Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Donald Trump has called climate change “a hoax”. But this week he met with Al Gore, a leader in the fight against global warming — raising questions about Trump’s position on the issue. For this month’s Environmental Outlook: a look at Trump’s priorities on energy and the environment.
- Kevin Book Managing director of research, ClearView Energy Partners
- Coral Davenport Climate and energy reporter, The New York Times
- Chris Mooney Energy and environment reporter, Washington Post
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. We'll learn more about Donald Trump's energy and environmental policies after he chooses the heads of EPA, Interior and the department of energy. But one thing seems fairly certain, the President-elect appears ready to try and undo the Obama environmental legacy.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for this month's Environmental Outlook to talk about Trump's energy and environment priorities and what he may or may not be able to accomplish, Coral Davenport of the New York Times, Kevin Book of Clearview Energy and Chris Moony of The Washington Post. And throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your questions and comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com.
MS. DIANE REHMFollow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. KEVIN BOOKSo good to be here.
MS. CORAL DAVENPORTIt's great to be here.
MR. CHRIS MOONEYThanks for having me.
REHMCoral Davenport, we know that Donald Trump met with Al Gore, former vice president, Al Gore. Do we have any idea what went on at that meeting?
DAVENPORTWell, Vice President Al Gore has long said that he is prepared to meet with any leader who will take a meeting with him to talk about the issue of climate change. And he wrote about that online after the election, that he hoped to meet with Donald Trump and talk to him about climate change. And from what we can understand, that was sort of the context in which the meeting took place.
DAVENPORTIt was an hour meeting. He met both with Ivanka Trump, but most of the meeting was with Donald Trump. When Vice President Gore came out, he said that he -- it had been a very interesting meeting. He hoped that there would be more. We've heard some of Ivanka Trump's associates saying that she might be interested in taking a role on the issue of climate change. That's pretty much all we know. But when you put that side by side with what the Trump transition team is doing in terms of moving ahead with environment personnel, interviewing potential cabinet picks for the energy and environment policy positions, all of that is still very much in keeping with where Donald Trump had been on the campaign.
DAVENPORTCandidates who question or deny the science of climate change, candidate who have devoted their careers in recent years to overturning the Obama climate change regulations, none of that seems to have changed.
REHMAnd I wonder, Kevin Book, just how far the Trump presidency could go in really rolling back the Obama environment legacy.
BOOKWell, Diane, I think the answer is that it will probably go further than environmentalists would like, but not nearly as far as the most ardent industry activists might hope. There are limits in terms of both the mechanisms and the processes that can be used to roll back rules and, for that matter, guidance and more informal parts of the Obama energy and environmental agenda and those limits are a function of time, they're a function of manpower, they're a function of the willingness of the Capitol Hill to cooperate.
BOOKAnd so there are some marquee items that stand to be changed relatively early. One of the ones that you can change very quickly is the guidance document that says to look at infrastructure in terms of its greenhouse gas lifecycle. That came out of the Council on Environmental Quality and that can be updated very quickly and change the assessment for all federal agencies granting permits. Using a social cost of carbon was an administrative choice that the Obama administration took on.
BOOKIt can be abandoned very quickly by the Trump administration. Others, though, like the clean power plan and finished rules, including the methane rule for oil and gas, they're going to go through several other gates. And it may turn out that the Trump administration has the opportunity to walk away, but we don't actually expect the Trump administration to walk away during a court challenge. So there are limits, some of them professional, again, some procedural, some time-based.
REHMChris Mooney, what about coal? During the campaign, President-elect Trump kept saying we're going to bring back coal. Number one, how can he do that considering regulations that are already in place and, number two, if he were to bring coal, how would that happen?
MOONEYWell, most of the people that I have talked to who watch what's happening with the coal industry and the energy industry generally think it's very hard to bring back coal because it isn't regulations that basically lead to such a downturn in the coal industry. It's natural gas. All the experts will tell you that. It's the fracking boom.
REHMAnd he's in favor of natural gas.
MOONEYOh, and right, so he's just as allied with the gas industry as the coal industry so it's not really quite clear how this works. Nevertheless, you could imagine some ways in which a Trump administration would try to benefit the coal industry. I'll just outline one. I mean, if you actually want to have coal in the future and you take the problem of climate change seriously, then you really want to have carbon capture and sequestration because you want coal to not contribute to climate change.
MOONEYThe CCS industry has really not grown at the rate that climate change experts think it needs to, since the world's going to burn a lot of coal. Trump administration could say, all right, Obama's done all this wind and solar. We're going to go back to trying to actually make coal clean. And you could see them trying to do a lot with that.
REHMBut would that indeed bring back the coal industry, Coral?
DAVENPORTEven if there were to be major technological breakthroughs in carbon capture and sequestration, that's a big if, you know, the government and industry have been working on this for over a decade, since the Bush administration. Billions and billions have been poured into trying to have breakthrough in this technology. Even if you were to be able to figure out how to capture and store carbon dioxide at a commercially sustainable level, at a commercial scale, it would probably still be more expensive to burn and sequester -- to burn coal and sequester that carbon dioxide than it would to use wind and solar.
DAVENPORTIf there was to be some breakthrough where you could widely, cheaply, commercially burn coal and capture that (technical) that would be the solution. That would be the thing that could bring coal back. That's a lot of "ifs." If that were to happen, that's probably, you know, many, many years away and it would require probably more billions of dollars of investment by the federal government.
BOOKTwo small points. First, CCS is a big spend that needs a reason.
BOOKSo what's the reason? If the reason isn't going to be to comply with the carbon constraint imposed by the federal government, then it's a very, very difficult task. As Coral mentioned, the Bush administration put forth $1.65 billion in the clean coal power initiative. That was not nearly enough and it was difficult to get through Congress without a reason. Second point is that coal mining is one area where the Trump administration will have some leeway to change things. Not just by lifting the moratorium on production in the West, but (technical) has been why some of the eastern coal producers have had financial trouble.
BOOKTheir operations have been interrupted by a greater rate of safety inspections. Some would argue it's necessary. Some would argue it was deliberately done to slow down production. Another is another guidance document that came out of the Obama administration regarding the disposal of mountaintop waste from mountaintop mining. Right now, Metallurgical coal, the coal that's used for smelting iron, is at an all-time premium from recent years. And so a lot of that comes out of Appalachia, making it easier to mine could create some new opportunities.
BOOKSo it's not anything like what coal was, but it would make it feel a little bit nicer for some of the players in the coal space.
REHMIt wouldn't make the surrounding landscape look any nicer, however.
BOOKThink of all the soccer fields you could -- no, okay.
BOOKI withdraw the rumor.
REHMProbably not very funny at this point. You know, it's fascinating to me that it was Ivanka Trump who apparently made the call to former Vice President Al Gore and I wonder whether that signals sort of a division between her and her father on what he has said about global warming first. Coral, tell us what Donald Trump has said about global warming and second, whether possibly Ivanka Trump disagrees.
DAVENPORTSo Donald Trump's record on what he thinks both about the science of global warming and about global warming policies is pretty clear. He's called it a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. He's called it BS, although he used stronger words than that. He has mocked the science of climate change. He has vowed to withdraw or actually to -- his words were to cancel the Paris Climate Accord, which committed nearly every nation on Earth, with the exception of North Korea, to taking action on climate change.
DAVENPORTHe's vowed to roll back the clean power plan. So all, you know, this is -- he campaigned on this. This is consistent with the way that he's talked about climate change on Twitter in interviews over the years. And, again, it looks like the personnel decisions that are coming down the pike, really reflect all of the remarks that Donald Trump has made about questioning climate change and wanting to undo climate policy. The role that Ivanka will take, so far, all we know, again, is that sort of people closer -- she doesn't have any kind of public record on climate change at all.
DAVENPORTShe once tweeted a sort of sarcastic remark saying, oh, there's a Senate hearing on climate change today, but there's a blizzard. Isn't that ironic? And given that she's expected to run her father's business, there's a big question on how much actual policy impact she can even legally have on this.
REHMCoral Davenport, she's climate and energy reporter for the New York Times. Your calls, questions coming up. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We know that we have a class out in San Miguel of Tulsa Middle School listening to our program. Their question, and it's from Andrea, her question is in Oklahoma we're experiencing numerous earthquakes due to fracking that our Governor Mary Fallin, and our Governor Mary Fallin is being considered for secretary of the Interior. Your thoughts, Chris Mooney?
MOONEYMy understanding of this topic, which I haven't reported on very much, is that the relationship is actually with waste water disposal deep underground.
REHMBut that is combined with fracking.
MOONEYYeah, it's in oil and gas.
REHMIt's the waste product of fracking. What about that?
DAVENPORTSo yes, Oklahoma has seen a massive increase in large-scale earthquakes. There were -- in 2010 there were three large-scale earthquakes in Oklahoma. In 2015 there were 907 large-scale earthquakes in Oklahoma.
DAVENPORTSeismologists have looked at this closely. A number of studies have indeed linked the disposal of fracking fluids directly to those earthquakes.
REHMSo what about Mary Fallin as secretary of the interior. Have you heard that?
BOOKWell certainly it's been circulated, Diane. It's an interesting choice, and it would make quite a statement. The secretary of interior is usually the landlord of the federal lands, and Oklahoma is a two-percent, by acreage, federal lands state. It is however a state that gets...
REHMWhat does that mean?
BOOKIt means that two percent of Oklahoma's acreage is actually federal land, federal or Indian land.
REHMOkay, all right.
BOOKAnd 15 percent, roughly speaking, of Oklahoma's GDP comes from the oil and gas sector alone, not counting refining or pipelines or anything else, making it second in the nation behind Alaska in terms of its relevance to the state. So you have some question of whether or not secretary of interior might be more of an extraction manager than a federal landlord, but one thing that does happen is when you appoint someone to an entire Cabinet agency, they go native pretty quickly.
BOOKThere are history lessons here. I think if you look at Spencer Abraham, who was against the Department of Energy until he was running it, he ran it with great joy as the secretary of energy. And so it -- it isn't clear that you necessarily get what you start with by the time folks have power.
REHMWe have a website comment echoing some of the things you said. As we've talked about all this, Coral, the website comment, Donald Trump has lots of things to say about global warming, called it a hoax, claim it's a scam, promised to cancel Paris Climate Agreement, but this website comment goes on to say Trump has already put one of the nation's most prominent climate skeptics in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency transition, Chris Mooney.
MOONEYYes, I think this is referring to Myron Ebell, and he's affiliated with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and it's sort of a broadly libertarian take on environmental policy issues, basically the idea that there's too much regulation, and that hampers the marketplace, and so you shouldn't do it. And in the context of that, conservatives and libertarians have often raised doubts about the science of climate change, as well. Myron Ebell has definitely raised doubts about various aspects of it.
MOONEYI tracked down a quote from him recently where he was saying that to the -- basically that the worry about climate change is based on models, or he's referring to computer simulations, rather than hard data. That's one of the critiques that's out there. It's actually not really true, we have temperature data, we have carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere data, we have Arctic sea ice plummeting data. So we have all of these things.
MOONEYBut, I mean, this is -- this is the thing, right. It contrasts with the idea that by meeting with Al Gore, there is a softening of President-elect Trump's position. And we don't really know how to read and how to weight the different signals that we've got. And there was another apparent sign of softening when the president-elect met with the New York Times and said that there's some connectivity between human activity and climate change, which is softer somewhat than the tweets, which suggest a belief that it's not real, that it's made, but it's also -- some connectivity is not what scientists say.
MOONEYThey say that human activity is the dominant cause.
DAVENPORTI just want to push back on that just a little bit, Chris. If you read the whole transcript of Donald Trump's meeting with the Times and everything that he said about climate change, that remark got a lot of attention when he sort of said, well, there could be some connectivity.
DAVENPORTCould be some connectivity. But then he went on at length to be very critical of climate regulations to say, well, we don't want to do anything that would hurt business. You know, if you sort of look at everything else he said around that, it really -- it really in total did not represent a true softening. I would say if you look at the substance of what he's doing, that speaks much louder than a meeting with Al Gore and, you know, the sort of one remark.
BOOKI completely agree.
REHMBut on the other hand, Kevin Book, we have a tweet from Jeanine. Do your guests think Trump will support green innovation and tech as a shrewd businessman?
BOOKWe do, actually. We've been trying to figure out what's going to drive decision-making, and there's a lot of new questions that are being raised because there hasn't been a president who's gone direct to voters via Twitter before. But one of the things that is evident is that Trump values and cherishes his new base in the blue state he turned red, many of which have strong manufacturing leverage.
BOOKIf you look at the correlation between Donald Trump popular vote and energy intensity of GDP, which is to say who are the big manufacturing states, it's one of the strongest correlations you'll find in some of the energy attributes compared to the political reality of this past election. Translation in English, it means that the manufacturers love Trump. We'd expect him to love them back.
DAVENPORTI would agree with what Kevin says, with the caveat that in many ways we still just really don't know. The sort of -- the biggest new development is new questions. One of the things that Trump is talking about is big infrastructure spending. You know, a lot of infrastructure policy folks have pushed, if you're going to do a big infrastructure bill, there's ways to do new infrastructure that promote energy efficiency that are just cost-effective ways to build.
DAVENPORTAnd so this could be something that, you know, might not even necessarily be pushed from a green perspective but from a cost-effective, you know, cost-effective objective. But, you know, as all this unfolds, you know, we still don't even know if this is something that Congress would actually approve. There's just, there's so many questions.
MOONEYI just think the fate of clean energy is very much dependent upon state and not federal policies. There's renewable portfolio standards in many states. California is doing pretty much everything that it can in order to transition the way that it gets energy to wind, solar, batteries and more. So it's -- that's probably going to go forward no matter who's president, and the real thing that the wind and solar industries worry about is losing their investment tax credits.
MOONEYAnd it's -- there's been some speculations that legislatively something like that could happen, but it's not clear that that's a real threat to them.
REHMAll right, I want to take a caller in Orlando, Florida. Christine, you're on the air.
CHRISTINEHi, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
CHRISTINEAnd as all the other callers, we're going to miss you.
CHRISTINESo my -- I have a couple of comments and a question. Is the -- during the election campaign and post that that he's going to -- the president-elect is going to open up the oil fields, open up the Gulf of Mexico, open up everywhere, the pipelines, everything, to let oil flow, and as your guests have been describing about being a climate change denier, I work in a solar industry. I just changed careers from a career in backstage entertainment, and I've been working in the solar industry for a major solar provider for residential solar.
CHRISTINESo -- and one are the incentives for people to get solar is the 30 percent tax credit on your personal income tax. I think that it is more likelihood of me being able to work in the solar industry on land, and there's more people working in the solar industry than can possibly work in the oil industry because they're high-tech jobs, they're closed jobs where, you know, a friend of a friend gets you in to work out on the oil rigs or to do that, and personally I prefer doing what I do, running and getting permits for people to get solar on their homes than I would like to be out in an oil rig.
REHMAnd your question?
CHRISTINEDo you think that there's any chance that the continuation of the tax credits for the solar?
MOONEYSo there was -- there have been murmurings or worries about that, but it's not really clear that that would happen. I don't know. Anybody else know more about that?
DAVENPORTHistorically this is kind of -- when the solar tax credits, which have been in place for over a decade, Congress reauthorizes them for about two years, and then they'll run out, and there'll be a big question, is this it, and then kind of at the last minute they'll get, you know, packaged in with a larger spending package and get extended at the last minute.
DAVENPORTAnd that's kind of historically been the stop, start, stop, start, but ultimately continuing pattern that we've seen for the solar tax credits. And this is the way Congress has treated them even in Republican-majority Congresses. There's actually many Republican members of Congress that have a lot of solar and wind in their districts, particularly in Texas and California, that tend to support these.
DAVENPORTSo, you know, especially if this kid of flies under the radar, I wouldn't be surprised if we kept -- if we saw these continue.
BOOKWell last December, Diane, the Congress extended the investment tax credit through 2021. So it was the longest extension in a long time, but it came with a phase-down, and that phase-down reduces the value of the credit over time so that essentially it dribbles off rather than shutting off immediately. I agree with Coral, historically these things don't die, and it might a realistic expectation that that phase-down is altered, but as far as Chris is concerned that it might be preemptively shut down, it's been our experience that credits that have phase-downs built are allowed to be left alone.
BOOKAnd Congress, again, too many of the states where solar equipment is manufactured, where baryons for wind turbines are manufactured, are states where Republicans have significant political leverage. They're not going to go after their own constituents if there's already a time for a phase-down.
REHMAll right, let's talk about another area that perhaps could be turned around, a decision by the Corps of Engineers to stop the North Dakota pipeline, where it is right now. Could that decision be turned around, Coral?
DAVENPORTIt probably could. Everyone -- all of the legal experts that I've talked to have said yes, the next administration could revisit that decision. Like a lot of things that Trump has said he wants to do, it wouldn't happen with the snap of a finger. There would be lengthy legal processes. So it could take as long as two years. They would have to revisit the decision, you know, go through legal challenges, but certainly it's within the realm of possibility if they want to do undo it to take it through the legal process to approve it.
REHMDo you see that happening, Kevin?
BOOKAgree, yeah, and the symbolic value of going and reversing it is greater now that it's attracted so much national attention. One of the things that was in the offing prior to the election was a change in pipeline permitting writ large, and that's now longer -- no longer going to happen under Trump. So that is a difference.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. There is an email from James, and I'm going to ask this question, not knowing whether this is true or not. James says, Trump seems to have used climate change as a reason for constructing a seawall at his Irish golf course.
DAVENPORTYes, that is true. When applying for the permit to construct that seawall, the permit application includes reference to rising sea level as the reason for the need to construct the seawall. The primary cause of rising sea level, obviously, is global warming.
REHMBut he does not stipulate that the rising sea level is because of climate change. He just says rising sea level.
DAVENPORTAnd again, this is sort of in paperwork that was submitted. So you do see an acknowledgment when necessary that sort of the physical impacts of climate change are happening. Scientific studies have shown that sea level is rising due to climate change. That informed this permit application. So that -- that's pretty interesting that you see that and then you also see this campaign rhetoric.
MOONEYYeah, I mean, well sea level, it raises -- it sort of brings us back I think to one of the other key policy issues that really has to be decided, and we don't know what's going to happen, that's the Paris Climate Agreement, because in that agreement it says that the world's going to aspire to limit the planet's warming, the 1.5 degrees Celsius. That's the aspirational goal, if at all possible. And the reason that's in there is because small island states are afraid that there will be too much sea level rise if it goes anywhere beyond that, and they have good reason to be afraid for the long term. So...
REHMAll right, a caller in Alexandria, Virginia, Don, you're on the air.
DONOh thank you for taking my call, Diane, and you are a national treasure.
REHMOh, thank you.
DONI'll miss you terribly when you go off the air.
DONSo I'm very appreciative President Trump's -- -elect Trump's willingness to be open-minded on climate change, and I was hoping your guests can shed some light on why he has not yet supported a tax or fee on carbon as a revenue-neutral, market-based solution. You know, even Exxon supports a carbon tax.
DONYou know, one proposal promoted by Citizens' Climate Lobby, which I volunteer for, would place a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels at the source and return all these funds as dividends directly to American households as monthly checks, and, you know, this would increase employment, grow the economy, reduce CO2 emission by 52 percent after 20 years, save thousands of lives annually with the vast majority of Americans, particularly those in the lower economic brackets, coming out financially ahead.
DONDo you see President-elect Trump supporting this type of non-regulatory solution?
REHMAll right, and by the way, Don, I am going to be doing a weekly podcast after I go off the daily program. Now Chris, you...
MOONEYWell, carbon tax is this thing that's sort of loved by economists but hasn't been fully embraced politically by anybody yet, and there was an attempt to pass one in Washington state as a ballot initiative this electoral cycle, and it didn't even manage to unify the left around it, and so it failed. So it's because the politics of the word tax are very difficult, and I would expect that this would receive extreme resistance from the Republican side if President-elect Trump was to get behind it, but I don't think that he would.
MOONEYSo I think it remains this, you know, great policy idea that people put forward without much of a political constituency.
REHMAll right, I'll go to Kevin. We're almost to a break.
BOOKWell as someone who's apparently out of touch and testified in favor of a carbon tax as long ago as nine years ago, I would say that it is politically extremely difficult, but what it does do is generate revenue. President-elect Trump has said he wants to do the tax reform that Paul Ryan wants to do, lowering rates and broadening bases, but preserve entitlements. To do that you're going to need money. So I don't think you can rule it out entirely, but it surely doesn't have high odds.
REHMKevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners. Short break here, more of your comments, calls when we come back.
DAVENPORTYes. So again, President Obama's most significant climate change policy is the clean power plan, a set of EPA regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants. That will take a long time to unwind or weaken, if it can be fully done. The other one is regulations on emissions from vehicles. Both of these are regulations required under the law. They're finalized. They'll be a heavy lift to undo them.
DAVENPORTBut a couple of things can be done with the stroke of a pen on day one. One is an Obama -- a president -- an order by President Obama to halt leasing of coal mining, a moratorium on coal mining on federal lands. That was sort of put in place to limit coal mining on federal lands, basically, you know, as a way to limit carbon production, fossil fuel production on public lands. That can be done away with immediately.
MOONEYI think that one of the key areas where you're gonna see this emerge is with regulations of another greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is the principle one, it's the number one one. But there's also methane and it warms faster, but it doesn't last as long in the atmosphere. And you've had the Obama administration sort of move forward for the first time to try to rein in what are called fugitive emissions of methane that are coming from oil and gas drilling.
MOONEYAnd you've seen the Interior Department move on this and the EPA move on this. And there was another EPA regulation that they'd love to do, but they'll never get done now. So the one from the Interior Department came out so late, it came out after the election, that you would expect actually the Congress to try to target it through a mechanism called the Congressional Review Act, where they sort of can try to reverse a late regulation if they have the president on their side.
MOONEYThe EPA's regulation came out in 2016, but it came out back in May. It's probably not susceptible to that kind of thing. You would have to set in motion a new kind of regulatory process. But I think you would expect the oil and gas industry and its allies to want to see these things reversed. I think you would expect Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration to want to try to weaken them.
BOOKWell, there's things that can be done in parallel on these final rules, Diane. One of them is that even as the agencies begin to rewrite them, which as Coral right said, could be years before it's complete and you still have to defend it in court. They can change the way they enforce and implement them. The term of our -- here in Washington is enforcement discretion. And in many ways, politically speaking for a Republican administration, this is useful. They can keep a strict rule in place and defend their left flank, while they still cater to their industrial constituents.
BOOKIn the case of the federal lands regulations that came out of the Interior Department, either the venting and flurry rule, which was the methane rule that Chris mentioned, or a fracking rule that came out of the Bureau of Land Management earlier, is prime for over -- for being overturned by the Congress because there are so many Western lawmakers in the Republican Party who see it as an affront to their own sovereignty. So one of those two rules is probably very near the front of the runway for takeoff.
DAVENPORTI would agree with that. And one other point on unwinding the regulations. Again, it will take a lot of time. One of the thing -- one of the ways that the new administration can use Congress on this is just to defund the EPA. President-elect Trump has said he wants to dismantle the EPA. That will be difficult, too, but they can slash their budget. So the rule -- the regulations might still be in place, but they could slash the budget for enforcement.
REHMBut no way to enforce them.
DAVENPORTYes. So I would expect to see a lot of that, as well.
REHMAnd an email from John, who says, "While Donald Trump's transition is claiming that global climate change is based only on models, they're also proposing to cut or eliminate NASA's budget, which provides the critical satellite and other technical data that measures the global warming trend and the increase in greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere."
MOONEYRight. There's been a long-standing view in some Republican circles that NASA should stick to space and not study the planet. And of course NASA very strongly disagrees. And this idea has been floated again. And we don't know that that's gonna happen, but it's been talked about. Certainly, it's the case that NASA is an observing system. It gives incredible volumes of evidence about climate change.
MOONEYThey've got, for instance, they are tracking the Greenland ice sheet is losing 281 billion tons of ice every year. NASA's satellites are, you know, one of the key measures that's telling us. Antarctica is losing more like 120 billion. This is why sea level is rising. Sea level is rising at 3 millimeters per year. NASA's the one that's telling us, you know, through -- including many satellite measurements. All these kind of things.
REHMAre those measurements in any way redundant through other agencies?
MOONEYWell, we're not the only country in the world that has satellites and has science agencies and all the rest. The European Space -- there's a lot of different sources. But I think everyone would agree that NASA's vital in terms of the observing system it provides.
DAVENPORTAnd also, in terms of contributing to global data. NASA's data is relied upon globally.
REHMSo if you start cutting the budget on NASA you…
DAVENPORTYou lose a lot of critical data for understanding the impacts of global warming. One other point on cutting NASA's budget, as Chris said, there's kind of been this argument that NASA should focus on studying space, but a lot of the mandate of NASA is to study our own atmosphere, to study the carbon levels in the atmosphere. And to use satellites in our atmosphere to monitor our own planet. So the scientists at NASA would argue that this data still falls very much within the objective of NASA. And a lot of this was really pushed by the Reagan administration.
REHMAll right. To Kewadin, Mich. Cindy, you're on the air.
CINDYOh, what an honor. Thank you. I'll try to be succinct. I've been wondering why the folks and the experts that are concerned about climate change, which includes myself, neglect often to focus on the health and safety aspect of the pollution aspect. Because I think that is what will hit to the hearts of people, if you're talking about their children and their grandchildren and the effects and the dangers of the toxins that we're spewing into our environment. And I continue to be very confused or distraught that that is not mentioned more. 'Cause people can't relate to climate change. It's too far into the future.
REHMInteresting point. And you just did. Go ahead, Carol.
DAVENPORTSo one interesting remark that Donald Trump has made is side-by-side with his many remarks sort of denying the science of climate change, he has said, I'm going to be -- I care about the environment. I want to see clean air and crystal clean water. So, you know, it's, again, it's kind of hard to see how this translates…
REHMYeah, it's confusing. Chris?
MOONEYI agree. I mean, we know that the same emissions that cause climate change cause air pollution in many cases.
REHMAnd air pollution affects our breathing apparatus. Everything.
MOONEYAbsolutely. And, yeah, we're just -- we're learning more and more about how deadly air pollution actually is. Right. It turns out that globally it's one of the leading causes of death in the world. Now, there's countries that have much higher air pollution levels than we do. But it's very dangerous. So those two issues can't be separated. And this is why, if you're in the clean energy industry, if you're solar, if you're wind or even if you're nuclear you can say I'm cleaning your air and I'm preventing deaths from air pollution. I'm not just fighting climate change.
BOOKDiane, I'd have to say that I -- there's energy tradeoffs across the portfolio. And you want to be careful. When Donald Trump says that he's for clean air and clean water, he's talking about the core tenets of what the EPA is there to do. And so that's -- that resonates with everyone, we drink and breathe. But if you look at what happens when policies inadvertently cause second order effects, there's something we characterize as air-to-water transference. In our obsession with cleaning the air, evermore we've increased the pressure on the water system.
BOOKThere's a lot of ways you can refer to it. But the easiest one is to think about ethanol, which has been put into the gasoline pool as a way of cleaning up the combustion of gasoline. But the production of ethanol has also been linked to algal blooms and there are water effects from other oxygenates that have been used in gasoline in the past to clean up air. There's a number of examples. And so one of the things that you'd hope for is that whatever mechanism they center their policy around in the Trump administration or any administration, they look at second order effects to try to avoid untoward consequences.
REHMWe shall see. Let's take a call from Birmingham, Ala. Christian, you're on the air.
CHRISTIANHi. Can you all hear me?
CHRISTIANOkay. So it's funny that your guest just mentioned algal blooms 'cause I'm a graduate student at UAB, but before that I worked at -- in the marine science department at UMC Chapel Hill and we studied the algae blooms from all the runoff from the farms, and you know, largely from ethanol production and the pig farms. But the question I wanted to ask, so in the discussion of climate change and CO2 emissions, one of the things that's not in the mainstream media that I think could be relevant in our lifetimes is the ocean acidification.
CHRISTIANBecause a lot of the atmospheric carbon -- the biggest sink for carbon is the oceans. And so all that carbon goes into the oceans, forms carbonic acid. And eventually, that'll make the algae and the crustaceans not be able to grow as big, and it'll cause a major strain on the food web and a collapse of the food web that could, you know, affect us and create some kind of global, you know, food shortage for people that depend on the ocean for, you know, most of their -- as a food source.
MOONEYYeah, well, we don't talk enough about climate change's effect on the oceans generally. Ocean acidification is one of the biggies. Another one is just warming of the ocean. I mean, we saw this incredible -- they called it an underwater heat wave that, you know, bathed the Great Barrier Reef in March. And now we've learned that 400 miles of the Great Barrier Reef have something like a two-thirds coral death. And this is sort of the great coral wonder of the world. And that's happened when the planet has only warmed one -- about one degree Celsius. And they say dangerous climate change is at 1.5 or 2. Well, maybe it's at one if something like that happens.
REHMAnd a tweet, "There is almost zero discussion of agriculture causing climate change by a methane, which is far worse than carbon dioxide." Why is that, Kevin?
BOOKA matter of international practice, we have different levels of crisis in the environmental and economic portfolio. And from the beginning of climate talks, there's been a discussion of climate emissions, greenhouse gas emissions net of land use -- land use change. And so -- and farming. So part of that is -- was done in the original Kyoto Protocol as a mechanism to recognize food shortages and the necessity of improving food delivery to some of the same developing economies that are most vulnerable to other aspects of climate change. And so it is as much a convention, as anything else. But there's a political side of it, too. Look, Western countries love their farmers first and best.
MOONEYWell, I'll just throw out there that the Obama administration Department of Agriculture did have a suite of policies that it was sort of beginning to pursue. They were trying to rein in the agricultural component of climate change. And it did focus on naturally, things like methane emissions, which are very, very significant from cows. And we don't really know what to say yet about the Trump administration Department of Agriculture. But that -- probably that's another thing that would not be pursued as heavily.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." From Yonica, in Washington State, you're on the air.
YONICAHi, Diane. My question is about General Flynn, our new national security advisor, so to speak. The Pentagon has placed national warming at the top or very close to the top of their list of global threats to national security. And I'm wondering if you think that General Flynn will have the courage to speak this truth to our -- to the power of our new president.
DAVENPORTI question the role that General Flynn will take in terms of talking about climate change. But actually, President-elect Trump's nominee for defense secretary, General Mattis, is on the record as sort of talking about understanding the role of climate change as a national security threat. You know, it hasn't been a big thing, but he is someone who's known as being extremely well read. He has no record whatsoever of being a climate denier.
DAVENPORTIn general, the national security community does take this very seriously. And General Mattis seems to be sort of part of that thinking. So I think that will be very interesting to see how -- if that continues. Because there are a lot -- there is a lot of reporting and a lot of concern within the Pentagon about climate change as a national security concern. And General Mattis seems ready to continue that thinking. So that will be…
REHMYou know, it really is interesting. It's been said a number of times that President-elect Trump sort of listens intently to the last person he talked to. But if you have someone like General Mattis beside you and you hear a very intelligent and thoughtful person discussing these issues, surely that can have some influence in the decisions you make, Chris.
MOONEYYeah, absolutely. And I think that will military leaders, they do get this. And it's not just actually for them a climate change thing and how that could be destabilizing and lead to different strategic choices, as you view the world as a whole. It's also about energy. Right? Because if you can, you know, go a longer distance on the same, you know, gas tank for your military vehicle, then that's great.
MOONEYThat means you have greater tactical ability. That means you're in a better strategic position. So -- or if you can, you know, use solar, rather than having to burn a generator. So they are thinking about all these things. And they're trying to figure out how they can increase their readiness by changing how they use energy.
REHMWhat do you think, Kevin?
BOOKEnergy is a big part of moving material. Right? You can't fly planes on solar power and have something like the strike capability we need today. But you can use solar power to make the other energy that you're using go further. So there's been some very thoughtful looking over this topic, not just in this administration, but before that. The Bush administration was looking at biofuels and also coal fuels for airplanes and for freight in something called the Joint Battlefield Use Fuels of the Future Program. And this pursuit is not new. Military commanders have to think about how they're going to energize and how they're going to mobilize and the energy component of the value change is essential.
DAVENPORTAnother issue that the military, particularly the Navy, are focusing very heavily on is concerns about rising sea levels affecting naval military installations, particularly in the Pacific. There are major installations on -- in low-lying islands that -- where the Navy is already starting to look at how do they build those up, how do they fortify those. Norfolk Naval Base, largest Navy facility in the world, is in Norfolk, Va., an area that's very threatened by rising sea levels. So none of these concerns are going to go away.
REHMExactly. And I would think, as this administration comes together, there's going to be lots of on-going talk and perhaps on-going changes in decision making as we go. I want to thank you all, Chris Mooney of the Washington Post, Coral Davenport of The New York Times, Kevin Book of ClearView Energy Partners. We'll be watching this as we go. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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