Stories of Change: The past, present and future of energy

Stories of Change Team Library item 16 Aug 2017

Interview with Marsha Blackburn

Marsha Blackburn has represented Tennessee's 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2003. A National Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Blackburn talks to Roger Harrabin about her rejection of the theory of climate change, outlining her conservationalist approach.

Interview Transcript - Key

RH: = Roger Harrabin, interviewer

MB: = Marsha Blackburn, (Republican) Vice Chair of House Energy and Commerce Committee, participant

RH: If you could kindly say your name and what you do.

MB: Marsha Blackburn, I’m the representative for Tennessee’s Seventh Congressional District and a Service Vice Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

RH: Can you start me with a bit of an overview: where do you think the world is with the feelings about climate change and energy and that sort of stuff?

MB: Well, first of all I think that when it comes to the energy component that, people are concerned about energy supplies and the geopolitical issues that come from those. In the United States we hear a good bit of concern from our constituents about who we do our trading with. And when you look at the fact that OPEC … we do business with them, we send money to them, they take the profits, they buy back US debt. We have citizens who are saying, ‘Is this wise?’ and they’re pushing members of congress to move for energy independence for the United States.

RH: And what does that mean, ‘energy independence for United States’ what sorts of energy? You have President Obama trying to scale back coal-fired power.

MB: Right, you do and that is losing favour. Many people realise that for affordable and ready electrical supplies in utility-powered generation, electric-powered generation that clean coal technologies have a place in that mix. I refer to it as an ‘all of the above energy strategy’ because of course you need the hydrocarbons and you need crude and oil and gas. And you also need to be looking at next generation usage, whether it is natural gases or transportation fuel or looking at renewables. And in that mix of renewables not only looking at corn for ethanol but looking at wind and water and solar and saying how do we make those affordable to the American people? At this point in time they are really not affordable.

RH: Just sticking with coal for a moment. Republicans have said that they will roll back President Obama’s plans: do you think there’s a realistic chance of doing that? He seems dead set on pushing them through.

MB: I think there is a realistic chance of doing that. President Obama basically declared a war on coal to shut it down and to end the coal industry in the United States, and people realised that that isn’t a wise strategy just to say, ‘No, we’re not going to use this natural resource at all, we are going to declare that we are not going to utilities this. What kind of wisdom is that?’ And so they realised that a more thoughtful approach to that is probably the way to go about it; coal has its place in the energy framework, as does crude, as does solar power or wind power.

RH: President Obama of course is under pressure internationally because the EU has cut its emissions, China says it will freeze its emissions. President Obama has to come up with something; he is, he says, very worried about the prospects of dangerous climate change.

MB: Well, and there again, looking at that, the EU made a choice to abide by the Kyoto Protocols, that was something that they wanted to do. But as you look at those, has anybody ever really done a cost benefit analysis? Have they really looked at what it cost the EU in terms of jobs and productivity and product development and access to national markets? Are they looking at the reduction in wages and the inability to produce and meet some of the infrastructure needs that countries from the EU have?

RH: I mean I think the EU is ailing economically for a lot of reasons, and some countries which have bolted down very hard on dirty energy have actually done quite well, so I think it’s a mixed picture. But in terms of climate science where do you stand on the science of climate change?

MB: I think that the jury is still out when it comes to looking at David Mann’s hockey stick theory and saying man is the cause for global warming or after the earth started to cool 13 years ago for climate change. And I’ve found it so interesting that so many who had signed on to that theory have since reversed themselves and I was a delegate to the Copenhagen UN Summit on energy and a part of the House Select Committee viewing this, and while everyone is concerned about clean air, clean water and protecting the earth and the environment, I come at it from a conservationist point of view and I don’t think that the environmental activism that we have seen is something that serves the overall picture of preservation and conservation well.

RH: What would be your vision of a conservation?

MB: I think what we want to do is to make certain that we are utilising our resources wisely, that we are protecting our water heads and our navigable waters and that we are putting the emphasis on making certain that the environment is clean, being careful with emissions, but again, doing that cost benefit analysis that is so vitally important to this.

RH: You mentioned the climate getting cooler in the past 13 years – it hasn’t actually cooler, it’s still at an elevated state, it just hasn’t got very much warmer.

MB: It hasn’t warmed, it has cooled a bit. I think we’ve cooled almost 1°. Let’s double check that, but there has been a little bit of a levelling off and a tip down.

RH: Happy to double check it, the World Meteorological Organisation announced on that last month.

MB: Yes, but you know the point is that it has not continued to warm. There was an expectation that it was going to continue to tick up and warm and warm and warm and you saw it level off and it stopped warming. And that’s an important point to make. And you’ve seen just that little bit of downturn, so that begs the question: is this man-made or is it cyclical, is there a reason that Greenland was so named Greenland at one point in time and what does that cyclical nature play into this, would it happen with or without activity from man?

RH: To be fair Republicans were against action on climate change even when the climate was warming swiftly.

MB: I think Republicans were encouraging caution and not making decisions that could end up being unnecessary and cause harm and have an unintended consequence of such harm and there is wisdom in that and the caution came from scientists who worked in that arena looking not in terms of decades, but in terms of centuries when you’re looking at the earth’s temperature and when you run that out and look in terms of centuries you get a different picture if you’re looking in terms of decades.

RH: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was setup to deliberate on these matters. It’s come out with a series of reports which warn, very starkly, that the way we’re going it looks as though, they can’t be certain but it looks as though we’ll overshoot the world’s danger thresholds for climate change. You obviously have a different view, where would you base your scientific findings?

MB: We have met with different researchers, of course we’ve had numerous committee meetings where we have had individuals come and present, and from all of that, and what we have been able to read in different reports, you come to an opinion and individuals form those opinions. There are going to be those that agree with me and there are going to be those that disagree and there are some that feel like human activity is the cause for carbon emissions and that because of that we need to revert to where we were in the 1870s for carbon emissions. I just choose to disagree with that.

RH: Well, I mean human activity clearly is the cause of carbon emissions, it’s just not absolutely certain that it’s going to be the cause of catastrophic warming.

MB: Well, agriculture activity, human activity, just the complete picture that is there and I think it is unfair and incorrect really to say well it all is based on humans and added human activity.

RH: What would it take to persuade you, do you think, that climate change was a genuine threat?

MB: I don’t think you will see me being persuaded that climate change is a genuine threat. What you do see me –

RH: No, but what evidence would it take to persuade you of that?

MB: Well, what you do see me as, being concerned about is conservation and the preservation issues. Now, some of those have shared goals and outcomes and some of those are components where you’re going to say we’re just going to agree to disagree on that issue.

RH: Can I ask, do you accept the theory of evolution?

MB: No I do not.

RH: And so it’s probably unlikely that you’re ever going to accept the theory of climate change I guess?

MB: I do not accept the theory of climate change and I think that keeping the focus on conservation is the appropriate way to go.

RH: OK. And in terms of energy what would be your favourite energy source?

MB: Let me ask you: do you think it’s necessary to accept the theory of evolution in order to accept the theory of climate change? Do you think those two are linked?

RH: I think if you presented to a scientist a suite of opinions like that, I think they would draw conclusions about –

MB: They would see one and the same, yeah.

RH: …which way you were going to answer.

MB: That’s interesting, that’s interesting.

RH: OK. Congresswoman, thank you very much for your time.

MB: Thank you very much, I appreciate it so much.

[End of Interview]

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