March 19th, 2013
Recent severe weather events have elevated political debate surrounding energy, economy and environment. President Obama has pledged to use his executive powers to reduce carbon emissions from coal plants and wants to fund clean technology with offshore drilling. Republicans say his coal plan will hurt the economy and his funding of green startups is a waste of taxpayer money. Where do Republicans and Democrats agree? And what are the implications for our energy future?
Chris Lehane, partner & political strategist at Fabiani & Lehane and former political consultant for President Bill Clinton, spoke of the growing economic impacts of extreme weather due to climate change. Within days of the deal around the fiscal cliff, he said, “you had an emergency authorization to deal with super storm Sandy of over $60B—almost the exact same amount down to the dollar that was theoretically saved by averting the fiscal cliff.” People are being impacted in very direct ways, and a variety of constituencies that have not been part of the conversation—from farmers in the Midwest, to small business owners, to insurance companies—are beginning to take notice. Lehane sees the economic implications of climate change as a potential area where Republicans and Democrats can come together.
According to Steve Schmidt, vice chair at Edelman and former senior campaign strategist for Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, what both parties can agree on is the need for energy. “Both Republicans and Democrats have an expectation that they’re going to have access to cheap energy.” Schmidt agrees that climate change is real, but he opposes energy regulation without considering the economic consequences.
“Just to be clear,” Lehane argued, “Those consequences are already being born by everyone in society. And you have an industry that is already being subsidized at a significant level,” he added, speaking of the fossil fuel industry. He went on to say that there is no question that there will be a clean tech economy. “The question is, are those jobs going to be here, or are they going to be overseas?”
What about the Keystone Pipeline? Schmidt said he’d rather get energy from Canada than the Middle East. Lahane countered that the oil to be shipped through the pipeline is not going to be delivered to US drivers. “What they’re going to do is ship it to refineries in the Gulf Coast and then ship it to China so that they can have cheap energy to make cheap goods that they dump back into the US and we lose jobs.”
Regarding President Obama’s record thus far on energy and the environment, Schmidt said, “He’s done a much better job than republicans give him credit for in this space. He’s had a more balanced approach than you would see if you were watching Fox news all day.” Lehane, however, said that if the earth is warming at a pace that is not sustainable, we have not done enough to get off fossil fuel.
Both agreed that climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. But while Schmidt is skeptical about any one country, state or municipality trying to stem the rising tides, Lehane said that the US has led on global issues in the past and that this issue requires US global leadership. California, too, he said, has historically served as a platform for change.