Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Barack Obama Interview

An interview with Barack Obama about energy and the environment

Barack Obama

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This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is heating up, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

PLUS: For a quick eco-summary of each candidate, check out Primary Color.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama Barack Obama

In his two and a half years in the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) has been active—even hyperactive—on matters of energy and the environment. The Democrat from Illinois has introduced or co-signed nearly 100 eco-related bills on issues ranging from auto fuel economy to lead poisoning to biofuels promotion, and racked up a notable 96 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

But it hasn't been all hugs and kisses between Obama and enviros. Some green activists wrinkle their noses at Obama's overarching emphasis on bipartisan consensus, insisting that real environmental change won't happen without tough partisan battles against entrenched interests. Enviros have also criticized Obama for his support of corn-derived ethanol and liquid coal, both of which would benefit industries in his home state of Illinois but do little to solve climate and energy problems.

We reached Obama by phone in his office in Washington, D.C., between Senate votes.

Why should voters consider you the strongest candidate on environmental issues? What sets your green platform apart from the rest?
To begin with, people can look at my track record. I'm proud of the fact that one of the first sets of endorsements I received in my race for the U.S. Senate was from the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. I've since cast tough votes on behalf of the environment. For example, I voted against the “Clear Skies” bill that George Bush was promoting, despite the fact that the administration had heated up support for the bill in southern Illinois, which, as you know, is coal country. So I think people can feel confident that I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk.

How central will energy and the environment be to your campaign?
I consider energy to be one of the three most important issues that we are facing domestically, along with revamping our education system and reforming our health-care systems. The opportunities for significant change exist partly because the awareness of the threat of climate change has grown rapidly over the last couple of years. Al Gore deserves a lot of credit for that, as do environmental activists and outlets like Grist. People are ready to recognize the magnitude of the climate problem and take it on.

They're also recognizing that our dependence on fossil fuels from the Middle East is distorting our foreign policies, and that we can't economically sustain our use of a resource that is getting more and more expensive over time. As all those things converge, we have to move boldly on energy legislation, and that's what I'll do as the next president.

How central of a role do you think the issues of energy and the environment will play overall in the 2008 campaign? Will they take a backseat to Iraq?
Bringing the war in Iraq to a responsible end is the most pressing challenge we face, but that doesn't mean it's the only challenge we face. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil and slashing our greenhouse-gas emissions will also be defining issues in this campaign.

You've consistently emphasized consensus and putting aside partisan battles. Many argue that, when it comes to climate change, the maximum of what's politically possible falls short of the minimum we need to do to solve the problem. In other words, consensus won't get us where we need to go. Will you fight the political battles needed to move the consensus on this issue, even if that means aggravating partisan rifts?
I am the cosponsor of the most aggressive climate-change legislation in the Senate, along with Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.] and Bernie Sanders [I-Vt.], which would reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. We are going to have to make some big decisions to meet those goals. Consensus doesn't mean 100 percent consensus-there is undoubtedly going to be resistance from certain parts of the energy sector, and there may be ideological resistance within the Republican party, and we are going to have to attend to the regional differences in terms of how people get energy. But I believe that we can put together a strong majority to move forward, as long as we are thoughtful about the potential losers in any big piece of energy legislation.

Do you believe that we can achieve political consensus on this goal of 80 percent reductions by 2050?
I think with presidential leadership we can meet this goal, and it will be one of my top priorities. But it is going to require a thoughtful approach that accounts for the possibility that electricity prices will go up, and that low-income people may need to be compensated. We'll have to deal with the fact that many of our power plants are coal-burning, and consider what investments we're willing to make in coal sequestration. If we make sure that the burdens and benefits of a strong environmental policy are evenly spread across the economy, then people will want to see us take on this problem in an aggressive way.

Do you believe that we need a carbon tax in addition to a cap-and-trade program?
I believe that depending on how it is designed, a carbon tax accomplishes much of the same thing that a cap-and-trade program accomplishes. The danger in a cap-and-trade system is that the permits to emit greenhouse gases are given away for free, as opposed to priced at auction. One of the mistakes the Europeans made in setting up a cap-and-trade system was to give too many of those permits away. So as I roll out my proposals for a cap-and-trade system, I will price permits so that it has much of the same effect as a carbon tax.

You have personally addressed automakers with a call for more efficient car technologies. Is Detroit ready for this shift?
We made some progress recently in the Senate, with the first fuel-efficiency standards increase in 20 years . It only went up to 35 miles per gallon-far short of what we needed and what technology would allow.

We have to work not only to make our cars more efficient, but the fuel we put in those cars a lot cleaner. I believe I am the only candidate who has proposed a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard, something that California has already initiated

You've received a lot of criticism from enviros of your support for coal-to-liquids technology. You recently shifted your position somewhat, but haven't retracted it. Why?
I was always firm that if the life-cycle carbon emissions of coal-to-liquid were higher than gasoline, we couldn't do it, because it would contradict my position on reducing greenhouse gases. But I also believe that, because of the abundance of coal in the U.S., coal-based fuels could be a substitute for some of the oil we import from the Middle East, as long as we can reduce the resulting CO2 emissions to 20 percent below current levels from petroleum-based fuels.

How much should we be willing to pay in taxpayer money to make liquid coal that clean?
Our original bill on coal-to-liquids—which generated a lot of heat in the environmental community, no pun intended—proposed $200 million for demonstration projects, to see where this technology might take us.

If the technology exists for us to use coal in a clean fashion, then that is something all of us should welcome, particularly because China and India are building coal-fired power plants at a rapid rate, and they likely have lifespans of several decades. Coal is a cheaper resource, and they're going to be figuring out a way to exploit it, so we should help to find technologies that will ensure that if it is used, it is used cleanly. The U.S. is recognized as the global leader in understanding better coal and geologic sequestration technologies. If we abandon that leadership, we risk leaving the rest of the planet wide open to investing billions in polluting infrastructure.

But I stress again that my position has been consistent throughout: If we are using coal in the absence of these clean technologies, then we are going to be worsening the trend of global warming, and that is something that we can't do.

Do you support a freeze in the U.S. on new coal development until these clean-coal technologies are commercially available?
I believe that relying on the ingenuity of the free market, coupled with a strong carbon cap, is the best way to reduce carbon emissions, rather than an arbitrary freeze on development.

As president, would you oppose subsidizing any technology that increases global warming—even if it reduces our dependence on foreign oil?
As a general principle I would agree with that. I would not make huge investments or try to take technologies to scale that worsen the climate-change situation. But it may be appropriate for the federal government to make small investments in pilot projects to see if we can make dirty fuels cleaner.

I think that with nuclear power, we have got to see if there are ways for us to store the radioactive material in a safe, environmentally sound way, and if we can do that and deal with some of the safety and security issues, [nuclear power] is something that we should look at.

My general view is that we should experiment with all sorts of potential energy sources—don't prejudge what works and what doesn't, but insist that we have very strict standards in terms of where we want to end up, and enforce those standards vigorously.

Some argue that we should commit to a global climate treaty only if China and India do as well. Do you agree? How would you bring China and India to the table?
We shouldn't look at it as a single tit-for-tat exchange. The U.S. is the world's largest economy and the largest single source of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions, so it is our responsibility to take the first step. We cannot expect China and India, with a billion people each, to take the lead on this if we do not—but we can expect them to join us if we demonstrate leadership. If we must take the first step, our second and third steps must be conditioned on meaningful participation by all countries. This is also an enormous opportunity for us to provide our technological expertise to these nations so they can leapfrog to cleaner technologies.

You are a strong supporter of both corn and cellulosic ethanol, both of which would get a major boost from your proposed National Low Carbon Fuel Standard. How, specifically, will you structure policies that transition the U.S. away from corn ethanol and toward cellulosic?
No single feedstock is going to get us to energy independence, and none will be the perfect solution—each faces its own challenges. Corn-starch ethanol provides a critically important bridge toward energy independence, and corn remains a strong part of the domestic biofuels industry. But developing greater volumes of cellulosics is a critical next step in domestic biofuel development, and is the key component of my Low Carbon Fuel Standard bill.

Through greater fuel economy and the use of hybrid and plug-in vehicles, we can notably reduce our dependence on foreign oil over the next decade. It is important to note that domestic fuel security, environmental protection, and economic development all must be considered in unison as we progress. My National Low Carbon Fuel Standard provides a way for us to better understand the impacts of an advanced biofuels industry on the environment, so that as we move forward on cellulosics and other domestic fuels we do so responsibly.

What environmental achievement are you proudest of?
In 2006, I developed an innovative approach to gradually increase CAFE standards while protecting the financial future of American automakers. The resulting Obama-Lugar-Biden Fuel Economy Reform Act gained the support of senators who had never supported CAFE increases before. This, in turn, helped lay the foundation for Senate passage of updated CAFE standards last month.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?
Restoring the strength of the EPA to adequately enforce our clean-air, clean-water, and other environmental-protection laws, after over six years of ruling by ideology rather than science and adherence to the law.

Who is your environmental hero?
If I think historically, Rachel Carson probably had as much to do as anybody in helping trigger an environmental consciousness in this country.

I also admire Teddy Roosevelt, who probably wouldn't have seen himself as an environmentalist in modern terms, but who had a great appreciation of the outdoors and the beauty of our land, and understood that part of the role of the president is sound stewardship.

If you could spend one week in a natural area in the U.S., where would it be?
I have very fond memories as a kid of traveling to Yellowstone, marveling at the scenery and chasing after bison, much to my mother's distress.

But when I think of my own connection to the earth, I think of my time in Hawaii, my birthplace. I think those of us who grew up in Hawaii have a particular attachment to the land and understand how fragile it is. When you are snorkeling through the coral reefs, you realize that a slight change in temperature or increase in sediment and runoff could end up destroying it all and making it unavailable for your children. That is something you worry about.

What have you done personally to lighten your environmental footprint?
We just bought a Ford Escape, so I traded in a non-hybrid for a hybrid. We are in the process of replacing our lightbulbs in our house and trying to limit the use of our air conditioning, trying to make sure that we unplug and turn off all of our appliances when we're not using them. It's a fun project to work on with my nine-year-old and my six-year-old.

John Edwards

An interview with presidential candidate John Edwards about energy and the environment

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

John Edwards

John Edwards John Edwards

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

John Edwards has gone to great lengths to outshine the top Democratic candidates with an aggressive environmental platform. This blue-collar defender has painted himself as a dedicated greenie.

The first candidate to call for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 and the first to make his campaign carbon neutral. Edwards has had a Pied Piper effect on the other Democratic contenders, prompting them to make similar pledges. He has also set himself apart with his call for a freeze on all development of coal-fired power plants until they can be outfitted with carbon-sequestration technology.

We spoke to Edwards on his cell phone as he hurtled through the fields of rural Iowa in his campaign bus.

You were the first presidential candidate to call for reducing U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and you were the first to make your campaign carbon neutral. What inspired these pledges?

What inspired me is that the world is at crisis on this issue of climate change. It requires action now. I feel a personal responsibility and a responsibility as a candidate for president to lead on the big issues that face America and the world. And there is none bigger than this one. Without American leadership, nothing will happen.

What makes you the strongest candidate on energy and the environment?

I’m not waiting to see what other candidates say, or what the political climate is. I believe that you have to lead if you want to be president of the United States. That’s the reason I came out early with a very bold plan to address climate change. So I think if you want to know who is the most likely candidate to lead in a serious way on this issue, look at who is leading throughout the campaign.

Can you give some examples of what makes your platform stronger than other candidates’?

First of all, the 80 percent reduction by 2050 is aggressive. I think it is completely achievable, but it is clearly aggressive. So is the banning of the building of any additional coal-fired power plants, until and if the carbon-sequestration technology is available. And the plan to make America the producer of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the planet.

The most central point I’d make is that all of us have to take responsibility in order to address an issue like climate change. The great movements in American history—and it is certainly true of the green movement—didn’t begin in the Oval Office; they began out here in America, where people with convictions spoke out and stood their ground.

Your proposed ban on coal-fired power plants would cause a political firestorm. How will you push this through?

It’s like anything else: You have to make the case to the American people that it is the right and responsible thing to do. There will always be powerful interests that have a financial stake in the status quo; you just have to be a powerful advocate for America. It is our responsibility as stewards of the planet, and if America doesn’t lead on this, it is going to have devastating consequences for us and our children.

Do you think we need a carbon tax?

Well, I think I can accomplish the same thing in a different way. What I have proposed is capping carbon emissions in America, ratcheting the cap down each year to eventually achieve the goal of 80 percent reductions by 2050, and then auctioning off the right to emit greenhouse gases and using that money to change the way we use and produce energy in this country. I think it is just another mechanism for doing the same thing.

You’ve proposed a 40-mile-per-gallon fuel-economy standard by 2016. The auto industry argues this would cripple them. Can they hack it?

With the system I’ve proposed, they can. When we auction off the right to emit greenhouse gases, we will put a significant part of the proceeds toward helping automakers transition to the development of the most innovative and fuel-efficient cars on the planet.

What role should the U.S. play in crafting a new international climate agreement?

America’s responsibility is to clean up our own house in a very aggressive way, and as we are doing that then we have the credibility to go to China and India and the countries that are most crucial to developing a world response to this problem.

We—the great innovators that we are—need to make technology available to developing countries that will need it in order to achieve a significant reduction in greenhouse gases. China is building more than one coal-fired power plant a week, and none of them are scrubbed [i.e., equipped with technologies that remove sulfur-based pollutants from the gases emitted from their smokestacks], which will do incredible damage to the environment. America has to lead them in a different direction.

As president, would you support technologies that would worsen global warming even if they helped to reduce our dependence on foreign oil?

Technologies like liquefied coal? I am against liquefied coal. We cannot add to the damage that is already being done to the environment by using additional carbon-based fuels. I would come down on the side of making sure that America is doing what needs to be done about climate change.

Is Iraq a war for oil?

It’s a good question, but the answer would require getting inside of the head of George Bush.

The thing that I am certain is true is that our dependence on oil has an incredibly negative effect in trying to stop the forces of terrorism. It props up bad governments, particularly in the Middle East, who don’t educate their kids, don’t reform their governments, don’t economically develop, and in many cases are largely isolated from the rest of the world. And the main reason is because they are on drugs, and that drug is oil. So long as they are mainlining oil, they will never reform.

Which is why America needs to make a switch from our addiction to oil and carbon-based fuels to wind, solar, safer biofuels, and cleaner renewable energy, which will have positive impacts far beyond economic impacts. No. 1: It will create at least one million “green-collar” jobs in this country. No. 2: When we drive down the price of oil, it creates an environment where these countries that are mainlining oil all of a sudden have no choice, and they have to reform, they have to educate their kids, they have to economically develop.

On top of that, if you look at the consequences of America moving to develop biofuels, which are clearly crucial going forward, we have the land mass to support that here in America. But the Europeans probably do not, so they are either going to need to buy from us or develop their own capacity. And there is a very good chance that they will do that in Africa, in which case you help billions of people in Africa who have no means of helping themselves out of poverty. Which means the positive consequences of America leading on climate change are almost endless.

There’s concern in the environmental community over the impacts of corn ethanol. How will you structure policies to shift us away from corn ethanol and toward cellulosic ethanol?

The development of corn-based-ethanol production and use now lays the foundation for the use of cellulosic ethanol in the future. By expanding the ethanol market, we build demand and infrastructure—such as biorefineries and distribution systems—that will be used for cellulosic production.

I’ll create new markets for ethanol by requiring all new cars to run on both gasoline and E85 ethanol, requiring 25 percent of chain gas stations to carry E85. I’ll also create a $13 billion-a-year New Energy Economy Fund to invest in renewable and energy-efficient technology, including new methods of producing and using ethanol, like cellulosic ethanol. To raise these resources, I’ll charge greenhouse-gas polluters for emission permits and repeal subsidies for big oil companies.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

As president, I’ll work to reverse every harmful environmental executive order and regulation issued by the Bush administration. In my first year, two of my top priorities will be submitting legislation that strengthens the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and restoring the “polluter pays” principle in the Superfund.

What environmental achievement are you most proud of?

I am proud that I was the first presidential candidate to call for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. And I’m glad that other candidates have followed me in adopting this call for change.

Who is your environmental hero?

You know, that’s a funny thing. Today, I actually think it is Al Gore.

How has your experience with the natural world shaped your view of environmental issues and your approach to environmental policy?

One wonderful thing about running for president of the United States is that you get to see all parts of America. I have seen all parts of it from oceans to forests to rivers to streams to farms. We live on this beautiful planet, and I feel a huge personal responsibility to protect it.

If you could spend a week in a park or natural area of the United States, where would that be?

Probably the Appalachian Trail.

Describe your most memorable experience or adventure in the outdoors.

Though they worked hard, my parents found time to take us camping at Hartwell Lake, in Georgia, with our extended family. We’d all pitch a tent and go fishing on the lake. We loved it.

I’ve since been blessed to have the opportunity to share the outdoors with my own kids. In the summer of 1995, my son Wade and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. The climb was physically challenging, but eventually I joined Wade and our friends at the top. I’ll never forget the experience.

I think passing a love of the outdoors through generations is a great American tradition-a powerful reminder of our obligation to act as stewards. When we go hiking or swimming or camping or boating with our kids, we’re reminded of both the gift and the responsibility we’ve been given.

You have been criticized for building a large house. How do you reconcile that with concerns about consumption and energy use?

From the very beginning we were very energy conscious with this home, which is how we got a five-star [energy efficiency] rating, and it’s why we use solar to provide some energy. It is why [my wife] Elizabeth and I are committed to our home being carbon neutral, and our campaign being carbon neutral.

What kind of car do you drive?

We drive a Ford Escape.

If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind would he be?

George Bush is like the dry brush in Crawford, Texas, and it’s time to clear the brush.

Dennis Kucinich

An interview with Dennis Kucinich about his presidential platform on energy and the environment

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich Dennis Kucinich

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

He may be eating the front-runners’ dust in the polls, but among deep-green voters, Dennis Kucinich is considered a trailblazer. A Democratic U.S. rep from Cleveland, Ohio, Kucinich is calling for a radical overhaul of the U.S. government and economy—one that infuses every agency in the executive branch with a sustainability agenda, phases out coal and nuclear power entirely, and calls on Americans to ratchet down their resource consumption and participate in a national conservation program.

A vegan who counts Ralph Nader among his heroes, Kucinich doesn’t exactly embody the sensibility of the average American. He says his commitment to sustainability “extends to everything I am and do”—from the food he eats and the clothes he wears to the policies he espouses. It’s the same progressive platform that made him a darling of the far left when he ran for president in 2004. Will it take him further this time around?

I reached Kucinich by phone at his home in Ohio.

Why should voters consider you the strongest green candidate?

Because mostly our candidates aren’t going to be able to do anything about the underlying issues that threaten our environment. Many of the candidates—Edwards, Obama, and Clinton—are heavily funded by hedge funds on Wall Street, which are driven by a psychology of short-term profits and investments. And with candidates taking that kind of money from those interests, it defies belief that they’re going to be in a position to take this country in the direction it needs to be taken.

What sets your green platform apart from the rest?

As president of the United States, I’m going to shift the entire direction of America. We need to see the connection between global warring and global warming, and it’s oil. Sustainability is the path to peace. And I’m the only true peace candidate in this election. So peace means being in harmony with nature. If you’re in harmony with nature, you don’t exploit nature. You don’t ruin the land, you don’t extract the oil, you don’t take the coal out of the earth.

My underlying philosophy is a green philosophy. It means that I’m looking at a total reorganization of the federal government to create a cooperative and synergistic relationship between all departments and administrations for the purpose of greening America.

You propose, for instance, the Works Green Administration.

The Works Green Administration hearkens back to the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the Works Progress Administration, where he put millions of people back to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure. I too have an infrastructure-rebuilding program which will put millions of people back to work. Picture this: You take every area of involvement in the federal government—whether it’s the Small Business Administration, or the Housing and Urban Development Department or the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Labor. Each would incorporate green goals. We’d have billions of dollars loaned to the states at zero interest for green development programs, we’d have programs furthering green housing, agricultural policies would relate to green.

Do you think Americans are ready to answer the call to conserve?

Of course they are; they’re just waiting for leadership, and it has to come from somebody who’s not tied to any of these interest groups and worried about whether he’s going to offend a contributor. And so, yes, I think people know that their future’s at stake.

What I intend to do as president is to call on that instinct that is within every person—[the intinct] not just to survive but to be able to thrive. We need to make the connection between prosperity and sustainability. And it also means we have to turn toward peace. We have to stop warring, because war is ecocide; war destroys the environment. I’m going to call forth the people of this country [and lead them in] a whole new direction. I think America’s not just ready for it, it’s overdue, and people know that.

I will also ask the American people to participate in a grand and great conservation effort. Imagine if tens of millions of homes suddenly had an awareness that when you don’t need the electricity, don’t flip the switch. That you use only the water that you need and you don’t use any more—you don’t let the faucet run.

Do you believe that we need a carbon tax in addition to a cap-and-trade program, or neither, or both?

We need to do whatever we can do to create disincentives for the use of carbon-based energy. But that’s not enough. Carbon-based taxes alone won’t cut it, because some people may be willing to pay an extra tax to use something that’s bad for the environment. Inevitably we need a requirement to move away from all carbon-based technologies, and to fund fully all alternative energy research that is in harmony with the environment.

So you would propose a strict cap on carbon emissions, a carbon tax, and a massive government-supported plan to promote renewable technologies?

Yes, but I’d want to put the emphasis first on the government supporting renewable technologies. A tax could reflect the full cost to society of certain types of energy. But the answer is not simply punishing those people who are using carbons. You have to do everything you can to move people toward renewable energy.

You’ve been calling for years for a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that would have the U.S. get 20 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2010. Now that 2010 is around the corner, what sort of RPS plan would you implement as president?

Well, obviously we’ve lost the advantage of that particular time frame. For the next time frame, I think we could set something by 2020 and look to 30 or 40 percent. But that means we’re talking about a very sharp turnaround here.

How would you shift the utility industry toward renewables, toward this whole new paradigm?

One of my proposals is to have millions of homes with wind and solar technologies, and people can sell energy back to the grid. The role of utilities will change dramatically because it’s not going to be a centralized approach toward energy production. They’ll have to figure out different ways that they might be able to provide support for green alternatives. I want to see, eventually, all the homes in this country have the option of that technology. In turn, you can create millions of jobs building alternative technologies.

Would nuclear power play any role in your energy policy as president?

Nuclear has to be phased out. The hidden costs of nuclear are enormous—of building these plants and storing the waste forever. It’s not financially or environmentally sustainable.

Nuclear makes up 20 percent of America’s electricity supply. What would you replace this with?

You don’t want to leave a gap in our energy needs, but at the same time, with a program of conservation and movement toward alternative energy, we can begin phasing out nuclear.

What about coal, the source of more than half of our electricity supply? Would you phase that out, or do you believe in the promise of advanced coal technologies?

No, coal has to be phased out. In the same way that the Department of Agriculture for years was paying some farmers not to grow, I think we can get to the point of paying coal miners not to mine. Why should the miners have to suffer from the lack of foresight of our energy policies? That’s something that I intend to address in my Works Green Administration.

The electric utility industry would argue that such a massive shift would pass along huge rate hikes to consumers. How would you protect Americans from these expenses?

We do not need to be held hostage by the utility industry. I’m not someone who’s going to roll over when these utility industries issue their threats. We’re going to break up the monopolies in utilities, that’s number one. Number two, these utilities are going to be closely regulated for their activities. Number three, they’re going to be required to go green as license conditions. Number four, they’re going to be closely monitored and shut down if they violate the Clean Air Act. We’re going to have a very aggressive EPA, and utilities are not going to be dictating energy costs. I don’t mind working with them, I don’t mind moving toward areas where they can be cooperative in protecting the environment, but they’re not going to run energy policy.

But such a transition would create huge costs. How would you pay for them?

It pays for itself. See, the whole idea about sustainability is that you conserve, you save, and then you use the savings for other things. However, where we need financial incentives, this is where the government can play a major role in putting money into circulation for the production of these [green] products, and to put people to work. Roosevelt understood in the 1930s that there were things he had to do to move the economy. And I understand what we need to do to move the economy in a green direction.

Do you support subsidies for ethanol or other gasoline alternatives, like biodiesel?

I don’t know about subsidies. I think those technologies are transitional to fuel-cell technology. I wouldn’t want to create incentives to lock us into usages that are not where we ultimately want to go. And there is a serious issue with ethanol and its impact on food supplies.

Many argue that the U.S. shouldn’t commit to a global greenhouse-gas reduction target= that doesn’t involve China and India. Do you agree, and how would you bring them to the table?

First of all, as president, I’m going to let the rest of the world know that the days of America trying to be a nation above nations is over. We have to quit trying to dominate other countries, and we have to step out of our isolation and into the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people. I think the world is ready for an American president who puts the sword down, so that nations won’t have to spend a tremendous amount of their resources trying to prepare for war.

We have to be ready to take the lead, but we need to have harmony with other nations. As president, I intend to work with the leaders of China and India and other nations to promote an environmental consciousness and sustainable economies. I will use trade as a vehicle to try to raise the level of living for all people, and environmental sustainability must be the watchword. All of our trade agreements must have within them requirements for protecting the air and the water and the land of all the countries we do business with.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

Agriculture—the way we grow our food—and we really need to make sure that we protect our water supply. These issues are closely tied to each other.

Who is your environmental hero?

Oh, I have many. Thomas Berry, whose book The Great Work talked about how our great work in life is to achieve a real harmony with the environment. I think Lester Brown has done some incredible work on raising the consciousness of people. Amory Lovins has done some excellent work, and I think Ralph Nader has pointed to a lot of the environmental implications of corporate conduct and trade laws. And John Robbins has been so incredible in his awareness of the impact of the food we eat on our environment.

What was your most memorable wilderness or outdoor adventure?

As I child, we lived in the city, we moved around a lot. But there was one place we lived, above railroad tracks, and on the other side of the tracks was this vast acreage called “the gulley” that was created with the blasting of the railroad. It had these huge rock piles and vegetation everywhere and it almost looked prehistoric. It was a place that I would go to often and find solitude and be able to just think. So much of my own life has been connected with a desire to be close to nature, to be close to the water, to be close to green.

If you could spend a week in one natural area of the U.S., where would it be?

I would say somewhere in northern Maine. The whole state is beautiful, but northern Maine is just extraordinary, and I’ve seen all 50 states. I also love Maui.

What do you do to lighten your environmental footprint?

My philosophy of life extends to everything I am and do. If I say I’m for peace, I’m for peace in the kind of products that I use, in the kind of shoes that I wear, and in terms of the clothes that I wear, in terms of my eating habits. I’m always thinking in terms of sustainability. That’s the way I live. I live in a small house and we’re very conscious of our energy usage. I drive an American car, a Ford Focus, but it’s one of the highest fuel-economy cars.

I’ve been living an essentially vegan lifestyle since 1995, and that has led me to a condition of extraordinary health and clarity. Now, I’m not, as president, going to tell everyone what they have to eat, but I will share my own story about how the choices that I’ve made have meant, for myself, a better life, and a happier life. I’m 60 years old, but I’ll bet that I’m in better physical shape than a lot of people a lot younger.

If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?

I don’t want to go there.

Fair enough. Would you spin it around on yourself? If you were a plant or animal, what kind would you be?

An eagle.

How so? Truly American?

No. Keenness of vision.

Chris Dodd

An interview with Chris Dodd about his presidential platform on energy and the environment

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Chris Dodd

Chris Dodd Chris Dodd

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

Chris Dodd hasn’t been out front on environmental issues during his 32 years in Congress, but he’s clearly aiming to out-green his competitors in the 2008 presidential campaign. He has earned props in enviro circles for being the only candidate with the political cojones to call for a corporate carbon tax as a way to fight global warming, and for endorsing a strict fuel-economy standard that would require new cars and trucks to get 50 miles per gallon by 2017. Dodd even ran what was billed as the first presidential-candidate ad focused on global warming.

This senator from Connecticut isn’t gaining a big boost in popularity from his aggressive environmental stances; he’s hovering at 1 to 2 percent in the polls. Can he raise the bar for a strong green agenda in the 2008 presidential race? I called Dodd at his Senate office to find out how much substance there is behind his bold proposals.

What makes your platform stronger than the other candidates’?

Everybody’s got the goals right: we’re all for energy independence, for dealing with global warming, for increasing job opportunities in the country. The difficulty breaks down in how you get there. If you’re going to truly be effective in reaching those goals, you’ve got to be very candid about how you get there.

What we’ve done is laid out a plan that says by 2050 we’d like to reduce the CO2 pollutants in our environment by 80 percent. If that’s your goal, then there are two major areas that have to be addressed: transportation and the [electrical] grid.

And how do you move off these polluting technologies, dependency on polluting fuels? We call for a 50-mile-per-gallon standard on automobiles by the year 2017. I’m fully aware of all the questions being raised by people, but I honestly believe this is very doable. We set the standard at 27 mpg in 1984, and we’re having a hard time meeting it. In 1984, there was no such thing as a fax machine, a cell phone, or the Internet. Every other technology has modernized in 23 years. I just don’t buy into the notion that the internal-combustion engine can’t be any more sophisticated.

You are the only candidate calling for a carbon tax—a proposal that some consider political suicide, because you can’t make taxes appeal to voters. What are you hearing on the campaign trail about this?

The American people handle the truth very, very well. What they don’t handle well is people in public life promising results without talking about what has to be done to get those results.

We’re talking about a corporate carbon tax that would generate $50 billion a year, with the likely cost passed on to consumers being about 10 cents per gallon of gasoline. My argument is, yeah, this is not inexpensive, but look what’s happening to prices today, under the status quo. Gasoline is about three dollars a gallon on average across the country. Many think it’s going to go to $4 or $4.50 a gallon later this summer. So prices are going up a lot more than the 10 cents a gallon we’re talking about.

Even if your prices were not going up that high, we spend about $300 billion a year to purchase fossil fuels offshore. About $100 billion goes to countries who are very hostile to our interests. So the status quo is both dangerous and costly.

Do you have any anecdotes from the campaign trail where you talk to voters about this and they say, “Hey, I get it”?

Yeah, they do. It takes you more than a bumper sticker to say it, so if you’re looking for bumper stickers I don’t have one yet for you. But I’m finding a very strong reaction to it. People are recognizing that this makes sense from a health standpoint, an environmental standpoint, a national-security standpoint, a job-creation standpoint.

How will the revenues of your proposed carbon tax be spent?

They’ll be placed into a Corporate Carbon Tax Trust Fund to fund fast-tracked research, development, and deployment of renewable technologies such as wind, solar, ethanol, and other biofuels. It will also expedite the process for bringing energy-efficient technologies to market and ensure that energy-efficient products such as bulbs and household appliances are price competitive, and it will offer tax credits on hybrids and other clean and efficient automobiles to make these cars affordable for all Americans. Being wealthy should not be a prerequisite for living green.

Do you believe nuclear power has a role to play in America’s energy future?

I understand the safety and security concerns with nuclear power and share many of them—I live three miles away from a nuclear power plant. But nuclear power is an option to reduce global warming, which I don’t believe we can afford to take off the menu of options, not when we rely on it for close to one quarter of our power.

However, the nuclear waste generated is an environmental hazard that I’m deeply concerned about. While the temporary solution of storing waste in dry casks may be safe, we must find a resolution to long-term concerns. We must invest in R&D to develop safe and secure ways for permanent disposal that will protect our environment, our water supply, and our country’s national security. We are not alone in this pursuit, and as president I will join forces with our allies around the world facing the same problem.

What about coal, including liquefied coal as a gasoline alternative?

My administration would not invest in coal-to-liquid technologies and programs, and there’s a very simple reason why: Turning coal into liquid fuel does not reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and support the overall goal of turning the clock back on global climate change.

Do you believe we should put a freeze on development of new coal power plants until they can sequester their carbon emissions?

The Dodd plan requires all new coal plants to capture and sequester CO2 without any exceptions, because only then will we begin to combat a major cause of global warming—carbon emissions.

As president, would you oppose subsidizing any technology that increases global warming, even if it reduces our dependence on foreign oil?

I believe that turning back the clock on global warming and reducing our dependence on foreign oil must be dual goals of any commonsense energy plan. Thankfully, there are existing and exciting new technologies that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil while reducing global-warming risks. My administration will focus on these technologies.

Do you think the solution to our environmental problems will inevitably require some sacrifice on the part of Americans? Will we have to consume less?

When you consume less, your lifestyle improves. This is not is going to be a hair shirt you’ve got to wear. The hair shirt is the one you’re wearing today, where you place your children in jeopardy, your climate, your planet. We’re destroying our lifestyle as a result of continued dependency on these polluting technologies and fuels, and what I’m offering is a way for us to escape. We can leave the coming generation the greatest gift—a clear path of clean technology, improving the quality of our environment, a world at peace.

What should a post-Kyoto treaty look like? Some believe we shouldn’t commit to a global target= to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions unless China and India come on board.

We need to set the example. It was shameful that the United States took up our chair, left the room, and walked away. As president, I would have us back at that table, deeply engaged internationally to be doing everything we could to assist developing countries. Imagine if we’re able to offer the world technologies to allow them to become energy efficient and energy independent. At this point, China actually is going green at a faster pace than we are because they realize it’s going to kill their population if they don’t do it.

Do you think climate and energy will be front-burner issues in the 2008 campaign?

Yes. The public cares about this a lot. After Iraq, between health care and energy, this issue is number one or two.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

Health and air quality. The increasing asthma issues that are related to polluting emissions, to burning coal.

What environmental achievement are you proudest of in your career?

That’s a good question. It’s been a lot of support for things rather than anything I’ve actually initiated. You know, the issue dealing with the Alaskan, you know, the …

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

Yeah, I’ve been a strong supporter of that. I’ve done a lot of work on the oceans. I think we’re going to adopt a Law of the Sea Conference, which will be a breakthrough in terms of having international management of our oceans.

Who is your environmental hero?

Jacques Cousteau. I got to know him very well and always admired his work, particularly on the conservation of oceans and of our water resources. In fact, I have his picture in my office.

If you could spend a week in one park or natural area of the United States, where would it be?

It would probably be in New Hampshire or Iowa. [Laughs.]

You wouldn’t want to stray from the campaign trail! Are you an outdoorsy fellow? When you’re not in the halls of Congress or on the campaign trail, do you like to escape to the natural world?

No. I don’t try to pretend I’m something that I’m not. But I live right on the Connecticut River, I have for 26 years, and the lower Connecticut River Valley is one of the most wonderful environmentally sensitive areas in the world. It’s stunningly beautiful. We do a lot of fishing in that lower valley area. But I don’t pretend to be a great hunter.

Well, that’s OK, we’ll forgive you for not hunting. On a personal level, what are you doing to lighten your environmental footprint?

I’ve had the Ford hybrid, the Escape, for a couple of years. In our home in Connecticut, we have storm windows and we’re moving to the energy-efficient lightbulbs. I’ve also pledged to have a carbon-neutral campaign.

If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?

A cactus.

Bill Richardson

An interview with Bill Richardson about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson Bill Richardson

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

Bill Richardson likes to play up his image as a horse-ridin’, gun-totin’ man of the Wild West, but don’t be distracted by the cowboy swagger—the Democratic governor of New Mexico also has a serious policy-wonk side. That was on full display in May when he unveiled a broad and ambitious climate and energy plan. Billing himself as the “energy president,” he’s now calling for a 90 percent cut to greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, a renewable-energy target= of 50 percent by 2040, and a 50-mile-per-gallon fuel-economy standard by 2020.

Richardson is no newcomer to energy issues, of course—he served as secretary of energy at the end of the Clinton administration, and has aggressively pushed clean energy as governor of New Mexico. But some greens might not care for his “clean coal” boosterism or his embrace of “all kinds of biofuel.”

I rang up the governor at his office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to ask him all about his energy and environmental vision.

For more info on his platform and record, check out Grist’s Richardson fact sheet.

You’ve dubbed yourself the “energy president.” Why did you choose that moniker?

Right now, the most important domestic and national-security issues involve America becoming energy independent and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. I believe it’s going to take an “energy president” who will lead this country toward these goals by asking all Americans to sacrifice for the common good and be more energy-efficient and promote a green style of living.

Many of the candidates are trying to paint themselves as the green candidate. What makes your platform stronger than the others’?

On energy, both the Sierra Club and a the League of Conservation Voters have stated that my plan is the most aggressive, with the strongest timetables.

But what differentiates me from other candidates is I’ve actually done it. I’ve done it as energy secretary in the Clinton administration by tightening air-conditioning energy-use standards by 30 percent, building a strong portfolio of renewable energy, and promoting 100-mile-per-gallon vehicles through a fuel-efficiency initiative with the auto companies.

Then, as governor of New Mexico, I believe we have the most clean-energy initiatives of any state. We have a renewable portfolio standard going to 20 percent by 2020. Our state is state on track to observe the Kyoto treaty. We have no taxes on hybrid vehicles. We’re the first in the country to export wind energy. We also have a number of incentives for solar, wind, biomass, biodiesel, and distributed-generation fuel cells.

I was also probably one of the most active pro-environment congressmen. I pursued and made law a number of national parks, wilderness areas, river protections, and air-quality standards. When I was on the committee [overseeing the] Interior [Department], I worked on bills including the Jemez National Recreation Area and the South San Juan Wilderness.

You’ve vowed as president to mandate a 90 percent greenhouse-gas-emission reduction by 2050-

I’ve also proposed a strong standard in the short term: 20 percent reductions by 2020.

These goals are even stronger than some environmental groups are calling for. Why such dramatic target=s?

Because we can’t wait. It’s a matter of necessity. It’s important because it involves our national security. Our energy dependence on foreign oil is so unhealthy—we could be vulnerable to an oil price shock, to $5-per-gallon gasoline prices, to long lines at the pumps. What I’m also advocating is a dramatic shift in mass transit, like I’ve done here in New Mexico with the Rail Runner. But we’d have, nationally, transportation policies that promote sensible land use—not just proposing highway funding bills, but bills to establish light rail and bullet trains and more energy-efficient transportation. Also, land-use policies that advocate open space. This is for a better quality of life for all our people.

Are your climate goals as much informed by your concern about energy independence as they are about climate change?


As president, would you subsidize the development of technologies, such as liquefied coal, that could worsen global warming, even if they would boost energy independence?

I’m for clean coal, but I’m not a big fan of liquefied. I do not believe that coal-to-liquids technologies represent a viable solution for the future because of the associated carbon dioxide emissions. I will push for a well-to-wheels low-carbon fuel requirement that reduces the carbon impact of our liquid fuels by 30 percent by 2020, including alternative fuels that will substitute for about 10 percent of our gasoline demand.

But coal does belong in a clean-energy future?

I believe that carbon-clean coal will play a role in our energy future. There have got to be some very strict clean-coal standards. I’m not an advocate for continuing to use old oil, coal, and nuclear. They all have to be part of a mix, but in the past, those three have received an inordinate amount of subsidies and tax incentives at the expense of renewable energy. It’s important to emphasize that the future is in renewable energy, renewable fuel, conservation measures. It’s in buildings that are 50 percent more energy-efficient, solar roofs in schools, 50 mile-per-gallon vehicles by 2030.

What about nuclear—can you expand on that? It sounds like you think coal and nuclear need to be part of the energy mix, but they shouldn’t be subsidized?

Yes. My dramatic preference would be for clean coal. I oppose the construction of those coal plants in Texas—too many subsidies for the coal industry. And I opposed giving a tax incentive in New Mexico to just a regular coal plant that’s proposed here, Desert Rock I can’t be the champion of global climate change and have a new coal plant that isn’t clean.

Do you think we’ll have to expand nuclear capacity?

Nuclear has to be part of the mix, but I would eliminate the subsidies that nuclear and coal and oil got from the last energy bill and shift those to renewable energy, to a more equal playing field.

Nuclear will not be able to move forward unless we resolve the waste issue. The [Yucca Mountain] site in Nevada has significant water, environmental, and transportation problems with it. The other alternative of putting nuclear waste at existing regional sites around the country is not going to work. I favor a technological solution—let’s get our best scientists at the national labs to find a way to dispose of this nuclear waste safely. Until that is resolved, nuclear should not get any advantages.

What role do you think ethanol and biofuels should play in a 21st-century energy system?

A very important role, both of them—all kinds of biofuel, biodiesel . . . We need to have more fuel-efficient fuels.

We should provide incentives for distribution by, for example, helping gas stations convert at least one pump to handle E85 or other biofuels. The federal government also should use its purchasing power—as we have done in New Mexico—to transform the energy marketplace by, for example, purchasing more hybrid and flex-fuel cars for its own use.

And I believe in cooperative ventures with other countries. I would expand our ties to Latin America with more collaboration in renewable energy and technology. That’s the future for that region, what Brazil has done with ethanol, for instance—they’re totally energy self-sufficient.

You are a strong supporter of both corn and cellulosic ethanol. How, specifically, will you structure policies that transition the U.S. away from corn ethanol and toward cellulosic?

Our goal should be bold—to replace 20 percent of liquid transportation fuels with biofuels by 2020. We should significantly ramp up federal investments in the research and development of biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.

You have a strong incentive for electric cars in your auto proposal. Do you think electric cars will win out over biofuel cars?

They will all be part of the mix. We in New Mexico were very proud to get Tesla motors to move here from California. It’s the perfect combination for us: it’s high-tech jobs plus clean energy.

Do you think climate and energy will be front-burner concerns in the 2008 election?

Absolutely. They are among the most important issues in the presidential campaign. The first is Iraq, the second is a close tie between universal health care and energy independence.

You’ve said on the one hand that voters need to be willing to sacrifice some of their creature comforts for a new energy landscape, but also that Americans should be able to keep SUVs. Can you explain this contradiction?

What I’m asking for is not sacrifice, like Americans wearing sweaters and turning the heat down. What I’m asking for is being more energy-efficient with appliances, with vehicles, with mass transit. Maybe, instead of driving to work, once a month go mass transit.

I believe very strongly in what John F. Kennedy asked all Americans to do, and that’s sacrifice a little bit for the collective good. We need, as a moral imperative, to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel. because it’s in our national interest that we do so as a nation. It’s going to take a president to lead this dramatic shift and not just little energy bills. We need to energize every American to become green.

But Americans will be able to keep their SUVs because the technology is improving?

Yes. You can have an SUV with a fuel-efficient engine. We do have the technology to achieve this.

You say your energy programs are going to produce 10 times more value than they cost, right? How does this math add up?

Our energy programs are going to be great for the economy mainly because they are going to create two sets of new jobs in this country—one in renewable technology, which are high-wage, high-skill jobs, and the second in retrofitting homes for the construction industry, also higher-wage jobs. It will be not just a job boom, but a technological boom.

So that boom in jobs will add up to 10 times more than the cost of jump-starting that trend?


Can Detroit achieve the sharp fuel-economy standards you’re proposing-an increase to 50 mpg by 2020?

Detroit will benefit from this. We’ve got the technology. They need a little gentle prodding and they need incentives, but Detroit has always stepped up with ingenuity. They must realize that to keep jobs in America, to be part of this globalized world, they’ve got to compete. I’m not at all averse to giving Detroit tax incentives for these vehicles or having the government jointly invest in R&D with them, rather than clubbing them over the head.

In 2005, you signed an environmental justice order in New Mexico. How would you address environmental justice as president?

I would issue an executive order that would respect neighborhoods, especially in minority areas; I would make it part of a “Quality of Life Initiative.” It would have several components: promoting environmental justice, as well as a new open-space policy, a smart land-use policy, and a new transportation policy that would emphasize light rail and more energy-efficient transportation.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

Protecting our parks, not drilling in ecosystems and offshore areas, the need to create more open space and wilderness areas, and finding ways to conserve water more effectively are critically important.

Who is your environmental hero?

Mo Udall, because he gave me, when I first came into Congress, a very good environmental ethic. I remember him taking me to Alaska, where we worked on the Alaska wilderness initiatives. He was a western environmentalist—I patterned myself after him.

And Al Gore deserves enormous credit for pushing global climate change.

You often talk about your love of the wilds of New Mexico and the outdoors in general. Can you describe your inner cowboy?

I own a horse—that’s my main recreational activity. His name is Sundance. I love to go out into the mountains of Santa Fe and spend time with him. That’s my main recreation. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time for it.

If you could spend a week in one park or natural area, where would it be?


What have you done personally to lighten your environmental footprint?

We got a Ford Escape hybrid for the governor’s fleet and an ethanol vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe FlexFuel that can run on E85. The governor’s mansion has energy-efficient windows, and we’ve installed compact fluorescent bulbs wherever possible. We also are involved in a renewable-purchasing program that supplies 90 of the electricity from solar and wind. We’ve also made water-conservation improvements to the residence, like low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, xeriscaping and a water-efficient irrigation system.

If George Bush were a plant or animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?

Stubborn like an ox, immovable like an oak.

Mike Gravel

An interview with Mike Gravel about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Mike Gravel

Mike Gravel Mike Gravel

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

In his “Rock” campaign ad, Mike Gravel silently stares into the camera, throws a stone into a lake, and walks off into the distance. It’s disconcerting, off-the-wall, and low-budget—just like his presidential campaign.

As a senator from Alaska during the 1970s, Gravel was best known for fighting nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and the Vietnam War. In his current campaign, to the extent he’s known at all, it’s for playing gadfly at Democratic candidate debates. In the environmental arena, he’s got some big ideas—an international carbon-tax scheme, a hydrogen-powered energy system, a notion that society needs to end its obsession with growth—but little in the way of practical plans.

Will his quixotic presidential campaign cause as many ripples as his rock? I called him up at his campaign headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, to try and find out.

What sets your green platform apart from the other candidates’?

First off, I am prepared to impose a carbon tax, at the barrel of oil and at the lump of coal. [Chris] Dodd has talked about a tax on carbon, but the difference is that I approach the problem as a global problem—climate change, energy, the whole thing. By putting a tax on carbon in the United States, we can offer our leadership to the rest of the world and say, OK, you put a carbon tax on your people and then we’ll pool all this money together and we’ll use it to integrate the global scientific and engineering communities to get us off of carbon within a decade. Nobody would be permitted to join this international effort unless they put a carbon tax on their people also.

What do you see as the advantage of a carbon tax over a cap-and-trade program?

The cap-and-trade wouldn’t necessarily lower emissions. Let’s say I’ve got a coal-fired plant and it pollutes. All I’ve got to do is go give some money to somebody who builds a new plant that pollutes less. I get to buy permission to pollute. When you’re capping and trading, you’re not focusing on a solution; you’re just giving somebody a break based upon something that somebody else is doing.

Some say a carbon tax would be political suicide because voters don’t like to be taxed. Your thoughts?

I back it in any case.

In a recent debate we were asked a question: What would you do to reduce the price of gasoline? The candidates all mealymouthed around. My answer before the country was that I would not do anything. The best way to solve the energy problem is to let prices rise so that alternative energies can become more economical.

One of the things we can do is take electricity from windmills, run it through water, and have hydrogen. What is now possible is that we can turn around and have hydrogen liquid. And with tweaking of our existing cars and gas stations, they can be used to run on and distribute hydrogen liquid. Oh, it blows you away. This can probably be done within five years.

Shift the energy system to hydrogen in five years?

You’re not making hydrogen fuel cells. That technology is not on the table yet—you’re making liquid fuel from hydrogen. Now, first off, I would [raise] CAFE [corporate average fuel economy] standards immediately—say that within three to five years you’re going to have the same standard as Europe. End of story. Forget the automobile industry. Meanwhile, we can just manufacture the hell out of windmills and then turn around and produce all this hydrogen.

Does coal play a role in your vision for a clean-energy future?

You’ve got to do away with coal. What you can do is outlaw these coal-fired plants and turn them into hydrogen power plants.

Do you believe nuclear power has a role in America’s energy future?

I was the one who started the nuclear [power] critique back in 1969, and we were able to cap [the number of plants in the U.S.] at 150, which have now been ratcheted back to about 105. The nuclear industry is trying to crank it back up again, and a couple of significant environmentalists have bought in to that. I have not. If we can have large electrical base-load plants fed by hydrogen, then we don’t have to have the nuclear.

Now, if we were to make a breakthrough in nuclear fusion, that would dwarf everything else.

How much of the energy system would you shift to liquid hydrogen?

As much as we can.

Do you have a specific target=?

I’m not an engineer, I’m not a scientist. But I’m told it’s not a big deal to tweak gas stations so that you can come up with a truck, dump the liquid hydrogen in there, and pump it in your car. So we shift everything over to liquid hydrogen and there’s no more pollution. The trick is, you’ve got to produce the electricity to be able to put it through the water to create hydrogen, and you do that with windmills. The technology of windmills is totally replicable. And so now you can put those all over the place where you’ve got wind, and then later on you can take down those windmills and have another way of doing it.

I’ve heard that you have a plan to electrify the entire transportation system of the United States.

Yes, I want to superimpose an electric maglev [magnetic levitation train] system across the country similar to the one that currently runs between the airport and the city of Shanghai [in China]. These maglevs can travel 300 miles an hour. Imagine if we could move trucks across this country on electricity at that speed, with no environmental pollution—what that would mean?

There are a couple of companies that have sent me studies that show they can do this right across Manhattan or in downtown Washington, D.C., and it is just awesomely interesting. But you have to have a national commitment to do this, and I don’t see that commitment from the Democrats or the Republicans.

What’s your position on biofuels? What role does ethanol play in our energy future?

What I know about the corn deal, it takes more energy to produce a gallon of biofuel from corn than it does to just use conventional fuel, so that’s a negative. Secondly, we have to realize that when we’re growing this stuff, we may be displacing the whole distribution of food throughout the world.

How about the idea that we could derive fuels from highly fibrous plants?

Like switchgrass? I don’t know enough about that. I’m more excited by the liquid hydrogen.

Many people argue that the U.S. should not commit to any global greenhouse-gas-reduction target=s that don’t involve China and India. Do you agree, and how would you bring them to the table in a post-Kyoto agreement?

First, I would just get the Kyoto agreement signed and get it out of the way.

The Kyoto target=s are phasing out soon, so how would you approach a post-Kyoto agreement?

Accelerate the goals. I’ve read that a number of the European countries are ahead of their Kyoto target=s, which really says something. We need to get closer to China and India both to collaborate on technology development—they’re way ahead of us in some areas—and to help them, because you cannot deny them the opportunity to have our standard of living. If we don’t do this in a very clever way, we will doom the Earth to environmental destruction. Period.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?


Urban growth? Population growth?

It’s more complex than that. Our total economy is based upon growth, growth, growth. Well, there comes a time when you destroy so you can have growth.

I want to change our system of revenue from an income tax to a sales tax. That would change this country from a consuming nation to a savings nation. If we begin to look upon growth from a savings point of view, we could do more in the short run with respect to global warming. Our country right now spends more than we earn, and we’re on our way to bankruptcy.

What environmental achievement are you most proud of?

Starting the nuclear [power] critique. And my work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s. The environmentalists were very much opposed to it. I maintained then, and I still do, that it was a more environmentally sound way to transport oil than the leaky tankers under Panamanian registry and Nigerian registry who were coming into the East Coast of the United States.

Who is your environmental hero?

I’m very fond of my friend Ralph Nader. I think that he is very strong in that area.

Can you tell us about a memorable wilderness or outdoor adventure you’ve had?

Coming from Alaska, I’m very much into the beauty of nature. I don’t hunt or fish, and I’m not a camera buff, but I just love to luxuriate in the wilderness. I’ve done a lot of hiking in my state. The most significant thing I did was climb the Chilkoot Trail with my family.

Also, while I was in the Senate, the head of the Sierra Club in Alaska taught me how to handle a raft in whitewater. At the time, I was opposing some of the Sierra Club’s stuff and I was supporting some of their stuff, and so I accused him of trying to kill me, because that would have solved his problem. But we still are friends today.

If you could spend a week in one park or natural area of the United States, where would it be?

Zion National Park.

What have you done personally to lighten your environmental footprint? Give us a snapshot of your lifestyle—where you live and how you travel.

We drive a Camry—we’re a one-car family—but often I use the subway. I also use the train and the bus. My wife read that the bus has the least environmental impact of all public transport. The worst, of course, is the private jet that my fellow candidates all run around on.

My wife and I live in an apartment in Rosslyn, Virginia, on the 14th floor. We’re renters, we don’t have enough wherewithal to be able to own something like that—I didn’t get out of the Senate any better [financially] than I went in. Obviously, I’ve got the ability to go and become wealthy, but that’s not what has moved me through my life.

If George Bush were a plant or an animal, what kind of plant or animal would he be?

Oh, my God. [Pause.] I can’t think of a plant or an animal that I have that much disrespect for. Does that answer your question?

Stop and think of all the human beings that have died and suffered because of that S.O.B. I personally believe that impeachment is too light a sentence. These people should be pursued criminally.

You know, when you’re sworn in to be president, you and the outgoing president have to ride in the car together to the swearing-in. When Hoover and Roosevelt rode in the same car to Roosevelt’s swearing-in, they never said a word to each other. And I’ve got to tell you, when I’m sworn in, the same will go for me and George W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton

An interview with Hillary Clinton about her presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

True to form, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has done her homework on environmental and energy issues. A member of the Environment and Public Works Committee during her six and a half years in the Senate, she has sponsored or co-sponsored nearly 400 legislative proposals related to energy and the environment. They’ve hit on high-profile topics like energy independence as well as less-discussed green issues like toxic exposure, environmental justice, and brownfield redevelopment. While Clinton hasn’t been a trailblazer in the fight against climate change, she has been vocal on the need to pursue clean energyand protect the Arctic National Wildlife RefugeHer efforts have earned a respectable grade from the League of Conservation Voters-a 90 percent lifetime voting score.

But many enviros aren’t convinced that Clinton is at the head of the class on green issues, noting that she supports “clean coal” and, like nearly every other candidate, pounds the drum for corn ethanol. Can she win the green lobby to her side? To get a feel for her chances, I caught Clinton by phone after a picnic on the Iowa campaign circuit.

For more info on her platform and record, check out Grist’s Clinton fact sheet

What makes you the strongest green candidate? What sets your energy and environmental platform apart?

I believe my proposals for energy and environmental priorities are really well thought out and comprehensive. You know, I have been focusing on these issues for years. Obviously, I have been a child advocate for most of my adult life, and as first lady I focused on the environmental effects on children’s health. I have served, since I arrived in the Senate, on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and I am proud of the work that I’ve done to stand up against the Bush administration’s many efforts to weaken environmental laws.

I have worked to pass the Brownfields Revitalization Actand the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.I’ve taken many actions specific to New York, like pushing for the Hudson River cleanup by G.E.. I have been very committed on health-related effects—that is why I’ve got legislation to try to deal with asthma and other respiratory diseases and to reduce pollution from power plants. Time and time again I have tried to protect public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. I co-sponsored the Roadless Area Conservation Act to try and get back what my husband had done as president to protect the national forest system. I believe strongly in supporting the “polluter pays” principle, and I am going to work to try to reinstate that.

I have done a lot of other things that I care a lot about, but one final point I would mention is that early on in my Senate career I introduced bipartisan legislation to establish an environmental-health tracking network, to better understand the impact of environmental hazards on human health and well-being. That was important when I began to tackle the toxic legacy of 9/11.

In the Senate, you have supported the goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. Is this a centerpiece of your platform?

It is. I joined with Senators [Barbara] Boxer and [Bernie] Sanders because I thought that their bill was the most forward-leaning in terms of what needs to be done to deal with the threat of global warming, and I’m very proud to support their legislation.

And obviously I have my own proposals. I want to create a Strategic Energy Fund that would be funded by taking money away from the oil companies by giving them the choice of investing in renewable energies or paying into the fund. We would take away their tax subsidies as well, and we would use this fund to create a clean-energy industry and millions of jobs in America.

How will the funds be distributed among alternative energy sources—for instance, will they be weighted toward coal, ethanol, solar, or wind?

My model is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which brought together the best minds in academia, business, and government. It incentivized researchers and entrepreneurs to tackle the space program and the Cold War military challenges, and [eventually] led to the invention of the Internet.

What I want to do is not only look at existent, known forms of renewable energy and how we can move more quickly to commercial application and distribution for solar, wind, and geothermal, but also look at other forms of biofuel and biodiesel. You know, let’s take a look at the internal-combustion engine. Let’s figure out if there are some new ideas out there that would play to America’s strengths as we move toward less of a dependence on foreign oil and more homegrown energy.

What role will coal play in your plan?

I think we have got to take a hard look at clean coal. I have advocated carbon sequestration, I have advocated power plants looking for ways to use coal more cleanly and efficiently. I doubt very much that using coal in liquid form for transportation could ever pass the environmental test, but I am willing to do the research to prove one way or another.

The political pressure [to use coal] will remain intense, and I think you have got to admit that coal—of which we have a great and abundant supply in America—is not going away. So how do we best manage the possibility of using clean coal, but having very strict environmental standards? It is not going to do us any good if we substitute one dirty energy source for another.

What about nuclear power?

I am agnostic about nuclear. I am very skeptical that nuclear could become acceptable in most regions of the country, and I am doubtful that we have yet figured out how to deal with the waste. But I keep being given information about research that is being done to resolve the waste problem. I know that will continue, because that has a lot of economic power and resources behind it. But until we can figure out what to do with the waste and overcome the political objections, we should not be putting a heavy emphasis on nuclear.

Do you believe we need a carbon tax in addition to a cap-and-trade system?

There is a lot of interest now in figuring out what the most efficient and effective means of controlling and decreasing greenhouse gases would be. I’m looking for what will work and produce results. A cap-and-trade [program] can be designed and implemented in a number of ways. I would strongly favor using an auction for the allocation of the permits—an auction that would [sell] as close to 100 percent of the permits as possible [rather than giving a percentage of them away for free]. But I think that there are a number of other serious proposals. I will entertain what I think are the best proposals that are politically viable. We still face tremendous opposition from the Republicans.

Whatever we do, we have to do it soon. We can’t keep talking about it. If we can’t get to the end point soon with a comprehensive proposal, then let’s make as much progress as possible while we have a Republican president who is beholden to the oil companies and who is uninterested in taking action.

Would you oppose subsidizing any technology that would worsen global warming, even if it would advance energy independence?

Absolutely. I believe that it has got to be two for the price of [one], it has got to be a win-win. We can’t make the [global warming] problem worse. Now, obviously, you have to have waivers because of national-security implications—because if terrorists go after our oil supply, we are going to keep figuring out where to find oil, as we make a transition. It is always dangerous to say “Never” and “I will never do this.” But certainly, my goal would be to subsidize clean technologies just like we subsidized gas, oil, and coal for years.

How would you balance the call for higher fuel-economy standards with the call to help the U.S. auto industry? What fuel-economy target=s would you support?

I believe we need to increase our fuel efficiency in order to reduce global warming. I have supported a fuel-efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and I’ve supported a variety of proposals, including tax incentives and other approaches, to help ensure that the next generation of vehicles is much more efficient than the last.

Some people believe we should only commit to a global climate treaty if China and India do as well. Do you agree? How would you bring China and India to the table?

Global warming is a global problem that’s going to require a global solution. As president, I will work to involve both China and India. But I think it’s important for the U.S. to provide leadership by taking aggressive steps to reduce our contribution to global-warming pollution.

After climate and energy, what do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

The Bush administration has reversed decades of bipartisan consensus and progress on the environment by using executive action to weaken environmental safeguards in clean-air laws, clean-water laws, and laws protecting our public lands. For example, the Bush administration issued regulations that allow power plants to emit more mercury pollution and changed the rules to allow discharge of untreated sewage. The administration has also worked to undermine one of the most important conservation accomplishments of my husband’s administration: his decision to protect nearly 60 million acres of the most pristine areas in our national forests. As president, I would restore these protections. I would tell my EPA administrator to protect the environment instead of polluters.

Who is your environmental hero?

You know, I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Gore. He has been beating the drums and sounding the alarm of global warming for many, many years. He has never given up on his mission to try and raise awareness and to get the country to take action. I may not agree with everything he proposes—I don’t agree 100 percent with anything that any one person proposes—but I am certainly grateful to him for being such a public spokesman.

What is your most memorable wilderness or outdoor experience?

When I finished college, I spent a summer in Alaska, washing dishes at a lodge in Mount McKinley [now Denali] National Park and sliming salmon in Valdez. America has an incredible natural heritage, something that I learned to appreciate early in life.

What have you done personally to lighten your environmental footprint?

We have taken quite a few steps to make sure our house is as green as possible—commonsense and simple steps that everyone can take advantage of. For example, we have switched not only lamps to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, but also downlights, track lights, and vanity lights. We’ve installed motion-sensor light switches so lights automatically turn off when there is no one moving in the room, and switched to buying our power from ConEdison’s green power program. We’re also reducing our demand for energy by replacing windows and doors to keep more heat and cold in. This has taken our total [kilowatt-hour consumption per year] from about 14,000 to about 4,300. We’re currently working with the Rocky Mountain Institute to determine how we can best incorporate solar energy into our home.

Joe Biden

An interview with Joe Biden about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Joe Biden

Joe Biden Joe Biden

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

Joe Biden says his top priority as president would be “energy security.” “If I could wave a wand, and the Lord said I could solve one problem, I would solve the energy crisis,” he said this spring at a political rally in South Carolina. “That’s the single most consequential problem we can solve.”

During his 34-year Senate career, Biden, now chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been known more as a chieftain of foreign policy than a champion of environmental protections (though he has earned a respectable 84 percent lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters). These days, he’s emphasizing how closely geopolitics and environmental stewardship are intertwined. To solve what he sees as the defining challenge of our time, Biden has been pushing for more U.S. involvement in international climate negotiations, more stringent fuel-economy regs, and a whole lot more biofuels.

How well will Biden be able to balance his energy-independence goals with an ambitious climate agenda? I tracked him down on the campaign trail in Iowa to find out.

Why do you consider yourself the strongest candidate on energy and the environment? What sets your platform on these issues apart from the rest?

I would be most capable of getting this country back into an international climate regime, getting us back to the table the fastest and with the most potential for success, because of my extensive engagement in foreign policy. I’m also in the best position to make it clear to the United States Congress that this is not merely an environmental issue, it is a security issue. I held hearings this year pointing out that if we do not do something of consequence about global warming, drastically and soon, we literally are going to find ourselves reconfiguring our entire military to deal with occasions for new wars, which are going to be about territory and arable land. You see what’s happening in Darfur now—that’s part of the problem.

You’ve said that your first priority is “energy security.” Can you clarify what this goal means and how you’d achieve it?

If the predictions of the scientists are correct, you could see ocean levels rise three feet. If that occurs, you’re going to displace over 35 million people just in South Asia, and they’re going to physically be looking for a new place to land. Just that, all by itself, is going to initiate major new conflicts relating to war. You’re going to have nations fighting over arable land, more border disputes, and, as a consequence, a great deal of instability.

How would you achieve energy security? What specifically do we need to do to get there?

To deal with global warming, you have to change the attitude of the world, particularly China and India, the two largest developing nations. But in order to do that, to have any credibility, you have to begin here in the United States by capping emissions, increasing renewable fuels, establishing a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS), requiring better fuel economy for automobiles. I would cap emissions at 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and set a national RPS of 20 percent. I would announce an executive order that the federal government would not purchase one single automobile for its fleet that gets less than 40 miles to the gallon. And I would not build a single solitary federal project without it being a green project. That would have the effect of getting states to do the same thing, and that would create a pot of somewhere between a third and a half a trillion dollars that would be a lure to every major business in America to go green. These measures would put us in a position to be able to actually attempt to lead the world. But we have no credibility right now.

How would you bring China and India to the table on a global climate treaty?

By engaging in significant joint ventures with them both on new technologies. You’re already having an awakening awareness in China about the consequences of pollution.

Sometimes the goals of achieving energy independence and reducing climate change are at odds. Would you—

Exactly right. You’re the first one who’s ever asked me a question that way.

Would you, as president, oppose subsidizing technologies that would worsen global warming, even if they would reduce our reliance on foreign oil?

Yes, I would, because at the end of the day it’s a net loser for us.

What role does “clean coal” play in your vision for energy independence and climate security?

I don’t think there’s much of a role for clean coal in energy independence, but I do think there’s a significant role for clean coal in the bigger picture of climate change. Clean-coal technology is not the route to go in the United States, because we have other, cleaner alternatives. But I would invest a considerable amount of money in research and development of clean-coal and carbon-sequestration technologies for export. China is building one new coal-fired plant per week. That’s not going to change unless there’s a fundamental change in technology, because they have about 300 years of dirty coal, and they’re going to use it.

Would you impose a moratorium on the development of old-style coal power plants in the U.S.?

I believe that all new coal-fired power plants should be built with carbon capture and sequestration capacity.

What’s your position on liquefied coal?

Again, I don’t think it’s the way to go in the U.S., but we could invest in technologies for export. I don’t think there’s any reasonable prospect that China, as it continues to grow to 1.4 billion people, is not going to use their coal.

What role do you see for nuclear power?

I see a role for nuclear, but first you’ve got to deal with the security as well as the safety concerns. I’d be spending a whole hell of a lot of money trying to figure out how to reconfigure the spent fuel into reusable fuel. I would not invest in [growing our nuclear-power capacity in its current form], but I would invest in sorting out the storage and waste problems.

What fuel-economy target=s do you support?

I think we should be able to get to 40 miles per gallon by 2017. I think we should have every single vehicle in America have to get one mile per year additional fuel economy, based on the class and size of the automobile, not on CAFE standards.

Where does ethanol fit into your plan?

Ethanol is a good start. Because of the amount of [resources] that go into producing corn-based ethanol, it has only marginally less impact on the consumption of fossil fuels. But it has two real advantages. It begins to give us the margin of flexibility we need to deal with being held hostage by any one of the seven unstable countries that supply 35 percent of our oil-Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, etc. Number two, it’s a transitional means by which you’re going to be pouring billions of dollars into the fields of the Midwest, rather than the sands of Saudi Arabia or the pockets of Chavez.

How would you structure policies to shift the ethanol industry away from corn and toward cellulosic or other more climate-friendly fuels?

With considerably more research and incentivizing. Right out here in Iowa, where I am right now, you already have producers and cattlemen and the rest saying, This is not such a good deal for us, this corn-based ethanol orgy that’s going on here, because in the longterm it’s not sustainable. Corn ethanol will always be a part of the alternative-fuel mix, but corn is not long-term sustainable as the only feedstock for ethanol, because we can only produce around 12 to 17 billion gallons of ethanol from corn grown in this country. But we can produce 86 billion gallons of ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks [switchgrass and plant materials other than corn], which could replace more than half the gas consumed by this country. An awful lot of these farmers are already looking for the next step, and they know it is cellulosics.

What environmental achievement are you proudest of?

It took me ten years to protect all of the beach on the Delaware coast from Cape Henlopen down to Rehoboth Beach, and put it in trust for the people of the country so that no development can take place on any of that area. I’m also proud that I convinced the state of Delaware to take the entire White Clay Creek watershed and turn it into a scenic river, stop the development in that whole region, and purify that watershed.

Who is your environmental hero?

Russell Peterson. I was a young [county] councilman in 1970 when he was a Republican governor of Delaware. I introduced legislation saying that Getty Oil and these other companies could not build any refineries within one mile of the high-water mark of the Delaware River and Delaware Bay. He turned that into the first coastal zone act in the United States of America. He later left the Republican party and became a Democrat, but that’s not why I admire him. He was for years the president of the National Audubon Society, where he did a great deal for the environment.

What has been your most memorable outdoor or wilderness adventure?

My most memorable outdoor adventure was traveling 1,500 miles in Alaska with the National Guard, going from Prudhoe Bay to the Tongass Forest and all the way out into the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. I found it an absolutely remarkable, fascinating, incredibly moving event. I landed in a Mustang [survival] suit up in the North Slope when they were trying to talk me into allowing more drilling. Two of the great things I’ve fought for in my career were protecting the Tongass National Forest and preventing more drilling in the North Slope.

What have you done personally to reduce your energy and environmental footprint?

A little thing we’ve begun to do is replace all the traditional lightbulbs in our house with fluorescent light bulbs. I introduced a bill to promote compact fluorescent lightbulbs. If every family in America changed just one bulb, we could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about sevem million tons per year. There are a lot of little things we can do to make a gigantic change.

If you could spend a week in a park or natural area of the United States, where would it be?

I’d go back to Yellowstone. I took my kids there early on, and God, I loved it.

John McCain

An interview with John McCain about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

John McCain

John McCain

This is part of a series of candidate interviews produced jointly by Gristand Outside.

John McCain likes to project a tough-guy stance on the issues, and global warming is no exception. “Americans solve problems. We don’t run from them,” he’s quoted as saying on the environment page of his Web site, which goes on to argue that “ignoring the problem reflects a ‘liberal, live for today’ attitude unworthy of our great country.”

McCain has earned the right to put his own conservative spin on the fight against climate change. The first high-profile Republican to start talking seriously about the issue, he has called President Bush’s approach to global warming “disgraceful.” He cosponsored the first Senate bill calling for mandatory greenhouse-gas reductions, the 2003 McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, and has pushed a number of versions of the bill in years since. The latest iteration, though, has little support from environmentalists, because there are now much stronger climate bills in Congress, and because McCain’s bill contains significant financial support for nuclear power.

But, for the most part, McCain’s climate advocacy has earned praise and respect from the mainstream green establishment over the years. In his 2004 Senate campaign, he got the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters, even though the group has given him only a 26 percent lifetime voting score.

McCain is the candidate best positioned to attract support from Republican voters concerned about climate change and the environment. I rang him up recently on the campaign trail in Iowa to find out how environmental and energy issues are figuring into his push for the presidency.

Why should voters consider you the strongest green candidate? What sets your platform on energy and the environment apart from the others?

My clear record of environmental advocacy and activism, ranging from my efforts to protect the Grand Canyon to working with [Connecticut Senator] Joe Lieberman to get a cap-and-trade proposal to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through the United States Senate.

You’ve said that global warming would be one of three key issues for your presidency. Why do you think the issue is important?

It’s like Tony Blair said: Suppose we’re wrong, and there’s no such thing as greenhouse-gas emissions, and we adopt green technologies. All we’ve done is give our kids a better planet. But suppose we’re right, and do nothing? Then what kind of a legacy are we handing on to future generations of Americans? I think we ought to frame the debate that way.And I think most, if not all, of the ways that we can address this issue are through free-enterprise-system-driven green technologies. General Electric dedicated itself to green technologies, and guess what? They’re still making a lot of money.

Why do you think many of your fellow Republican candidates aren’t making climate change a priority? Do you think Republican voters care about the issue?

I’m very confident that Republican voters care, and I’m happy to say that more and more members of the so-called Christian right or evangelical movement are beginning to focus on our biblical obligation to be stewards of our planet.

Why others have not been more involved—you’d have to ask them. But when I ran [for president] in 2000, in New Hampshire person after person stood up and said, “What are you going to do about climate change?” And after I lost—grrrr—I went back as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and had hearing after hearing after hearing on the issue. I’m deeply disappointed in the administration’s failure to act on this issue, in some cases creating obfuscation and delay. But I stayed on it and developed, among other things, the bill with Joe Lieberman.

You’ve been a leader in Congress in calling for a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. What about a carbon tax?

No. Cap and trade, to me, is far more capitalistic and free-enterprise-oriented.

Would you endorse a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050?

I’m all for setting goals, but you’ve got to figure out ways to get there, OK? I could set a goal that we’d have zero greenhouse-gas emissions by next year, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is telling people how you’re going to get there. And by the way, I’m confident people will do what’s necessary to help with this problem of greenhouse-gas emissions—they’re convinced.

Some argue that the U.S. should not sign on to an international climate agreement unless China and India participate. Do you agree?

I agree, if only from a purely political standpoint. You’re not going to get anything through the Congress of the United States unless it’s truly international and India and China are engaged. Now, there are lots of ways to negotiate. There are steps that we can take as a country to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But you’re going to have to have the two rising greenhouse-gas emitters in the world involved in an international treaty, I believe, to pass it through the Senate.

To what extent is Iraq a war for oil?

I think it has a big impact. It’s not just Iraq oil; it’s the whole region and the stability in the region. And the stable supply of oil obviously gives it a higher national-security priority. What I don’t interpret that to mean is that I think we went to war for oil, but it’s certainly a factor in our national-security equation.

Sometimes the goals of achieving energy independence and reducing climate change are at odds. Would you, as president, oppose subsidizing technologies that would worsen global warming, even if they would reduce our reliance on foreign oil?

I would certainly give highest priority to those technologies that both reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce our dependence on foreign oil—including, and to a significant degree, nuclear power. Nuclear power is going to have to be part of any equation if we’re truly going to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

How would you address the problem of safely storing and disposing of nuclear waste?

We need to make tough decisions just like the French have, and just like other European countries have: You either store it or you reprocess it. We have the reprocessing capability at the Savannah River Site [in South Carolina], and we also have a place called Yucca Mountain [in Nevada] where I believe we could safely store the nuclear waste. We have the worst of all worlds now. We’ve got nuclear waste sitting all over America, and we also have not moved forward with the construction of nuclear power plants, which we could do if we would streamline the procedures. Meanwhile, coal-burning power plants are being constructed as we speak.

What role do you think coal should play in America’s energy future?

I’d like to see coal gasification, and I would subsidize R&D in that effort. I’m all for government funding of basic R&D, by the way. I really believe that we’re going to have to use a kind of a coal [technology] that does not emit the greenhouse gases that present-day coal-fired utility plants do.

What about coal-to-liquids, turning coal into car fuel?

I’m for any new technologies that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions—hydrogen, all of those things.

You used to be an outspoken critic of ethanol. Do you believe now that it should be part of America’s energy future?

I do, because of its role in reducing dependence on foreign oil. When oil is $10 a barrel, [ethanol] doesn’t make a lot of sense; when oil is $70 a barrel, it makes a lot more sense. I’m for all kinds of ethanol. I mean, corn-based is obviously the flavor of the month—and I’m all for it—but we also need sugarcane-based ethanol, such as what’s coming out of Brazil, and we need switchgrass biofuels. There should be a broad variety of sources of ethanol besides just corn.

And by the way, I still do not support subsidies for ethanol; it’s doing just fine without them.

Why do you support subsidies for nuclear power but not for ethanol?

I don’t support, particularly, subsidies. I think what I strongly support is a streamlined licensing process [for nuclear plants], an ability for the investors to be confident that they’ll be able to have some secure future as far as the construction of these facilities is concerned. But I’m not particularly interested in subsidies for them, or the oil and gas industry, for that matter.

But doesn’t your climate-change bill include subsidies for nuclear power?

Nuclear support in my climate-change bill is paid for from the proceeds of an auction of emission allowances to industry, not from taxpayer dollars. The nuclear funding is for the early development of the next generation of nuclear power plants and includes such things as a demonstration program to reduce first-time regulatory costs and a research program for fuel cycles. The support is not for the continuous operation of the plants.

What’s your position on subsidies for green technologies like wind and solar?

I’m not one who believes that we need to subsidize things. The wind industry is doing fine, the solar industry is doing fine. In the seventies, we gave too many subsidies and too much help, and we had substandard products sold to the American people, which then made them disenchanted with solar for a long time.

Ethanol is, to a large degree, a mature technology. Some of the coal and hydrogen and other technologies are not mature. I think that’s really the difference. The government can help with pure research and development, whether it be on climate and greenhouse-gas emissions or development of the Internet. But there’s a point where you should let the free-enterprise system take over.

In 2002, you introduced a measure to increase fuel economy to 36 miles per gallon by 2016. What would you do as president to improve fuel economy?

We need to increase CAFE standards. We all know that. But the devil is in the details. I’m open to negotiations. We obviously don’t want to drive all the car companies out of business. But there needs to be dramatic improvement and no loopholes.

What environmental achievement are you proudest of?

Limiting Grand Canyon overflights is one. Probably the most proud one is working for Mo Udall [Democratic representative from Arizona], because he was a leader who put three and a half million acres of Arizona into permanent, pristine wilderness status.

Who is your environmental hero?

Mo Udall. He was the most dedicated person to our environment that I have known. He was incredibly effective in getting legislation through the Congress—wilderness bills and all kinds of environmental protections. History will show that he and his brother Stu, who was secretary of the interior for eight years, were two of the great environmentalists of the 20th century.

Can you share an anecdote about your most memorable outdoor or wilderness adventure?

I’ve had many. Last year my son Jack, who’s at the Naval Academy, and I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim. Not for the first time, but it’s an incredible experience. I think rafting the Canyon is great. I think the least known great outdoor experience is Canyon de Chelly [in Arizona].

I’ve also traveled the world and seen visible manifestations of the tremendous harm that global warming has done to our planet. In Greenland, you can see the glacier has receded dramatically. You can go to northern Norway and see the impact there. You can go to the Arctic Circle, as I have, and see it. You can go to the South Pole, fly around in a helicopter, and see incredible damage. They’re the miners’ canaries, worse than the miners’ canaries. The visible manifestations of climate change are there, and they’re very disturbing.

If you were to spend a week in a park or natural area of the United States, where would you go?

I’d probably go to Canyon de Chelly. And second to that would be probably Chiricahua [National Monument, in Arizona]. Go there and you’ll understand why Geronimo ran off like he did after they took him out of his beloved land.

What have you done personally to reduce your energy and environmental footprint?

We just moved from a very large house with swimming pool and grounds into a condominium, so we made a dramatic change. My daughter has a Prius. And we have a place up north where we have solar panels in some of the buildings. But we haven’t done enough, and we intend to do more.

If you were a plant or animal, what kind of plant or animal would you be?

I think I’d like to be a jaguar. Or if I were a plant, I wouldn’t mind being a saguaro cactus, because you sure do live a long time.

Mike Huckabee

An interview with Mike Huckabee about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee Mike Huckabee

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

Should you heart Huckabee? The jovial former Arkansas governor famously shed 100 pounds in two years and became an outspoken health-and-fitness advocate, and now he’s focusing that can-do attitude on a much weightier problem: America’s beleaguered energy system.

“The first thing I will do as president is send Congress my comprehensive plan for energy independence,” he proclaims on his Web site. “We will achieve energy independence by the end of my second term.” The goal may sound admirable, but even if it’s achievable—and many experts doubt that it is—Huckabee’s plan for getting there is light on specifics. Rather than spell out what steps he would take, he talks of creating a market environment that encourages innovation, and he praises just about every energy source you can think of-nuclear, clean coal, wind, solar, hydrogen, biomass, biodiesel, corn-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, oil from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other untapped domestic areas, and, yes, conservation too.

A conservative Republican and devout Christian, Huckabee believes he has a biblical responsibility to protect God’s planet from climate change, even though he’s not convinced that climate change is largely human-caused. But mandatory limits on greenhouse-gas emissions make him squeamish.

I called Huckabee up in Iowa to find out how his ideas are playing on the campaign trail.

What makes you the strongest Republican candidate on the issues of energy and the environment?

For one thing, I’m one of the few people who’s actually talked about the fact that as Republicans we’ve done a lousy job of presenting the case for conservation. We ought to be the leaders, but unfortunately we’ve been the last people speaking out on conservation. Not only as a Republican, but as a Christian, it’s important to me to say to my fellow believers, “Look, if anybody ought to be leading on this issue, it ought to be us.” We can’t justify destroying a planet that doesn’t belong to us, and if we believe that God did create this world for our pleasure and wants us to enjoy it, then all the more reason that we should take care of it.

You’ve vowed in your presidential platform to achieve energy independence by your second term. What inspired this stand?

A country is not free if it can’t produce three things for itself: its own food, its own fuel, and its own fighting apparatus. If we depend on someone else for those things, then we are at the mercy of those producing states. That’s why energy independence is not only an environmental and economic concern but an urgent national-security priority. If we didn’t have any dependence on oil from the Middle East, or even from Venezuela or Russia, we would not be nearly so worried about what’s happening in those countries. We’re desperately tied up in making sure that their stability is, in essence, our stability.

How would you achieve energy independence by your second term?

The key is to create the kind of unbridled marketplace that turns innovators loose to find the solutions. I don’t think we’re going to find one big answer. I think it’s going to be a combination of many, which will include hydrogen, solar, wind, nuclear, domestically produced fossil fuels—at least for the short term. Our goal is to be nondependent upon fossil fuels, but there will be an interim period in which we’ll need to utilize all the domestic oil that we can generate by ourselves, whether it’s from ANWR or the continental shelf.

What role will coal technologies play, including liquefied coal?

I think there’s a place for it, and I think we need to insist that it’s clean coal. What we don’t need is another generation of coal that has serious polluting consequences. Agricultural-based fuels are very important to me because they’re renewable and help create some stability in the agriculture economy of the United States. Hydrogen has great potential. I recently visited a hydrogen plant in Iowa—they derive hydrogen-based fuel from ammonia. The technology is still somewhat challenging to make affordable, but it’s a relatively simple process. We could accelerate our ability to make it more cost-efficient.

Do you think we need to expand the role of nuclear power in the U.S.?

Absolutely. France is almost completely nuclear, and it’s not like they’re a nation given to risky behaviors. There’s been a real bias against nuclear energy in the United States, going all the way back to Three Mile Island in 1979, but I think most of it is unfounded. I mean, we’ve been running nuclear submarines for 60 years without accidents.

What would you do about the problem of storing nuclear waste?

I recognize that’s the sticky part. Everybody wants the benefits of nuclear energy, but nobody wants the storage of the nuclear material in their own backyard. Part of it is you have to make it economically viable for somebody to actually receive it. But a lot of it is changing attitudes, educating the public that nuclear by-products can be disposed of safely, because the first reaction people have is “Our kids are going to glow in the dark if we put that stuff in our state.” That’s not the case.

You mentioned your support for ethanol and other biofuels. Do you think we’ll need to transition from corn-derived ethanol to the more energy-efficient varieties, like cellulosic?

I think that makes sense. I think there’s still going to be a place for corn to be a part of it. What we need to be doing—and I don’t think we’re all that far from it—is developing a technology that would take virtually any kind of biomass, and be able to then burn it, so that it doesn’t have to necessarily be corn-specific or rice-hull-specific. There would be different ways of processing it, and what you’re really doing is generating the energy from the biomass itself.

How would you encourage a shift toward renewable and clean industries? Would it be incentive-based? Would you have a renewable-portfolio standard that requires utilities to produce a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources?

Some of both. I think that there ought to be some government grants and subsidies for those who accelerate ways to produce the energy. And I’d simply say we’re not going to tax you for coming up with these ideas. I would eliminate all tax on productivity and replace it with a simple consumption tax.

I would also want to assemble some of the best minds in the country to make sure that we set goals that really challenge us. I think the problem is we’ve not set challenging goals. We’ve got a lot of leaders who only want to take on issues that they can solve in their own first term so they can get reelected. We need to be looking at things in the same way John F. Kennedy looked at the space program and said, “We’ll put a man on the moon within a decade.”

Do you think we need to increase auto fuel-economy standards to help achieve your energy-independence goal?

I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t honestly know what the standards should be. That’s where I’d want to get some scientific advice on what we can achieve. You don’t want to do something that’s going to completely wreck the current economy. But I also think we need to do some serious pushing. We need to get to the place so that within a decade we can tell the Saudi royal family that we’re no longer going to continue to make them obscenely wealthy with our purchase of their oil. Frankly, much of that wealth ends up coming back to finance terrorism.

You often invoke your faith when talking about environmental stewardship. How are these two issues connected for you?

This world doesn’t belong to me. I’m a guest here. I don’t have a right to abuse it, any more than I have a right to abuse someone else’s property if they were to let me stay in their apartment for a weekend. It’s a sin against future generations for me to act as if there are no future generations that should enjoy the world as I do.

I love the outdoors. We have a beautiful, magnificent world: rivers and streams and mountains. I find myself overwhelmed when I look at it. I want my great-great-great-grandchildren to one day go out and smell the same fresh air, fish in wonderful streams, and be able to see the same mountains I see. I sure don’t want them to have it in worse shape and wonder why I didn’t do a better job of handing it down to them.

Do you believe that human beings are the primary drivers of climate change?

The honest answer is, I don’t know. And for me, that’s not the issue. Instead of being wrapped into this political discussion of “Is there global warming, and who caused it?” what we need to be saying is “Look, let’s agree that we all have responsibility to present a better planet to the next generation.” Whether or not you want to believe that it’s caused by driving to work, let’s agree that we need to take better care of the planet. Being a conservationist is the proper way to live, whether there is human-based global warming or not.

How would you go about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions?

I think there’s several things we can do—for example, replace lightbulbs with the fluorescent types. We need to shoot for less fossil fuel, go to more energy-efficient and certainly non-carbon-producing methods of energy.

Do you think that voluntary efforts are enough, or do we need to impose mandatory emissions reductions?

Hopefully it can be a combination. I’m always concerned when someone mentions mandatory, because I think that there’s going to be a government-imposed restriction on a lot of our lifestyle choices. What really ought to happen is, when we start developing a different kind of energy economy it will evolve rather quickly.

What role should the U.S. play in crafting a new international climate-change agreement?

I think the best role that we can play is by the example we set and by many of the market changes that we can make. When people start making a lot of money off alternative fuels and fuel-efficient vehicles and energy sources, you can rest assured that people are going to gravitate toward it. That’s got to be our goal, and it’s got to be an urgent one.

The U.S. consumes far more energy per capita than other countries. Do you believe that we have a moral obligation to take the global lead in curbing our energy use and CO2 emissions?

I certainly think we ought to be mindful, but I have to be careful here because I don’t think the government needs to start telling people we’re going to limit how many hours a day you can run your fan, or whether or not you can plug in your television set. I’d like to believe that people would start thinking that it’s their responsibility to do it. But I don’t know that I want the government telling me, “I’m sorry, you can’t drive that kind of car.” I have a fuel-flex vehicle right now; I very well may buy a hybrid, but I don’t want the government telling me I have to.

What about the government saying, “Hey, electricity industry: You need to find a way to create that same energy with lower emissions?”

I’m open to that, and I think that’s a worthy kind of goal. Maybe it’s an incentive, where they have lower tax burdens if they find ways to cut the cost of production.

What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue facing the nation, if not climate change?

I think the issue of pollution of the water, air, and soil, because that affects everything in our overall eco-structure, whether it’s our streams or our soil to produce our food. Everything that we truly treasure is better when we take care of it, and it’s truly harmed when we pollute it, when we act as if we are a one-time generation and we don’t have any obligation for the future.

What environmental achievement are you proudest of?

I campaigned for Amendment 75 of the Arkansas constitution, which dedicates an eighth of a percent of sales tax for everything purchased in the state for conservation. And we’ve used that money to completely rebuild our state parks system, fight pollution, purchase thousands of acres that are now set aside to remain natural, and create friendly and affordable places for families to enjoy the outdoors. We have the responsibility to make sure that the poorest family in the state can enjoy a day in the outdoors, whether it’s hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping.

Who is your environmental hero?

Oh, probably Teddy Roosevelt.

Could you share a memorable outdoor adventure or natural experience?

I’ll tell you one that almost got me killed. A group of my staff and cabinet members went on a float trip on the Buffalo River, up in north Arkansas, which is one of the most absolutely beautiful places on Earth. We pulled over to have lunch, and there was this group of guys in their twenties to early thirties, and they had some elastic-type straps and they were using them as a slingshot and shooting beer cans across the river, slamming them against this huge rock wall. I just couldn’t believe this. I was appalled, because we’re very protective of the Buffalo River in Arkansas.

Before I could even think about it, I went over to those guys, who were twice my size, and I said, “Do you have any idea what the fine is for littering?” I said, “This is not just a state treasure; it’s a national river. Do you have any idea what it is?” And I said, “I’ve already taken the number of your canoe; I can find out who you are.” And they just looked at me and their eyes went like, “Who are you?” I didn’t even bother to tell them. I just said, “It’s $1,000 per incident. I’ve just seen you knock three cans against it. You’ve got two choices: You either go over there and pick up those cans or I’m going to make sure that you get the full extent of the law.”

And finally my troopers came over, and one of the guys I was talking to said, “Well, we’ll go get them.” I was walking away, and someone asked, “Who is that guy?” And another guy said, “He’s the governor of the state.”

If you could spend a week in one park or natural area, where would it be?

Lake Greeson, in Arkansas. It’s a lake my wife and I grew up on as kids, and it has special meaning to us.

You’re known to be a strong fitness advocate, having lost more than a hundred pounds in recent years. As president, how would you advocate better fitness nationally?

There are two basic elements to health: good nutrition and activity. We’ve got to help this country to start realizing that whole, natural foods are critical to health. I often tell people a couple of basic rules of nutrition: One is, if it wasn’t a food 100 years ago, it probably isn’t a food today. Secondly, if it comes through the car window, it isn’t food. So much of what people eat today is a chemical product that has been processed, and when you really look at what it is and read the label, you’d be better off eating the box and throwing the contents away, because the box would at least give you some fiber.

Is there a way of promoting healthier lifestyles from a federal level?

One thing is that the marketplace is moving. Every food company with whom I’ve spoken has told me that the growth of their marketplace is in the healthier food choices.

We’re not going to solve it all overnight, but we can start making a genuine transition to healthier, more whole-food products, doing more to subsidize fruits and vegetables, rather than just the processed food, and creating the appetites in children by exposing them more to fruits and vegetables at the marketplace, and the schools, and their homes and neighborhoods.

On a personal level, what have you done to lighten your environmental footprint?

We have a fuel-flex vehicle. We are changing all of the lights in our house to fluorescent. We just replaced our heating and air-conditioning systems with the highest-level SEER-rated models [SEER stands for seasonal energy-efficiency ratio] , so that they would run on 60 percent less energy than what we had been using. I run and enjoy the outdoors and I often ride my bicycle to the store. My kids laugh at me and call me an old geezer, but I love it. Several years ago, I would have driven.

Sam Brownback

An interview with Sam Brownback about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

“America is on the verge of an energy crisis,” Republican Sam Brownback warns on his presidential campaign Web site, blaming “years of neglect and shortsighted domestic policies.”

His solution? Incentivize the marketplace to develop more nuclear power, more renewables, plug-in hybrids, better biofuels, and other homegrown energy sources and technologies. Brownback has been a big advocate of ethanol and other biofuels throughout the decade he’s spent representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate—no surprise, considering that he hails from the heartland.On the question of climate change, Brownback believes the atmosphere is warming but hedges on whether human activity is responsible. He does talk about wanting to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, but he talks a lot more about wanting to increase domestic energy supplies.

Brownback hasn’t won much applause from enviros during his tenure in Congress; the League of Conservation Voters has given him a lifetime environmental voting score of 12 percent. But he has pushed climate-friendly farming practices, international forest conservation, and, recently, a modest increase to fuel-economy standards.

I called up Brownback on the campaign trail in Iowa to get a clearer read on where he stands on matters green.

What makes your energy platform stronger than those of the other candidates?

I think it is realistic. I think it is doable. I think it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce the carbon-dioxide emissions from the car fleet. It is a comprehensive proposal that we can do.

You have said that America is on the cusp of an energy crisis. What do you mean by this, and what do you plan to do about it?

We are too dependent upon foreign oil. We are subject to threats from people like [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez and [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. We need to take care of our own security by developing our own energy resources, and we need to do so in a fashion that is environmentally sound and economically workable. We need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce our consumption of oil.

The centerpiece of this is really trying to push forward this next wave of technology, like plug-in cars that go their first 20 to 30 miles on electricity instead of gas.

How do you propose to achieve energy independence?

I note that we must be energy secure, not independent, because I don’t think we will be independent. But we need to be in a spot in 15 years where if somebody threatens [to cut off oil supplies] from Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela, it doesn’t cripple us. We need to include Canada [in our plans for energy security], particularly the oil-sands areas in Canada.

The solution is also ethanol from cellulosic bases, it is biodiesels, it is plug-in technology and the use of electricity to reduce our need for petroleum in the car fleet.

What do you think is the most important environmental issue facing the nation?

It is probably our consumption of foreign oil—the huge quantities, the dependency.

Do you believe that humans are the drivers of the recent climate-warming trends?

We have warming trends, we have CO2 emissions that have grown and carbon dioxide loading has been taking place in the atmosphere. I think those trends are connected, and I think we should work together to try to reduce them. I am pushing a market-based route to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Do you support a mandatory cap on greenhouse-gas emissions?

I really believe that the route for us to go to accomplish the most is an incentivized marketplace, not regulation. Markets are much more efficient at moving this forward.

How do you propose to reduce CO2 emissions?

I think one of the keys is reducing the oil consumption of the car fleet in this country. I would like to see us incentivize the move toward more electricity in the car fleet, with tax credits both at the production and buyer levels.

I support strongly the expansion of nuclear power, because that is one of the key ways of getting electricity generated and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Also wind power—I think we can get more renewable fuels into our electricity production.

I want to add that tree destruction and burning has been one of the leading carbon dioxide emitters in the world. I would like to see us use tax credits and incentivize people to create carbon sinks in this country or around the world, so that instead of burning trees you are stimulating their production, or even just allowing rainforests to grow back into trees. In the Atlantic Rainforest area of Brazil, for instance, the Nature Conservancy is working with a group of companies to buy back former forestland that has been used for agriculture. They’re letting it grow back into forests—a great way to create a massive carbon sink.

How would you address the problem of storing nuclear waste?

I supported the [Yucca Mountain] site that we are developing in Nevada for taking care of nuclear waste. That has been blocked legislatively a number of times. I think it’s also worth taking a look at on-site storage of nuclear waste or reprocessing of nuclear waste.

You emphasize a cleaner, more efficient automobile fleet. Would you support an increase in fuel-economy standards?

There was a compromise worked out last time around that seemed to me a workable solution. [Editor’s note: This provision, in an energy bill passed by the Senate in June 2007, would require cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to get an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.] I have not in the past supported an increase in the CAFE standard—I really thought that we should move there with market forces. But this was something that the companies themselves thought that they could get done, and it seemed reasonable.

I want to note that I am not shifting positions on CAFE. If this was something that the manufacturers themselves didn’t think they could get to, I wouldn’t be supportive of it, because I think we need to work together on these things, not try to regulate. I want us to work together particularly on this plug-in technology, and do that through tax credits and incentivizing in the marketplace, not by regulation.

What role do you think coal should play in America’s energy future?

I think it is key. It is our biggest source of energy from a carbon basis that we have in the country. We have a 200- to 300-year supply. The issue I think for most people has been the carbon dioxide emissions from coal, but I don’t think we can break off of [coal use], and I don’t think we should break off. We are going to have to find ways to have cleaner burning of coal. Some people are trying to find ways to do CO2 sequestration from coal. That, it looks to me, is a ways off.

Do you see liquefied coal as an important alternative fuel to pursue?

I think so. For us to become energy secure in North America in 15 years, you are likely looking at that as one of the key phases.

You mentioned energy-efficient cellulosic ethanol. Do you think we need to shift from corn ethanol to cellulosic, and if so, how would you encourage this?

I think we need to get [cellulosic] plants up and running. Experts I’ve talked to about cellulosic ethanol think that we clearly can do it, but people don’t know if we can scale it up to a production level. The Department of Energy did the initial grants on cellulosic plants to get them started and see if we can make this work or not. I think this is a good route to go. It looks like we need research, particularly on the enzymes and yeast used to break down the cellulose—that is something that we can help fund.

The U.S. consumes far more energy than any other country. Do you believe we have a moral obligation to take the global lead in curbing our energy use and carbon dioxide emissions?

I am one who believes that the market, properly incentivized, can consistently outperform government regulation on achieving objectives. What I would like to see us do is incentivize with tax credits, incentivize cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel for some period of time, and support research. I think those are ways that we can rapidly move forward.

We should also work with the developing economies to support tree planting and reducing deforestation. Twenty-two percent of carbon dioxide emissions are coming from deforestation. Why not use our tax credits and our economy to encourage projects like the Brazil model I mentioned? That can be a fabulous connection that everybody can feel good about. Then those developing countries wouldn’t be saying that we are trying to hold them back. No, we are going to use our economic activity to support and stimulate theirs.

You often invoke your faith when addressing environmental stewardship. How do these issues connect for you?

We were given a great place to live, a great planet. We ought to take care of the place that God has given us to be. I think we can be environmental stewards in a way that is positive for people and positive for the environment. I think humans are sacred and part of the total environment.

What environmental achievement are you proudest of?

The growth in ethanol and biodiesel is something that I have worked on since I was secretary of agriculture in Kansas. I would like to see a lot more progress, because I think there is a real score to be made on this.

I have been a long-term environmental advocate for the agriculture industry. I have particularly tried to push carbon farming or carbon sequestration.

Who is your environmental hero?

I am an admirer of [former Wisconsin senator] Gaylord Nelson, who started Earth Day, for taking a simple concept and getting people to engage with it.

Actually, the people I see doing the most on the environment right now are generally young people in grade school and high school. They tend to be more my heroes on it because they are just so clean-hearted and passionate about it. It really stimulates a lot of my interest in these issues.

If you could spend one week in a park or natural area of the United States, where would it be?

The Tallgrass Prairie [National Preserve] in Kansas, which is really a small park and a large privately held area. I find the prairies fascinating—they have such an integrated life as far as the plants, the bacteria, the animals. I think it is a beautiful landscape.

What have you done personally to reduce your environmental footprint?

We have two hybrid cars in our family, and I love the technology. We just did an energy audit of our home to try to figure out where our holes are. We haven’t implemented the follow-up on that yet.

We’ve put some of my farmland in the Conservation Reserve Program, though I get paid from the government to do that. I try to garden organically, but I don’t get it done every year, so I use chemicals once in a while on my garden.

Can you describe your most memorable outdoor experience?

It’s probably when I went to Sudan and northern Kenya. Outside in the night sky, the stars were just more brilliant than any other place. That may be the most memorable outdoor experience—those stars in Africa.

Tom Tancredo

An interview with Tom Tancredo about his presidential platform on energy and the environment.

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

Tom Tancredo

Tom Tancredo Tom Tancredo

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo—best known for his zealous opposition to illegal immigration—bills himself on his campaign Web site as “a solid pro-life, pro-gun, small government Republican.” What’s not mentioned on his site is anything about the environment or energy issues. (Considering that he’s a got lifetime approval rating of 11 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, perhaps that’s no surprise.)

But when asked about these issues, Tancredo makes a patriotic call for energy independence, just like the rest of the presidential contenders. And while he likes to joke that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is the last book of fiction he’s read, Tancredo also pays lip service to a shift away from carbon-based energy sources and the withdrawal of subsidies from fossil-fuel energy. Still, his free-market-driven vision of America’s energy future includes lots more coal and oil drilling, as well as nuclear power.

I caught Tancredo by phone while he was campaigning in New Hampshire and tried to get a better picture of how environmental goals fit into his conservative platform.

You support a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration. Environmentalists have raised concernsthat such a fence could be harmful to wildlife and the broader ecosystem in the area. Do you think this is a legitimate concern?

What is even more disturbing is the environmental damages caused by illegal aliens crossing the border. On average, an alien crossing the border will drop about eight pounds of trash on a one-to-three-day journey. This amounts to hundreds to thousands of pounds of garbage left in an ecosystem completely unprepared for that type of pollution.

What do you see as the most pressing energy and environmental issues facing the nation?

We can take care of a couple of issues with one sort of strategy. If we successfully reduce our reliance on oil produced by countries that are dangerous to us—and that’s a good thing from a national-security standpoint—you will automatically reduce the amount of carbon we produce in the United States. A major initiative to move away from carbon-based products would accomplish a great deal.

How do you envision such an initiative? Is this a priority for you?

Yeah, it certainly is, because it’s a national-security issue, primarily.

I don’t doubt that global warming is a true phenomenon. I’m saying the extent to which you can attribute it directly to man’s actions, I think, is still at least debatable. But that doesn’t matter if we move in the direction I’m saying.

So what can the federal government do? Besides investment in research and technology, which of course I think it must do, we could require, for instance, all federal vehicles to be alternative-fuel vehicles. A lot of things are happening right now as a result of the market, and I am, frankly, reluctant to tamper with the market to a great extent.

I’ve heard you say you trust the market far more than you trust government. If the market were a level playing field and all subsidies were removed from the energy sector, what would happen to the renewable- and alternative-energy industries?

You would see the most efficient develop; the most inefficient would lag behind or not survive. I don’t think that subsidies are a good way to go. Even now, the markets are already working. You look at the number of alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicles that are being purchased, it’s really quite significant. Toyota took over GM’s spot as the number-one auto producer in the world, and why? Something called the Prius.

Would you, as president, remove subsidies from fossil-fuel industries?

Yeah, I say remove subsidies; I certainly think that’s appropriate.

However, R&D is a subsidy, and I would support efforts in research and development. We can obtain a lot more fossil fuels from things like shale, but it may require some R&D to find ways to make it cheap enough so that you can extract the oil from the shale.I also think that it is appropriate for us to remove restrictions on the development of fossil-fuel resources within the continental United States and off of the continental shelf.

Again it goes back to national-security issues. What I’m trying to do is rely less and less on any sort of fuel from countries that are potentially very dangerous.

Would you fund R&D for emerging technologies like wind and solar?

Yes, and it can be broader than that. It can be R&D into biotechnology and biofuels. There are two reasons I am willing to do that: One, the national-security thing. The other is that we have OPEC, so there isn’t truly a free market. You have to have some degree of government involvement in this, because the OPEC nations can and do control the market to a certain extent. When emerging technologies become a threat to oil, OPEC can [flood the market with oil], driving the price down to make it impossible to compete, and that new technology goes down the toilet.

Can you clarify your take on global warming? It sounds like you think it’s a problem but not necessarily one that’s human-caused.

It may certainly be a phenomenon that’s got nothing to do with the impact of humanity on the environment, or very, very little, anyway. It may be a cyclic thing that we will simply have to deal with. I don’t know. There’s plenty of reliable research on both sides.

So I say, look, it really doesn’t matter. The thing we must do is reduce our reliance on potentially violent countries. If in reducing carbon emissions we actually have a positive impact on this global-warming phenomenon, then great.

Do you support a cap on carbon emissions?

I really think there are a lot of problems with that, especially in terms of enforcement—you are talking about the possibility of a lot of fraud. I’d look very skeptically at any type of cap-and-trade scheme. Let’s put it this way: It’s not impossible, but I’d be very skeptical.

What role should the U.S. play in crafting a new international agreement on climate change?

We should encourage countries to rely on markets more than anything else to accomplish the goal.

You’re a strong supporter of nuclear power in the U.S. What do you see as the advantage of increasing nuclear power?

I believe that we have developed the technology to where it is very safe. The biggest problem we have, of course, is with storage [of the nuclear waste]. We’re having a hell of a time trying to get Yucca Mountain certified [as a waste-storage site]. In the meantime, we’ve got communities in Texas that are saying, “Let’s do it here.” Why? Because there are a lot of jobs involved, there’s a lot of money involved. It’s a great market-oriented solution. It also allows us to have an alternative fuel that is clean and plentiful. What more could you ask for?

So your waste-storage solution would be Yucca Mountain or a distributed storage plan?

Absolutely; we can keep looking at Yucca Mountain as the important place, but it’s not the only place. There are already sites in Texas that we are working to try to open. It will happen. We will get the storage. It’s all about supply and demand.

What role do you think coal should play in America’s energy future?

I think coal gasification, especially if we can perfect the in-ground storage of carbon. [Oil] prices are high enough now that it makes it feasible to move in the direction of coal gasification.

What about liquefied coal?

Same thing—lots of it. Again, the trade-off there is the carbon issue. As you know, there’s a lot of technology being developed to try and store the carbon.

What about ethanol?

Same thing. That’s another point where markets will be helping to determine this, because at a certain point [ethanol] becomes less than efficient both in terms of the energy trade-offs that are involved and just the sheer cost. When you mandate a certain amount of fuel like we do now, it is an indirect subsidy. Subsidies for the creation of biofuels-that’s not something I’m crazy about, theoretically speaking.

There’s growing belief among evangelicals and other communities of faith that we need to be stewards of the earth and protect the planet from global warming. What’s your take on this?

I think it would be better for them to deal more directly with issues relevant to their communities of faith.

There are some Republicans in Colorado who have been disgruntled by the increased drilling for oil and natural gas in the state. What’s your take?

I’m supportive of the drilling, especially [for natural gas] on the Roan Plateau. It’s an important source of clean fuel, and the footprint is very small. Everyone wants to use the energy, everyone wants to claim that they are supportive of a greater environment—and yet here when we can accomplish that, when we increase the use of coal-bed methane and natural gas and a variety of other alternatives to petroleum-based products, they are screaming, “Not in my backyard.”

It’s sort of the hypocrisy of the Kennedys, in a way. They talk about how much they want the rest of us to take sacrifices in order to accomplish [environmental] goals, but they are not willing to have a wind farm where they can see it from [Cape Cod].

We all have to accept the responsibility. I don’t like it when states are talking about “you can’t drill off of our coast” or “you can’t drill here,” but they have no reluctance about consuming all of the oil production that originates from the rest of America. There’s a lot of hypocrisy there.

What environmental achievement are you most proud of?

My work on the Healthy Forests [Initiative]—frankly, I think that’s enormous. If we could begin to implement that in a more effective way, I think we could see a lot of really important developments, not the least of which is the reduced risk of major, catastrophic forest fires. Healthier forests are also healthy for the environment, because they suck up out of the environment what we don’t want, and produce what we do.

Who is your environmental hero?

I have none.

Can you talk about a memorable outdoor experience you’ve had?

I just got done with a competitive shooting event here in New Hampshire, outdoors. It was great! First you shoot trap, and then you move to a target= range with a rifle, and then you move to a target= range with a pistol. I finished all three a little bit ago. I did really well.

Do you enjoy hunting?

Yes, I do. A while back, Mitt Romney said he’s been hunting all his life, but he just got his first license last year. I actually have been hunting all my life.

I had golden retrievers for years. You get mesmerized by them and sometimes miss a good shot because you’re watching the dogs work. They’re just wonderful. They’re in their element, doing exactly what they were born for.

If you could spend a week in a natural area, where would it be?

I actually love the grassland, the Pawnee National Grassland in northeastern Colorado. It’s quite beautiful. I know most people don’t think of grasslands as offering that kind of beauty, but to me they do. You just look over that sea of waving grass, and I think it is breathtakingly beautiful.

What have you done personally to reduce your environmental footprint?

I have a 2005 Prius. It’s a great car. It also lets me drive in the restricted lane on the way to work.

Ron Paul

An interview with Ron Paul about his presidential platform on energy and the environment

How Green Is Your Candidate?

The 2008 presidential race is on, and contributing editor Amanda Griscom Little has invited each of the candidates to share their views on key issues—from global warming to alternative energy—along with details about their environmental platforms. Outside brings you these interviews in How Green Is Your Candidate?, an exclusive series presented in partnership with the environmental-news Web site Grist.

Looking for a particular interview but don’t see it? Check back soon. Little has contacted campaign reps for every official candidate in the Democratic and Republican parties. So far all eight Democratic candidates and two of the Republicans have agreed to interviews, and we’re working to get all of them on b…

This is part of a series of interviews with presidential candidates produced jointly by Grist and Outside.

Enviros may roll their eyes at a candidate who dismisses the Environmental Protection Agency as feckless and disposable, who believes all public lands should be privately owned, and whose remedy for an ailing planet is “a free-market system and a lot less government.” But Ron Paul, the quixotic, libertarian-leaning U.S. rep from Texas, has a bigger cult following online than any other presidential candidate, and has won unexpected attention in the GOP debates with his provocative ideas.

Some of those ideas arguably have environmental merit. Paul is known for his zealous opposition to the Iraq war, which he duly notes causes pollution and the “burning of fuel for no good purpose.” He wants to yank all subsidies and R&D funding from the energy sector, which many believe would benefit the growth of renewables. A cyclist himself, he has cosponsored bills that would offer tax breaks to Americans who commute by bicycle and use public transportation. Still, his libertarian presidency would, among other things, allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, boost the use of coal, and embrace nuclear power. Moreover, it wouldn’t do diddly about global warming, because, Paul reasons, “we’re not going to be very good at regulating the weather.”

I called Paul up on the campaign trail in Iowa to get the skinny on how the environment figures into his small-government agenda.

What makes you the strongest candidate on energy and the environment?

On energy, I would say that the reliance on the government to devise a policy is a fallacy. I would advocate that the free market take care of that. The government shouldn’t be directing research and development, because they are bound and determined to always misdirect money to political cronies. The government ends up subsidizing things like the corn industry to develop ethanol, and it turns out that it’s not economically feasible. So my answer to energy is to let the market work. Let supply and demand make the decision. Let prices make the decision. That is completely different than the bureaucratic and cronyism approach.

On environment, governments don’t have a good reputation for doing a good job protecting the environment. If you look at the extreme of socialism or communism, they were very poor environmentalists. Private property owners have a much better record of taking care of the environment. If you look at the common ownership of the lands in the West, they’re much more poorly treated than those that are privately owned. In a free-market system, nobody is permitted to pollute their neighbor’s private property—water, air, or land. It is very strict.

But there are realms of the environment that, by definition, can’t be owned, right? How would you divide the sky or the sea into private parcels?

The air can certainly be identified. If you have a mill next door to me, you don’t have a right to pollute my air—that can be properly defined by property rights. Water: If you’re on a river you certainly can define it, if you’re on a lake you certainly can define it. Even oceans can be defined by international agreements. You can be very strict with it. If it is air that crosses a boundary between Canada and the United States, you would have to have two governments come together, voluntarily solving these problems.

Can you elaborate on when government intervention is and isn’t appropriate?

Certainly. Anytime there’s injury to another person, another person’s land, or another person’s environment, there’s [legal] recourse with the government.

What do you see as the role of the Environmental Protection Agency?

You wouldn’t need it. Environmental protection in the U.S. should function according to the same premise as “prior restraint” in a newspaper. Newspapers can’t print anything that’s a lie. There has to be recourse. But you don’t invite the government in to review every single thing that the print media does with the assumption they might do something wrong. The EPA assumes you might do something wrong; it’s a bureaucratic, intrusive approach and it favors those who have political connections.

Would you dissolve the EPA?

It’s not high on my agenda. I’m trying to stop the war and bring back a sound economy and solve the financial crises and balance the budget.

Is it appropriate for the government to regulate toxic or dangerous materials, like lead in children’s toys?

If a toy company is doing something dangerous, they’re liable and they should be held responsible. The government should hold them responsible, but not be the inspector. The government can’t inspect every single toy that comes into the country.

So you see it as the legal system that brings about environmental protection?

Right. Some of this stuff can be handled locally with a government. I was raised in the city of Pittsburgh. It was the filthiest city in the country, because it was a steel town. You couldn’t even see the sun on a sunny day. Then it was cleaned up—not by the EPA; by local authorities that said you don’t have a right to pollute—and it’s a beautiful city. You don’t need this huge bureaucracy that’s remote from the problem. Pittsburgh dealt with it in a local fashion, and it worked out quite well.

What if you’re part of a community that’s getting dumped on, but you don’t have the time or the money to sue the offending polluter?

Imagine that everyone living in one suburb, rather than using regular trash service, was taking their household trash to the next town over and simply tossing it in the yards of those living in the nearby town. Is there any question that legal mechanisms are in place to remedy this action? In principle, your concerns are no different, except that for a good number of years legislatures and courts have failed to enforce the property rights of those being dumped on with respect to certain forms of pollution. This form of government failure has persisted since the Industrial Revolution, when, in the name of so-called progress, certain forms of pollution were legally tolerated or ignored to benefit some popular regional employer or politically popular entity.

When all forms of physical trespass, be that smoke, particulate matter, etc., are legally recognized for what they are—a physical trespass upon the property and rights of another—concerns about difficulty in suing the offending party will be largely diminished. When any such cases are known to be slam-dunk wins for the person whose property is being polluted, those doing the polluting will no longer persist in doing so. Against a backdrop of property rights actually enforced, contingency and class-action cases are additional legal mechanisms that resolve this concern.

You mentioned that you don’t support subsidies for the development of energy technologies. If all subsidies were removed from the energy sector, what do you think would happen to alternative-energy industries like solar, wind, and ethanol?

Whoever can offer the best product at the best price, that’s what people will use. They just have to do this without damaging the environment.

If we’re running out of hydrocarbon, the price will go up. If we had a crisis tomorrow [that cut our oil supply in half], people would drive half as much—something would happen immediately. Somebody would come up with alternative fuels rather quickly.Today, the government decides and they misdirect the investment to their friends in the corn industry or the food industry. Think how many taxpayer dollars have been spent on corn [for ethanol], and there’s nobody now really defending that as an efficient way to create biodiesel fuel or ethanol. The money is spent for political reasons and not for economic reasons. It’s the worst way in the world to try to develop an alternative fuel.

But often the cheapest energy sources, which the market would naturally select for, are also the most environmentally harmful. How would you address this?

Your question is based on a false premise and a false definition of “market” that is quite understandable under the current legal framework. A true market system would internalize the costs of pollution on the producer. In other words, the “cheapest energy sources,” as you call them, are only cheap because currently the costs of the environmental harm you identify are not being included or internalized, as economists would say, into the cheap energy sources.

To the extent property rights are strictly enforced against those who would pollute the land or air of another, the costs of any environmental harm associated with an energy source would be imposed upon the producer of that energy source, and, in so doing, the cheap sources that pollute are not so cheap anymore.

What’s your take on global warming? Is it a serious problem and one that’s human-caused?

I think some of it is related to human activities, but I don’t think there’s a conclusion yet. There’s a lot of evidence on both sides of that argument. If you study the history, we’ve had a lot of climate changes. We’ve had hot spells and cold spells. They come and go. If there are weather changes, we’re not going to be very good at regulating the weather.

To assume we have to close down everything in this country and in the world because there’s a fear that we’re going to have this global warming and that we’re going to be swallowed up by the oceans, I think that’s extreme. I don’t buy into that. Yet I think it’s a worthy discussion.

So you don’t consider climate change a major problem threatening civilization?

No. [Laughs.] I think war and financial crises and big governments marching into our homes and elimination of habeas corpus—those are immediate threats. We’re about to lose our whole country and whole republic! If we can be declared an enemy combatant and put away without a trial, then that’s going to affect a lot of us a lot sooner than the temperature going up.

What, if anything, do you think the government should do about global warming?

They should enforce the principles of private property so that we don’t emit poisons and contribute to it.

And, if other countries are doing it, we should do our best to try to talk them out of doing what might be harmful. We can’t use our army to go to China and dictate to China about the pollution that they may be contributing. You can only use persuasion.

You have voiced strong opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. Can you see supporting a different kind of international treaty to address global warming?

It would all depend. I think negotiation and talk and persuasion are worthwhile, but treaties that have law-enforcement agencies that force certain countries to do things-I don’t think that would work.

You believe that ultimately private interests will solve global warming?

I think they’re more capable of it than politicians.

What’s your position on a carbon tax?

I don’t like that. That’s sort of legalizing pollution. If it’s wrong, you can buy these permits, so to speak. It’s wrong to do it, it shouldn’t be allowed.

Do you think it should be illegal to emit harmful pollutants?

You should be held responsible in a court of law, and you should be able to be closed down if you’re damaging your neighbor’s property in any way whatsoever.

Who would set the law about what pollutants could and couldn’t be emitted? Congress?

Not under my presidency—the Congress wouldn’t do it. The people who claim damage would have to say, Look, I’m sitting here and these poisons are coming over and I can prove it and I want it stopped and I want compensation.

You’ve described your opposition to wars for oil as an example of your support for eco-friendly policies. Can you elaborate?

Generally speaking, war causes pollution—uranium, burning of fuel for no good purpose. The Pentagon burns more fuel than the whole country of Sweden.

Do you support the goal of energy independence in the U.S.?

Sure. But independence does not mean to me that we produce everything. I don’t believe governments have to provide every single ounce of energy. I see independence as having no government-mandated policy: If you need oil or energy, you can buy it.

What about being independent from the Middle East, so we’re not buying oil from hostile countries?

I think it’s irrelevant. We wouldn’t be buying it directly; we would be buying it on the world market. I don’t think the goal has to be that we produce alternative fuel so that we never buy oil from the Middle East. The goal should be to provide all useful services and goods through a market mechanism instead of central economic planning or world planning. That system doesn’t work.

What role do you think coal should play in America’s energy future?

Coal is a source of energy, and it should be used, but it has to be used without ever hurting anybody. I think we’re smart enough to do it. Technology is improving all the time. If oil goes to $150 a barrel because we’ve bombed Iran, coal might be something that we can become more independent with. I think technology is super, and we are capable of knowing how to use coal without polluting other people’s property.

But coal technology has been proven to harm people—with poisons like mercury and asthma-causing particulates—so should old-style coal plants be allowed to continue operating?

Use of the technology I mentioned to prevent harm to people, even if it costs more for the coal producer, is another example of how costs must be internalized to the energy source. To the extent coal can be efficiently produced in a way that does not pollute another’s property or another’s physical body, it will be chosen as a viable energy source. Certainly no producer of energy or anything else has a right to pollute or harm another’s property or person.

If coal is not competitively priced when all costs to keep production safe are internalized to the producer, then coal will not be purchased or produced. I do not happen to believe this will be the case, but it is for the market to sort out, not politicians in Washington. It may be that, from time to time, as other energy sources become scarce, “safe coal” will be viable even if it is not at some other point in time.

What’s your take on nuclear?

I think nuclear is great; I think it’s the safest form of energy we have.


I don’t think anything’s wrong with ethanol—it’s just not economically competitive. It’s only competitive now because those who produce it get subsidies.

What environmental achievement are you most proud of?

Nothing really special, other than trying to explain to people that you don’t need government expenditures and special-interest politics to promote safe, environmental types of energy. That comes about through a free-market system and a lot less government, and I think that’s the most important thing I can contribute.

Who is your environmental hero?

Nobody in particular.

If you could spend a week in a park or natural area in the United States, where would it be?

There’s probably hundreds of places. I probably have gone to Colorado more than any place—around Telluride and Ouray.

Can you describe your connection to the natural world? Have you had any memorable outdoor or wilderness adventures?

My favorite thing is riding bicycles, and at home my hobby is raising tomatoes. I live on the San Bernard River in Texas, and I belong to an environmental group that works very, very hard to protect the natural aspects of that river.

Can you elaborate on what you’ve done personally to reduce your energy and environmental impact?

Well, no, other than the fact that I’m just always aware of doing anything damaging to the environment. I don’t think I do anything that damages it at all. I don’t ride my bike because I think I’m destroying the environment by driving my car; I ride it because it’s a great way to be outdoors and enjoy the environment.