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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Peering into the Platform

Air Date: Week of September 5, 2008

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James Woolsey.

Host Steve Curwood talks with James Woolsey, energy advisor to John McCain and former head of the CIA, about John McCain’s commitment to nuclear power, as well as a cap and trade system to reduce global warming emissions and why some of the senator’s views don’t quite square up with the Republican environment platform.

Transcript

CURWOOD: From the wishes of Wall Street – to the advice John McCain has been hearing. James Woolsey was a senior arms control diplomat during the Reagan Administration and head of the CIA during the first years of the Clinton Administration. He now serves as an energy and foreign policy advisor to the McCain campaign when he’s not tending to an energy venture fund he recently joined. Mr. Woolsey, John McCain is at odds with the White House in wanting a carbon cap and trade system – what’s his thinking?

WOOLSEY: One of the reasons John McCain is a supporter of carbon cap and trade -- mandatory cap and trade system -- unlike the Bush administration, is that he takes climate change really seriously and he believes that a cap and trade system is something that will let the market work to help us find the better solutions, but at the same time exert overall pressure on reducing the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere.

CURWOOD: In the Republican platform, there is no mention of cap and trade.

WOOLSEY: Well I think, John McCain’s commitment to this is quite clear and solid. He actually developed this concern during the 2000 campaign as a result of dialogue with some environmentalists and environmental groups. And he thought about this a lot, he went back after he lost in 2000 and worked with his friend Joe Lieberman, and they came up with McCain/Lieberman, and saw, unlike the administration, that it really had to be mandatory in order to work. I don’t think anyone should doubt his commitment to moving forward and moving forward smartly with a mandatory cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions.

CURWOOD: So, let’s look at the Republican platform on the question of more drilling, more energy independence. It reads, and I quote, “We support accelerated exploration, drilling and development in America to new oil fields off the nation’s coast to onshore fields such as those in Montana, North Dakota and Alaska. We oppose any efforts that would permanently block access to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” Now, as I understand it, Senator McCain is opposed to drilling in ANWR.

WOOLSEY: He is opposed to drilling in ANWR, but I don’t think he is in favor of a permanent blockage. He wants to be able to examine the issue. He did reexamine his position on offshore drilling here some months ago, and determined that the technology had changed sufficiently since the Santa Barbara spill of now nearly 40 years ago. So, he came to the conclusion that if the adjoining state was willing, then the federal government shouldn’t be a bar to the offshore drilling, but he has not made that determination with respect to ANWR.

CURWOOD: Let’s talk about nuclear power. Senator McCain, the Republican platform, very excited about nuclear power, and frankly I’m wondering if the Senator is more interested in nuclear than he is in wind, solar and other renewable forms of energy.

WOOLSEY: I don’t think he’s more interested in nuclear, but he does believe that we are going to need some added baseload electricity, 24/7 electricity along with what we can do with renewables. Renewables, two leading ones, wind and solar, are, of course,
intermittent. One operates in the daytime, and one generally at night and at dusk. But John McCain is a strong supporter of solar and wind, geothermal, hydro, and wants to do everything possible that one can with those.

CURWOOD: Now, Jim looking at the Republican platform there’s this line saying that the Republicans, quote, “firmly oppose efforts by Democrats to block the construction of new coal fired power plants. No strategy for reducing energy costs will be viable without a commitment to continued coal production and utilization.” And yet when you talk to people on Wall Street they say the regulatory picture for coal and the questions of what the constraints will be on carbon make it very difficult to invest in coal.


James Woolsey

WOOLSEY: Well, states are deciding these issues for themselves, and there have been a number of coal fired power plants stopped, but not all. And the key thing here is to clean coal up, because we need to do it for the power plants that exist now as well as for any that may need to be added. And John McCain has said he wants to spend about two billion a year over the next several years to perfect as quickly as possible the technology of sequestering the carbon from coal fired power plants so that we could continue to use them as much as we have to, taking account of the fact that we are also at the same time going to be pushing hard for renewables such as solar and wind and geothermal and energy efficiency, such as moving away from using so much electricity in existing buildings.

CURWOOD: McCain campaign advisor Jim Woolsey was President Clinton’s first director of the CIA, and also served the Reagan Administration as a senior diplomat. Thanks, Jim.

WOOLSEY: Thanks, Steve.

 

Links

To read the Republican Party platform, click here

To learn more about James Woolsey’s thoughts on climate change and national security, click here

 

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