Gene Karpinski is President of the League of Conservation Voters. (Courtesy of League of Conservation Voters)
Environmentalists now have more friends in Congress. Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, tells Living on Earth host Bruce Gellerman that with Democratic lawmakers at the helm, he predicts energy and climate change will be front and center in 2007.
GELLERMAN: The last time the Democrats controlled Congress was 12 years ago so it’s not surprising that environmental advocates are now looking forward to a new attitude toward their issues. Gene Karpinski is the president of the League of Conservation Voters. And the Democrats’ priorities sound a lot like his.
KARPINSKI: Well, again front and center at the top of the list have got to be the related issues of global warming and a new energy future. And the solutions to global warming are the same solutions that give us a new energy future; efficiency and renewables, and new clean energy sources. So those are at the top of the list. Clearly there will also be conversations about the budget, and how we allocate our resources. And let’s not subsidize dirty, old, polluting sources. Let’s put tax payer money to use to create incentives to push us in those new directions for efficiency and renewables. So we’re very excited that the new leadership in Congress has energy policy and the related issue of global warming front and center on their agenda.
GELLERMAN: Do you think we’re going to see a change of heart from President Bush on climate change? Maybe perhaps in his state of the union address?
KARPINSKI: Well, you know, he’s already acknowledged that we have a problem with our energy policy. He said we’re addicted to oil. The problem is his solutions take us in the wrong direction. On climate change, unfortunately, he still seems to have his head in the sand. What we really need is new leadership which says, “We need to get a cap on global warming pollution and send us in a new direction.” That’s what Governor Schwarzenegger did in California and he got a lot of credit with the voters for doing that. So, we always would like to hope that President Bush awakens to the serious problem of global warming, but in the mean time we’re going to work with the leaders in the House and the Senate to make progress on those issues.
GELLERMAN: The president is a big advocate of coal and coal mining and the use of coal in power plants. What do you see as the future for coal?
KARPINSKI: Well, you know, the two biggest sources of global warming pollution are automobiles which burn oil and utilities which burn coal. So, we need new directions. In the coal sector two things need to happen. One is that we need to increase the amount of energy from utilities that come from cleaner energy sources. But also, we’re not going to get rid of coal tomorrow, clearly. So, if we build, as we need to build new coal plants do them in a way that are much cleaner use the best available new technologies that can begin to sequester the carbon emissions that come from those coal fired power plants.
New energy policy means we need to number one increase efficiency. We can reduce our use of energy tremendously by all kinds of energy efficiency measures for our cars, for our refrigerators, for our appliances, for our homes in all kinds of ways we can reduce our energy use. And second we want to rely on new clean energy sources which primarily are wind power, solar power, and biofuels can be part of the mix to reduce our dependence on plain old gasoline to run our cars.
GELLERMAN: I don’t hear nuclear power in that mix. There may be as many as 30 new nuclear power plants in the United States in the next couple of years.
KARPINSKI: You know, it’s pretty clear the public has still said, “We don’t want nuclear power.” And Wall Street has said the same thing. We have not seen a new nuclear power plant built for over 30 years. It made no sense then. It makes no sense now. It flunks the market test and it flunks the safety test because we have no solution to the problem of nuclear waste which will still be generated by those plants. So nuclear power does not make sense to be part of our new energy future.
GELLERMAN: Well, so far you’ve been talking about a wish list. Any worries that the Democrats won’t be able to meet your expectations?
KARPINSKI: Well, certainly it’s always a challenge to make sure that the goals we have get put into legislation. We have the opportunity now with new leadership, with a new vision, and with a public that understands and cares about these issues to make some important steps forward.
GELLERMAN: What a difference an election makes, Mr. Karpinski, you sound down right optimistic.
KARPINSKI: Well, you know let me give you one example. Mr. Inhofe from Oklahoma used to chair the Senate Environment Committee. His score on the LCV score card, the League of Conservation score card, he had a zero in 2006. One of his most famous quotes was quote, “I think global warming is a hoax.” That was the former chair of the Environment Committee. The new incoming chair of the Senate Environment Committee is Senator Barbara Boxer from California. Her 2006 score from the League of Conservation Voters was a 100 percent. And she comes in saying, “I want to make global warming a top priority with my new leadership.” So, there are many reasons to be optimistic. There’s a lot of hope. It won’t be easy. There’s a lot of tough roads along the way but we’re confident that we can make progress.
GELLERMAN: Gene Karpinski is president of the League of Conservation Voters in Washington DC. Mr. Karpinski, thank you very much.
KARPINSKI: Thank you, Bruce.
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