The Sierra Club, along with three other environmental groups, met with Vice President Cheney and his staff to discuss the environmental implications of the Bush Administration’s energy plan. Host Diane Toomey talks with Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, about his first face-to-face with the Vice President.
TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey. The first face-to-face meeting between the Bush Administration and members of some of the nation's mainstream environmental groups took place recently at the White House. They met to discuss the administration's energy proposal and other issues with Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff. The entire exchange lasted an hour and a half. Mr. Cheney was present for about 20 minutes. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, was there, and he tells me that the green groups pressed the Vice President and his staff on three key energy proposals.
POPE: If they are genuinely serious about giving America energy solutions that are quicker, cleaner, cheaper, and safer, they need to increase fuel economy standards for our cars and trucks to 40 miles per gallon; the auto industry needs to be required to use the efficiency technology that right now is sitting on the shelf.
We need to rely on renewable energy for at least 20% of our electricity by the year 2020. It's cleaner, it's cheaper, and it's more reliable. And we also need to ensure that we replace our dirty, inefficient older fossil fuel power plants with new, clean fossil energy. And we presented these three proposals to the Vice President. He was there for most of the discussion about renewable energy, and his staff was there for the remainder.
TOOMEY: After the meeting, you were quoted as saying that the Vice President put things on the table that you hadn't thought were on the table. What did you mean by that?
POPE: In the administration's original energy plan, they made statements like that renewable energy would only provide two and a half percent of our electricity by the year 2020, that we would be using 50% more natural gas by the same year, that we'd be using lots more coal. And all of those statements were kind of a business as usual forecast. That's an energy future which involves really no reliance on new technology or energy diversity.
The administration, at this meeting, maintained that they hadn't meant to say that was what they wanted, that was just where we were headed. But they said that business as usual was not an option for them, that they really were committed to changing America's energy course to increasing our reliance on efficiency and renewables, and that was new.
We don't know yet, though, whether they really mean it. We haven't seen the policy proposals to match their rhetoric.
TOOMEY: A Washington Post/ABC News poll that was released on the day of your meeting with the Vice President shows that 58% of those polled disapprove of the administration's energy policy. It found that public confidence in Bush's energy and environmental policies are a big factor in the recent drop in the President's approval rating. Given that, I'm wondering if this meeting was a dog and pony show. I wonder if this was a tool the administration is using to boost their environmental image.
POPE: Well, I think it's quite clear that one of the reasons for the meeting was an attempt to send the American people a signal that they are listening, that they have heard from the American people our desire that we want a diversity of energy solutions, we want a balanced energy policy, we don't just want more nukes, more coal and more oil.
But I think if the administration is trying to get away with just a dog and pony show, we'll all know about it fairly soon. We are going to have some follow-up meetings, and if those follow-up meetings don't yield real results, we'll be back in front of the microphones to tell the American people that, while the President is earnestly saying to them he's listening, he's not really acting on their values.
TOOMEY: Contrast for me the climate in the room for this meeting compared to your meetings with the Clinton administration.
POPE: Quite different. There were far fewer jokes, the atmosphere was much more formal. With the Clinton administration we were working with people, in many cases, that we had known for years and years and had worked with before they went into government. This was a new cast of characters for us, so it was considerably more formal.
TOOMEY: I'd venture to guess that the Vice President's face is probably a bull's eye for many an environmentalist dart board, so I'm wondering what it's like to meet with one's nemesis.
POPE: Well, I don't see the Vice President as our nemesis. He is obviously somebody whose environmental record is very poor and whose policy proposals we have strongly proposed. But we meet all the time with people on the other side. We meet with oil company executives, we meet wit auto company executives. I've never met with the nuclear industry but I've met with the mining industry. So it's not particularly different to meet with the vice-president than it is to meet with the head of a polluting industry. You need to listen respectfully, you need to find out if there is common ground, and you need to be very firm that we need policies that reflect the American people's values and the country's needs.
TOOMEY: Carl Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club. Thanks for taking some time today with us.
POPE: Thanks. Bye-bye.
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