pew Environment Group. What will this merger mean for the push for climate change legislation in Congress? How will an increased operating revenue help the group get its message across both on the Hill and internationally? During today's OnPoint, Phil Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust and Josh Reichert, director of Pew's Environment Program discuss their goals for the merger. Clapp and Reichert also comment on the upcoming G8 summit and discuss President Bush's recent fuels mandate.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are Josh Reichert, director of Pew's Environment Program, and Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. Gentlemen, thanks for coming on the show.

Phil Clapp: It's a pleasure.

Josh Reichert: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Phil, this week NET and Pew's Environment Program have announced that they will be merging into the Pew Environment Group. Why have these two powerful environmental organizations decided to come together?

Phil Clapp: Well, we were actually talking several months ago, and both of us recognized that we have a very short window to address the major global environmental problems that we're facing. And that window is really closing fast on issues like global warming, on major marine conservation issues, and on protection of the last wilderness areas around the world. We have a decade, and we decided that meant we really had to change how we worked.

Monica Trauzzi: Josh, you're going to have a $70 million operating revenue. Give us an idea, he just mentioned a couple of them, an idea of some of the things that you're going to be focusing most specifically on and using that money for.

Josh Reichert: We're going to be focusing on three major problems that confront the nation, as well as the world. The first will be trying to mitigate the problem of climate change to reduce greenhouse emissions that contribute to global warming. The second is going to be to try to protect very large wilderness ecosystems on public lands in North America, also in Australia, and perhaps in other parts of the world. And the third is going to be a focus on marine conservation with a particular emphasis on fisheries, and the protection of fisheries worldwide.

Monica Trauzzi: How much of this merger, the timing of it, has to do with the upcoming presidential elections?

Phil Clapp: Oh, none at all.

Josh Reichert: Yeah. This has nothing to do with the elections. But, you know, to kind of to add to what Phil said previously, the two organizations really have different but complementary skill sets. And when they're put under one roof it will make us much more efficient, it'll reduce some costs, and it'll vastly increase the ability of this consolidated entity to have an impact out there.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you expecting that the merger itself will have a significant impact on the legislation we see on the Hill?

Phil Clapp: Well ...

Josh Reichert: I certainly hope so.

Phil Clapp: ... I would certainly hope so. I mean, we're entering a window right now, for example, on global warming, where this country's policy on limiting emissions will happen and be put in place some time in the next couple of years, either at the end of this administration or the beginning of the next one. And so that's a critical, critical time. In addition, we're going to have to negotiate a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012, so we're really at a cusp on that. And we hope to be a major part of the policy agenda on that.

Monica Trauzzi: And is this merger an indication of how seriously both groups think global warming is?

Josh Reichert: Yeah, global warming is going to be very high up on our list. It has been for both organizations over the course of the past 15 years. It's been a principle priority of both of us.

Phil Clapp: I would also say, I'd add to that also though, on the marine conservation front, that there are major, major problems that have to be addressed quickly, which certainly both organizations have been strongly interested in. Ranging from the industrial fishing that is, you know, destroying much of the habitat around the world, bottom trolling, destructive practices like that. So, that's another thing that's very much on our agenda.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think global warming campaigning is becoming diluted? Is this one-voice approach going to be more effective in getting the message out?

Josh Reichert: I think what's happened on global warming over the course of the past year, year and a half, is just the issue has really come of age. It has become a mainstream issue. The public, not only in this country, but around the world, are viewing this problem with an increasing sense of urgency, and certainly the policymaking community around the world is. So, we think we have a major opportunity, both in the United States and worldwide, to take some very significant steps in the coming years to really address this problem in ways that we haven't ever done before.

Monica Trauzzi: I wanted to get both of your takes on the President's recent announcement about a fuels mandate. He's ordering federal agencies to write rules to boost vehicle efficiency standards and expand alternative fuel mandate. What's your take on the executive order? Do you think he went far enough?

Phil Clapp: Well, in reality there isn't much substance to this executive order. The President has had the authority since he took office to increase fuel efficiency standards for autos, and he's done it only in a very, very small, tiny way. This was more sort of an announcement of an intent to do a rule-making of some sort and, you know, to do a minor executive order, and it's nowhere near the scale that needs to be accomplished.

And we will be mounting, together, a major effort to get Congress to move really strong fuel economy standards. The congressional mandate that was passed in 1975 is the only thing that has ever increased U.S. fuel economy among U.S.-manufactured autos. And no administration has even used its authority to do so. So, it's going to require a congressional mandate.

Josh Reichert: Actually we'll give you a little preview about this, because we're intending to launch a major campaign, beginning next week. And this, for us, is one of those issues which makes all the sense in the world. You know, by increasing fuel efficiency in this country we have an ability to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, to make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and to reduce the amount of money that the average American household spends on gasoline. It's one of these issues that's really a no-brainer.

Monica Trauzzi: So, next week Pew is going to start this campaign on fuel efficiency?

Josh Reichert: We are.

Monica Trauzzi: What about the timing of it? He's requiring agencies to complete their rule-making by December 2008, which is right before he's going to leave office. What do you think about that?

Phil Clapp: Well, you know, it's no -- there's no question, I think, that cost at the pump of gasoline is going to be a political hot potato in the 2008 elections. And I think everyone, the administration needs somebody to point to, to say, "We are, indeed, doing something." But they clearly don't want to reveal what it is they're going to do 'til after the election. So, there's some election year politics going on here. I would also add that, you know, they will issue a major rule on the way out the door, which, I think, was kind of what they complained Bill Clinton did a lot of.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you happy with the stats that you've seen so far in Congress on fuel efficiency and fuel standards?

Josh Reichert: Well, I think, there certainly is a major commitment on the part of a number of key individuals to get this done. And I think we're going to see action on a wide variety of fronts over the course of the next year, year and a half, to make this happen.

Phil Clapp: And it's also clear that you're having movement, as Josh was just saying, in quarters that there's never been movement before. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota has never voted for a fuel economy bill in his entire career in the Congress, and he's now introduced one with Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. So, that's the kind of shift you're seeing. The important part is that we have real mandates from Congress that this administration, and the future administration, have to observe without big loopholes.

Josh Reichert: And there, I think that there's a confluence of events that are taking place in the world that have elevated this whole issue in the minds of the American public. Gasoline is at almost record highs in terms of prices at the pump. We're facing a major security situation in the Middle East, which is ongoing. And the problem of global warming is kind of front and center in the public debate. So, all of these things are really combining to give the issue of fuel efficiency a far greater sense of importance than it's had in a very long time.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned that the Pew Environment Group is going to be reaching out internationally as well. Prime Minister Tony Blair is set to meet with President Bush this week to discuss the upcoming G8 summit, and one of the things that they're going to be discussing is the issue of climate change. Do you think that this year's G8 is going to be different for the U.S.? We're already hearing that U.S. officials are possibly trying to water down language for a post-Kyoto climate change legislation.

Phil Clapp: Yes. I've actually seen the language and the U.S. comments on it, and what the Europeans are proposing is actually a very, very good package of steps, and it talks about creating worldwide carbon markets for trading or permits. It talks about a commitment from the G8 economies to increase their efficiency by 30 percent by 2020 in terms of their energy use. And these are the basic things you have to do. And, you know, the Bush administration has responded, unfortunately, with, you know, red-lining that takes all of the commitments to seriously do anything out. And, as a matter of fact, they replaced the efficiency proposals with a paragraph that talks about the importance of coal to industrialized economies. Now, that's not to say that's not true; we all operate on coal, but, you know, the shift is very clear. The real issue here is going to be whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and outgoing Prime Minister Blair stand their ground this time with the Bush administration, and I think that the Chancellor, for one, may very well be willing to say, "No, I'm not watering this down. I would rather have a public disagreement." And I think there have been conversations at the head of state level that, you know, we are indeed at a melting-down point potentially here.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. So, this is going to be an interesting issue to watch once the G8 summit comes around.

Phil Clapp: Absolutely.

Monica Trauzzi: We're going to end it right there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Josh Reichert: Thank you very much.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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