Let me ask you about the Gulf oil spill. British Petroleum fired Tony Hayward, so my question is: Why does Interior Secretary Ken Salazar still have his job? The corruption at Minerals Management Service was widely known at the time he came into office, as was reported several times in Rolling Stone and other places, and that's what helped the Gulf disaster to happen.
When Ken Salazar came in, he said to me, "One of my top priorities is cleaning up MMS." It was no secret. You had seen the kind of behavior in that office that was just over-the-top, and Ken did reform the agency to eliminate those core ethical lapses — the drugs, the other malfeasance that was reported there. What Ken would admit, and I would admit, and what we both have to take responsibility for, is that we did not fully change the institutional conflicts that were inherent in that office. If you ask why did we not get that done, the very simple answer is that this is a big government with a lot of people, and changing bureaucracies and agencies is a time-consuming process. We just didn't get to it fast enough.
Having said that, the person who was put in charge of MMS was fired. We brought in Michael Bromwich, who by every account is somebody who is serious about cleaning up that agency. We are committed to making sure that that place works the way it is supposed to. But when I have somebody like Ken Salazar, who has been an outstanding public servant, who takes this stuff seriously, who bleeds when he sees what was happening in the Gulf, and had started on a path of reform but just didn't get there as fast on every aspect of it as needed to be, I had to just let him know, "You're accountable, you're responsible, I expect you to change it." I have confidence that he can change it, and I think he's in the process of doing so.
James Hansen, the NASA scientist who is perhaps the most respected authority on global warming, says that climate change is the predominant moral issue of the 21st century, comparable to slavery faced by Lincoln and the response to Nazism faced by Churchill. Do you agree with that statement?
What I would agree with is that climate change has the potential to have devastating effects on people around the globe, and we've got to do something about it. In order to do something about it, we're going to have to mobilize domestically, and we're going to have to mobilize internationally.
During the past two years, we've not made as much progress as I wanted to make when I was sworn into office. It is very hard to make progress on these issues in the midst of a huge economic crisis, because the natural inclination around the world is to say, "You know what? That may be a huge problem, but right now what's a really big problem is 10 percent unemployment," or "What's a really big problem is that our businesses can't get loans." That diverted attention from what I consider to be an urgent priority. The House of Representatives made an attempt to deal with the issue in a serious way. It wasn't perfect, but it was serious. We could not get 60 votes for a comparable approach in the Senate.
One of my top priorities next year is to have an energy policy that begins to address all facets of our overreliance on fossil fuels. We may end up having to do it in chunks, as opposed to some sort of comprehensive omnibus legislation. But we're going to stay on this because it is good for our economy, it's good for our national security, and, ultimately, it's good for our environment.
Understand, though, that even in the absence of legislation, we took steps over the past two years that have made a significant difference. I will give you one example, and this is an example where sometimes I think the progressive community just pockets whatever we do, takes it for granted, and then asks, "Well, why didn't you get this done?"
We instituted the first increase in fuel-efficiency standards in this country in 30 years. It used to be that California would have some very rigorous rule, and then other states would have much weaker ones. Now we've got one rule. Not only that, it used to be that trucks weren't covered, and there were all kinds of loopholes — that's how SUVs were out there getting eight miles a gallon. Now everybody's regulated — not only cars, but trucks. We did this with the agreement of the auto industry, which had never agreed to it before, we did it with the auto workers, who had never agreed to it before. We are taking the equivalent of millions of cars off the road, when it comes to the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced.
Is it enough? Absolutely not. The progress that we're making on renewable energy, the progress that we're making on retrofitting buildings and making sure that we are reducing electricity use — all those things, cumulatively, if we stay on it over the next several years, will allow us to meet the target that I set, which would be around a 17 percent reduction in our greenhouse gases.
But we're going to have to do a lot more than that. When I talk to [Energy Secretary] Steven Chu, who, by the way, was an unsung hero in the Gulf oil spill — this guy went down and helped design the way to plug that hole with BP engineers — nobody's a bigger champion for the cause of reducing climate change than he is. When I ask him how we are going to solve this problem internationally, what he'll tell you is that we can get about a third of this done through efficiencies and existing technologies, we can get an additional chunk through some sort of pricing in carbon, but ultimately we're going to need some technological breakthroughs. So the investments we're making in research and development around clean energy are also going to be important if we're going to be able to get all the way there. Am I satisfied with what we've gotten done? Absolutely not.
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