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Former Energy Secretary Weighs In On Green New Deal Legislation


Well, to talk about the future of clean energy in the U.S., we're joined now by Ernest Moniz. He was President Obama's energy secretary, and today he testified before a Senate committee. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ERNEST MONIZ: Pleasure to be back here.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with that Green New Deal that we were just hearing about. It calls for eliminating the U.S. carbon footprint by 2030, just over 10 years from now. Does that goal seem attainable to you?

MONIZ: Well, let me first preface my response by saying that a Green New Deal, which to me means both pursuing very low carbon and social equity, is exactly what we have to do. Now, when we come to the Green New Deal, I'm afraid I just cannot see how we could possibly go to zero carbon in the 10-year timeframe. It's just impractical. And if we start putting out impractical targets, we may lose a lot of key constituencies who we need to bring along to have a real low-carbon solution on the most rapid timeframe that we can achieve.

SHAPIRO: What are those constituencies that you're afraid might be driven away by this?

MONIZ: Well, the labor unions who I think are very much aligned with the idea of low carbon but also understand we cannot strand too many assets and, frankly, strand too many workers with impractical, unrealizable objectives. We will jeopardize what has been, I think, the very significant movement of the large energy companies towards developing their new business models to function in a low-carbon world.

SHAPIRO: You know, you and I spoke at the Paris climate summit more than three years ago when you were energy secretary. And back then, this is what you told me.


MONIZ: Overwhelmingly the countries of the world and the U.S. population is moving towards a clear commitment to the idea that we need to act.

SHAPIRO: That was a real moment of optimism, and now the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate accords. American carbon emissions rose last year after a three-year decline. The trends that made you so optimistic when we spoke in Paris really no longer seem to be true.

MONIZ: Well, actually, first of all, let me say I stand by that Paris statement. I believe it's true, and the recent polls show that there is increasing understanding and acceptance in the public both about the realities of climate change and about the need to address it. Now, in reality, you're absolutely right. But I think the trend remains and will remain going towards lower carbon. The problem is that we were not then and we are not now working on a sufficiently accelerated path to low carbon to meet the 2 degrees, let alone the substantially less-than-2-degree, goal.

SHAPIRO: You're talking about limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.

MONIZ: Exactly. And of course we are already about 1 degree on the path to that 2 degrees. So there's no doubt we have to pick up the pace. And there are some elements of optimism here. First is that the states which have been the leaders in driving low carbon continue to do so - and in fact cities as well. Secondly, starting right after President Trump's announcement on the Paris Agreement, the reality is an enormous part of the business community came forward and said, we're staying the course. And we've seen, if anything, a pickup in that commitment in the last years. We are seeing the oil companies, the big utilities all going in this direction.

SHAPIRO: Is all of that enough to fill the hole left behind when the federal government says, this is no longer a priority for us?

MONIZ: The federal government not doing its full share of the effort obviously is an issue. The reality is in this administration, the United States is not exercising the global leadership that we need to bring the whole world along. But we continue to make progress despite the increase last year with leadership from the states and the business community taking us at least in the direction we want to go.

SHAPIRO: You know, often when Congress holds hearings about renewables or clean energy, we hear Republicans question the premise that cutting carbon emissions is important or questioning the science of climate change. How much of that did you experience in your testimony on the Hill today?

MONIZ: None. There were members from each party, and the entire hearing was about everybody buying in, if you like, to the idea that we are going to low carbon. How do we get there in ways that are economic and also that do not cause unnecessary, at least, disruptions in a variety of communities?

SHAPIRO: Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, now president and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative, thanks for speaking with us today.

MONIZ: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.