Home National Politics Exclusive Interview: Rep. Don Beyer Talks Climate Change, Energy, and the Worst...

Exclusive Interview: Rep. Don Beyer Talks Climate Change, Energy, and the Worst President in His Lifetime (Trump)

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Yesterday, energy/climate expert Adam Siegel and I had the opportunity to chat with Rep. Don Beyer about energy and environmental issues, as well as about the impending inauguration of Donald Trump as President.  Adam began by asking Rep. Beyer about his journey to becoming a “climate hawk.”

For more on that, see Adam’s post here. Also note that in 2004, Beyer worked for Howard Dean’s and then John Kerry’s presidential campaign. According to Beyer, the “single biggest reason I wanted a Democrat to win was to change the national focus to one of climate change…For me, it’s been very persistent since then, especially because everything that I read continues to suggest that we didn’t exaggerate its importance; it’s more immediate and urgent now than ever.”

Now, skipping to the end, Rep. Beyer had some VERY interesting thing to say about the inauguration of Donald Trump (bolding added by me for emphasis).

Adam and I asked Rep. Beyer about his decision not to attend the Trump inauguration. For Beyer’s statement on that, see here.  As for Trump being “illegitimate” or not, Beyer feels that we simply don’t know at this point. For Rep. Beyer, deciding not to attend the inauguration is not about policy differences with Trump, but more about…

…who [Trump] is; the character traits that he represents are just the opposite of who I want to be…[someone who] lies, insults, be incredibly thin skinned, be a poor winner — and I just don’t want to celebrate that...Watergate took years to unfold; it will be really interesting when the House and Senate Intelligence committees begin to drill down…I really would love an independent [investigation]; there’s more stuff to come out, I’m sure…I’ve got three daughters and four sisters and…his disrespect for women alone is enough to take him off my list…This is half the human race who he treats with extreme contempt.

According to Rep. Beyer, we’ve never had a worse President in his lifetime. Even Richard Nixon, in Rep. Beyer’s view, although he had “many many flaws, at least had enough wisdom to give us the EPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act – [Richard Nixon] at least had some sense of his place in history…Even as thin skinned as Richard Nixon was, he was smart enough to reserve his comments for Haldeman and Ehrlichman rather than putting them in tweets.”

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Now, back to the energy/environment parts of the interview…

Lowell: I asked Rep. Beyer about whether there’s any hope for forward progress on clean energy and climate action with a Trump administration and a Republican Congress. Rep. Beyer said he doesn’t see much chance of any positive climate/clean energy legislation passing this Congress. Rep. Beyer did note that he is going to co-chair the Safe Climate Caucus (“comprised of fifty members of the US House of Representatives who have made a commitment to speak out about climate change”) this session. Currently, there are no Republicans in the Caucus, so Rep. Beyer is trying to reach out to some who might be amenable to joining, given that their districts have been seriously impacted by climate change. As Rep. Beyer put it, “If there’s low-hanging fruit among the Republicans, we need to go bring them in.”

Rep. Beyer is also planning to be lead sponsor of a Carbon Cap and Economic Dividend bill — “everyone gets a check once a quarter, which makes it progressive rather than regressive…we’re not expanding government,” which “in a Congress dominated by Republicans” makes sense. Beyer doesn’t expect this to pass in this Congress, but feels that we should be ready, so that when Dems get control or at least a working majority, we can move forward quickly.

I asked Rep. Beyer about Republicans from districts in the Great Plains, Desert Southwest and other “red states” with huge wind and solar resources. Is there any hope for progress on clean energy/climate with Republicans from these areas? According to Rep. Beyer, it’s possible we’ll see some movement on energy efficiency, but:

…boy with Mitch McConnell leading the Senate, that makes it every hard…and you still have people like Lamar Smith who chairs the Science Committee who doesn’t believe climate change is real…and Ryan Zinke is now out there saying it’s not proven science. It’s going to be tough. And Rick Perry, etc…To me, it will be a victory if Trump will respect the Paris agreements

I asked Rep. Beyer if there’s not much chance for positive progress on energy and environmental issues, how about the biggest threats/areas of concern about going backwards and where we need to play defense? Beyer’s response:

Number two or number three for me is that the Natural Resources Committee Republicans led by Don Young and others will tear up the Endangered Species Act. The Republicans on the committee just hate it. If they could kill every wolf and kill every polar bear, the sage grass, etc. it seems to me it would be ok with them. Many Republicans in both bodies want to tear up the Paris agreement or not fund any of the things that we’re required to do under Paris. That’s another great danger. The single biggest thing right now is that Pruitt will come in, with Trump’s support, and try to reverse the Clean Power Plan rule — and also the ozone rule, also the enhancements on “Waters of the USA”…also the streams rule that has to do with all the mining. There are a lot of really important things that the Obama administration only got done in years 7 and 8 that are at risk. The biggest one by far is the Clean Power Plan rule. Under that, probably we’d never have another coal-fired power plant, at least not until the technology was there [for carbon capture]…If they are able to jettison the whole thing, they could take us back many years.

How can we fight back against this?

I’ve become quite a fan of the 60-vote cloture rule recently. I don’t think [Republicans] can legislate out the Clean Power Plan rule; it can pass the House easily, but it’s not going to pass the Senate — I think there’s not just the 48 Democratic votes, but a couple Republican votes too, Susan Collins and others who will be in the right place there. So then it depends on what Pruitt and the new President can do in terms of unwinding the regulatory regime. And the good news there, I think, is that…it takes 7 or 8 years to get a new regulation done with all the hearings and the public comment period, so I’m hoping it takes just as long to undo it as to do it. There’s still a regulatory process you have to follow under the law.

I asked Rep. Beyer at what point do Republicans from states where solar and wind are huge/growing rapidly shift their positions to a more pro-clean-energy stance. Beyer:

We’ll see…but all that clean, renewable, abundant energy [in those red states] will be helped by putting a price on carbon.

I asked specifically about Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09), whose district will NOT be helped by coal moving forward, but WOULD be helped by energy efficiency, solar, wind, etc.

I’ve talked to Morgan a lot, I think he does realize that. Just like Mitch McConnell, the day after the election, said, well, just because we elected Donald Trump, we can’t expect the coal economy to recover overnight. I think Morgan understands that. What Morgan faces is all these unemployed coal miners, although most of them are old, many many of them are on various forms of disability – black lung, brown lung, it’s a tough place. So I think he more looks at the coal communities and says these are a shadow of what they were in the 1970s, early 1980s, so how do we bring them back so that all the restaurants aren’t closing and the houses boarded up. It’s been convenient to blame it on Barack Obama and this fictitious war on coal…They won’t have Barack Obama and his alleged war on coal to kick around anymore.

Adam asked Rep. Beyer about the fact that he was Lt. Governor of Virginia (for two terms), so perhaps he can speak to people like Morgan Griffith about ways to help revitalize coal communities, maybe even use his district as a test bed for a new path in coal world.

For Morgan, it’s about jobs, quality of life, keeping the young people there. When I was Lt. Governor of Virginia, I visited Southwestern Virginia 100 times. I’ve been down in union and non-union coal mines. One of the bills I sponsored is the so-called Reclaim Act, with Hal Rogers who is a Republican in the Kentucky coal fields. That’s to take the income stream from the coal mine fund used to reclaim coal minds to also use it to help rebuild the coal communities, to do economic development that has nothing to do with coal…hoping that comes up in late March/early April; it’s bipartisan, Morgan’s on it too…

Lowell: I asked Rep. Beyer if Southwestern Virginia would have been better off if Congress had passed cap-and-trade legislation.

I agree with you [that Southwest Virginia would have been better off if Cap-and-Trade had become law]. Rick Boucher, who represented them for 28 years, and who cared deeply deeply about the people of Southwest Virginia, he voted for it and got voted out of office because of it...I haven’t been Lt. Governor for 20 years, but even back in 1997, all the cheap, easy-to-get coal was long gone, leaving the very expensive coal which was tough to market. And even then, the number of coal companies that were going bankrupt or closing up was accelerating, and that was a long time ago. Now they’re down to zero, basically, with the bankruptcy of Peabody…[Opposition to cap-and-trade] was based on emotion…coal was king, high incomes and nice homes and nice cars and trucks…it was a long time ago, but some of the older folks remember it, and the young folks are all gone.

With that, I (Lowell) hope to see everyone out protesting on Saturday, and then working your a**es off for the next four years to stop these lunatics, take back state legislatures, governor’s mansions, Congress and the White House, etc, etc.

  • A_Siegel

    Representative Beyer posted “President Elect Trump’s War on Climate” science/action on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/president-elect-trumps-war-on-climate_us_587f8c8ce4b01cdc64c8b599 He focuses on the Pruitt, Tillerson, and Perry nominations. The post concludes:

    “President-elect Trump’s choices to lead these key agencies go beyond mere indifference to the health of the planet to the point of surrendering environmental policy to the worst offenders in the fossil fuel industry and its allies.

    “Climate change will remain the greatest existential threat facing humanity whether the Trump administration acknowledges it or not. The health and safety of future generations depend on the choices we make now, and we must not fail them.”

  • Quizzical

    Thanks to Rep. Breyer for his work on climate change.

    What do you think of Katherine Hayhoe’s approach to reaching out to people on climate change issues?
    https://youtu.be/nkMIjbDtdo0

    • Yes, Hayhoe makes excellent points, although I wonder if it’s easier to connect with other people over shared values in person than via the internet, TV or whatever…