Our Energy Future? A Discussion with Senator Carper, October 3, 2012
On October 3rd, 2012 Delaware’s Senior Senator Tom Carper met with approximately 50 Sierra Club members at the Brandywine Public Library to talk about the future of energy and our environment.
“In adversity there is opportunity” said Senator Carper. This was his slogan of the night.
Senator Carper on the issues:
Pollution Chair Al Denio introduced Senator Carper.
Senator Carper spoke with our members and answered questions. He stayed with us for more than an hour.
Laura Hayes, Senator Carper's Senior Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment, also attended and participated in the discussion.
Our members were a well-informed audience abreast of the issues. Senator Carper answered their challenging questions about federal energy and environmental policy.
Tar Sands: our members raised concerns about the exploitation of the Canadian Tar Sands, and the recent news that the Delaware City Refinery was refining tar sands. Senator Carper described how the Delaware City Refinery operates a special niche in oil refining by processing sour crude, which other refineries simply cannot do. He supports more air quality monitoring in Delaware City, and has contacted DNREC about this. As for solutions to the tar sands issue, he prefers the use of biofuels and offshore wind to tar sands, but did not comment on the need to stop the import of tar sands from Canada to protect the climate and environment. He dodged the question about NASA Scientist Jim Hansen’s claim that exploiting the tar sands would be “game over for the climate.”
Fracking: Our members asked Senator Carper how he would protect our air and water from fracking, particularly given the exemption of fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. His response began with “I’m a big advocate of wind, solar and biofuels”. In 1997 he told us, the EPA began regulating fracking but in 2005 then couldn’t do anything with clean water regulations unless it “involved diesel”. When pressed on the FRAC Act, which has been in Carper’s Environment and Public works committee since March 2011 and would remove the exemption of fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said “We’re not where we can act on that this cycle”. Pending the outcome of the November election, the FRAC Act may be able to move forward. Senator Carper supports the EPA regulation and oversight of the fracking industry, although he admitted that inexpensive natural gas has boosted manufacturing in the United States.
Coal Emissions: Senator Carper spoke to the problem of cross-border pollution in Delaware and nationally. Burning coal and drilling for gas in other states is making Delawareans sick. He cited a District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court decision overturning the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, by a 2-1 vote. A goal of his is to get this appeal before the entire DC circuit court rather than just those 3 judges to leave this important function of the EPA in place. In 2010 Senator Carper, along with Senator Alexander (R-TN) introduced “the multi-pollutant bill”, The Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010. They held a hearing on mercury pollution calling for an 80% reduction. All of the companies said “we can’t abide by that”, except one man in the industry who testified that the technology to do this was available. Now we have reduced mercury levels by 90%!
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining: Carper admitted that, regarding Mountaintop Removal, that: “Honestly, it’s not something we spend much time on”.
Renewable Energy: Senator Carper called for not just a production tax credit but an “investment tax credit” for renewable energy so that when a company goes to build a new wind farm etc. this credit will help them pay the up-front costs. If we could have electric cars running on wind power this would solve many of our problems.
Climate Change: Senator Carper admitted, “I worked as hard as anybody in the House to pass carbon legislation”. However, no robust discussion on energy and climate policy can take place right now because it would open the door to challenges to existing regulations.
Energy efficiency: Senator Carper supports energy efficiency and conservation as critical to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
Recycling: Senator Carper supports recycling, was the co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus, and described his efforts to recycle Styrofoam.
Transportation: The Senator was also exceedingly proud of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which he coauthored. He talked of “strap-on technology to reduce diesel emissions by 80%”. This bill was signed into law by the President, Carper said, just 1 month after it was introduced. “That never happens”, he grinned. He also briefly touched on the need for effective public transit. He said he hoped to get an Amtrak high speed rail in Delaware in the future. From 1994-1998, he served as a member of Amtrak's board of directors.
Economy: Senator Carper described how economic development can emerge from environmental protection. He does not see this as an either/or issue.
The challenges of environmental protection are great. Partisan extremes in Washington are making it difficult for Senator Carper to get things done. “The tea party has been very destructive” he said. He and his staff kept going back to this point when being questioned about why they haven’t taken action on clean air or clean water legislation. Carper thinks “people are just ignorant”; with so much misinformation out there from Fox news and Glen Beck people are confused. Right wing extremism and misinformation is the problem. Partisan extremism is the other big problem-many of Carper’s Republican friends say a carbon tax is the solution, but they’ll never vote for it. He attributed this to carve-out districts, which he likened to the gerrymandering of the past.
We are delighted that Senator Carper took the time to visit with our members and discuss these important energy and environmental issues. We are also grateful for our Pollution Chair Al Denio for arranging for Senator Carper’s visit with our members. Finally, our members were a terrific audience, who were well-informed and articulate on the issues.