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Can Climate Legislation Pass In Washington's Political Environment?


We're going to find out now more about the Obama administration's climate plans from U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Secretary Moniz, welcome to the program.

U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY ERNEST MONIZ: Thank you very much, Audie.

CORNISH: Now as our reporter Chris Joyce mentioned, hard commitments weren't going to be hashed out in New York this week. That's for Paris climate talks next year, right? But environmentalists are looking over this speech and they're not seeing new, major initiatives. And is this, you know, an admission that it's politically difficult in the U.S. right now to pass anything substantial?

MONIZ: Well, I think the context really is that we started over a year ago when the president put forward the climate action plan, which had many specifics. And in fact this last year we had been executing that plan. The fact is the president did say that we would love to be working with Congress to get an even more comprehensive approach, but in the meantime we can't weight his words. And so all of the actions put forward have involved administrative authorities, and so we are executing. And we are making I think tremendous progress, both by reducing CO2 emissions from their highs of some years ago, but also by putting in place very important programs both to avoid climate, to have us adapt to climate impacts and to work internationally.

CORNISH: But even on a plan, say like the Clean Power Plan, you have a West Virginia Democrat right now leading the charge to sue the EPA to block implementation of it. It seems as though you're getting difficulties not just from Republicans, but also Democrats from fossil fuel-reliant states.

MONIZ: Well, many energy issues of course are regional in nature, but the courts have ruled - the Supreme Court has ruled - that of course carbon dioxide does fall under The Clean Air Act. The rulemaking is active. Just point out that it is ambitious, we're talking 30 percent scale reductions in the draft rule. And of course we will respond to public input, but the president has every intention of being ambitious and to be a leader in terms of our international posture heading into Paris next year.

CORNISH: What about this concern from developing nations who say, look, you guys are supposed to be putting money into this climate fund, you know, $100 billion, and so far there has been hardly anyone who's put into that fund. I mean, is the commit there?

MONIZ: The commitment is clearly there. I should add that right from the beginning of course commitment from all the countries involved public funds, but also using a lot of private sector engagements. And there we've been very, very active in working with other countries. For example, the president hosted a summit with African leaders here in August, but prior to that I actually co-hosted a summit - a ministerial - in Africa with over 40 countries and we are building all those bridges for developing their energy economies consistent with low carbon.

CORNISH: So they shouldn't look at that and say, you know, developed nations aren't putting their money where their mouth is?

MONIZ: No. In fact I should have added we had over 60 American energy companies there and the African countries want to work with our companies for economic development, but also for clean economic development.

CORNISH: Looking around the world, you know, Germany dialed back its renewable energy subsidies. You have Australia repealing its carbon tax. India hasn't exactly been receptive to making reductions with coal energy. Do you look at these and see setbacks?

MONIZ: Well, first of all, in the United States we have shown the economy grows over 10 million private sector jobs added in this administration, while we have reduced carbon emissions. The key is for next year to have again ambitious but flexible approaches to major reductions. Germany clearly is committed to a low carbon economy. They obviously, with their nuclear phase-out, have heightened their challenge; but they are very, very committed to renewables. With regard to developing countries we have said again we know we must be flexible as we generate the instruments in Paris that will lead to global reductions.

CORNISH: We just have a few seconds left - has the president missed his window? He's reduced now two executive actions on this issue.

MONIZ: No. We think that the executive actions will allow us first of all to meet the president's commitment in Copenhagen of a 17 percent reduction. We are well on the way there, and then we'll have even more ambitious targets beyond 2020.

CORNISH: That's U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Thank you so much for coming in.

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