2020 Global Energy Forum
U.S. Election 2020: What’s at Stake for Energy and Climate?
Former US Representative (R-FL)
Chairman, Energy Advisory Group,
Former Chair of the Republican National Committee
Reporter and Anchor,
Location: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Time: 5:45 p.m. Local
Date: Sunday, January 12, 2020
HADLEY GAMBLE: Well, good evening, everyone. I think we’ve lived through three days. How are we feeling? We’re feeling pretty good? Yeah?
So our next panel and final panel is something I enjoy more than anything else, which is talking about the connection between energy and U.S. politics. It’s sort of my bag. It’s my baby, and I’m really excited to introduce these fabulous panel guests and talk about the potential for maybe something different in this election year.
Could I get a show of hands of people who actually believe that President Trump has another four years? Raise your hand if you think we’re going to have another Trump White House. Yeah? So half and half, I would say. Maybe a little over half.
I’d like to introduce our panel now. Panelists, if you could come on out to talk about the U.S. election and what is at stake for energy and climate. They’re back here, I promise. We’re water changing.
Joining us on the stage will be Carlos Curbelo. Of course, he’s a former congressman from Florida, Republican I might add; Avi Garbow, the environmental advocate for Patagonia; David Goldwyn, chairman, Energy Advisory Group, for the Atlantic Council; and of course Michael Steele, who I’ve known for quite some time, former chair of the Republican National Committee. And I get to sit, which I’m really excited about.
Panelists, you’ve just heard the question I asked the audience: Will we see another four years for Donald Trump? I want to go down the line and give me a yes or no on that question. Michael?
MICHAEL STEELE: As of right now, yes. The basic parameters for a reelection campaign are in place or becoming in place, from the state of the economy to the president’s base being very committed, very strong, running roughly 90 to 92 percent support for the president, in addition to the fact that the Democrats have not settled on a nominee for the party. That creates an energy for the opposition. They build off of that, and of course, as you’ve seen with the president making fun from time to time of several of the candidates. So all of those pieces are lining up for him in a very good way as an incumbent president. This morning polling out shows him at 45 percent. He roughly needs another 2 percent uptick in the – in the polling to pretty much lock it in based on the performance and the outcome from the ’16 election. So he’s in a good position.
MS. GAMBLE: So mathematically –
MR. STEELE: Mathematically he’s there.
MS. GAMBLE: OK. Avi?
AVI GARBOW: Well, I’ll differ a little bit. I’ll say no. Maybe that’s a little bit hopeful on my part – (laughter) – just to put my own cards on the table.
I mean, my own sense is it’s a little early, actually, to make prognostications. I think anybody that has followed our election cycle knows that those candidates certainly, when you’re going through the nomination process in January or February of the year before, don’t oftentimes end up to be the nominees of their party. So as Michael said, I think it is a little bit difficult given that the Democrats have yet to settle on a nominee. I do think it was close enough last time, and my belief is that the last four years – the last three years, if you will, are not going to get another four for this president.
MS. GAMBLE: Carlos?
CARLOS CURBELO: So I think the main factor in determining the answer to this question is who the Democrats nominate. If this is a base versus base election, meaning Democrats put forward a nominee that excites the Democratic base but that cannot necessarily win over those swing voters that gave Trump the surprise win in 2016, then I think the president stands a good chance at getting reelected. If Democrats nominate a candidate that tries to build a national coalition and really appeal to those swing voters and not repel them through fiery rhetoric or drastic, extreme policy proposals, then I think Democrats do have perhaps a 50/50 or better than 50/50 chance of defeating the president in 2020, this year. But I think that will actually be the most important factor in determining the answer to the question.
MS. GAMBLE: David?
DAVID GOLDWYN: I think the Democrats have a great chance of winning the – winning the election, and I think Carlos has the analysis – the analysis right. I think there’s no question the Democratic candidate will win the popular vote by 3, 4 million votes, and I think the red states will stay red and the blue states will stay blue. So in our system it’s the Electoral College that matters, and so it’ll be Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and Arizona and Colorado and what happens in those states. And there I think the Democrats have a good chance.
As I think Avi or Carlos pointed out, the last election was decided by 180,000 votes in some of these swing states. So it’ll be about turnout. But the trade war hasn’t worked for the Rust Belt, and immigration has offended a lot of communities in a lot of those states. And white suburban women, frankly, who swung the last election, are against the president in very significant numbers, and a lot of them in those states.
So I think Democrats do have to have a unity candidate. I think they do have to establish a broad coalition. But I think if they do that, I think turnout will be in record numbers and I think we have a good chance to prevail.
MS. GAMBLE: You wanted to weigh in on that.
MR. STEELE: Yeah, just a little bit on that. That analysis up and down the line is absolutely right, but here’s a couple of things that you – variables you have to keep in mind when you’re looking at the American electorate and the process.
You’re right on the voter mining, but understand this: Donald Trump tapped into a voter who has not participated in our voting process for over 30 years, and that voter came to the polls in 2016. Not all of them came to the polls in 2016. He has since then, and the RNC – and there’s a reason why the RNC, the Republican National Committee, and the Trump campaign have been comingled. They are one. It’s the first time in our political history where the political party of the president is – the campaign operations are consumed or subsumed within the campaign of the candidate. Usually they are separate. Now they’re together. And why? Because they’re mining for the rest of those votes.
And the question for Democrats is, how effective is your mining? What new voters are you finding to bring to the table just to offset what Donald Trump has done and is doing? So that’s going to be, for me, something to watch very closely, the ability of that candidate not only to be a unity candidate where they can more broadly bring voters who are already out there that we know, and we see, and we poll, and we talk to, and get them on their side, but then mine for those new voters.
You’ve got Bernie Sanders voters who are a particular type of American voter and they have a particular candidate that they will support. That is Bernie Sanders. And if Bernie Sanders does what he did in 2016 and not give them the greenlight to support Hillary Clinton, that will be a problem. And so there are a lot of things that the Democrats still have to work out as I look at this election. Having taken the House in 2010, put governors and state legislatures in place in 2010 for the Republicans, I’m watching this scenario play out knowing what we did then to win not just the House but governorships and state legislatures and a host of other seats, whether or not the Democrats can replicate that for the presidency in 2020.
MS. GAMBLE: You guys –
MR. GOLDWYN: Can I do 15 seconds just –
MS. GAMBLE: Sure. Yeah, no, of course.
MR. GOLDWYN: Because I think we had record-low turnout in Democratic constituencies, particularly in places like Pennsylvania, I think the one thing that unites all Democrats is they don’t want four more years of Donald Trump. And I think the other – it’s not so much new voters who don’t vote, but getting traditional constituencies to turn out.
The other is the under-30 vote, and that’s where climate and energy and things like that are really voting issues. And the entire party has shifted in a very significant way. And a lot of times the efficacy of that voter constituency is low; I don’t think that’s going to be true this time.
MS. GAMBLE: I want to touch on specifically the energy because, obviously, that’s a major focus for this panel, and ask you, David and Avi, to weigh in on something specific. On CNBC – I mean, obviously, the issues that you’ve mentioned are very key issues for voters. But at the end of the day, how did Donald Trump really get elected? A lot of it was optics, because people for whatever reason liked what they heard and they liked what they saw. One of the things that we’ve been talking about a great deal on CNBC and other business news channels is the electability of the Democratic candidates, specifically Elizabeth Warren. A lot of noise about whether or not her policies when it comes to energy could potentially make the United States less secure, less safe, what does it mean for fracking, will jobs be lost. Because we’ve heard from a lot of industry experts including Dan Yergin, for example, and he says this is a lady that she may be very, very nice, but she does not know what she’s talking about on energy. Would you guys tackle that one for us and talk to the audience, I think, about this candidacy. Is it viable, given her energy ideas?
MR. GOLDWYN: Is her candidacy viable?
MS. GAMBLE: Yeah.
MR. GOLDWYN: Yeah, I think the –
MS. GAMBLE: Is she generally electable?
MR. GOLDWYN: Well, it’s the great thing about the primary season is that you have a lot of candidates out there. They test their ideas. They see how they play. They adapt. And by the time of the general election, things get a little bit more rational.
I think Elizabeth Warren learned that on Medicare for All.
MR. STEELE: (Laughs.) She did.
MR. GOLDWYN: And so that didn’t really work particularly well for her and it’s been damaging.
So I think there is – there is rhetoric and there’s reality. I think the reality is that Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders cannot, without having both houses of Congress and a lot of support from swing Democrats, you know, intervene into, you know, and regulate fracking on private lands. Ten percent of our gas comes from federal lands, 8 percent of oil. You know, so you can stop fracking on federal lands, but I think that’s not going to – that’s not going to happen.
But I think there is – I think what you’re hitting on is important, which is that Democratic candidates have to have their eyes on Pennsylvania and Ohio and places where there are gas-producing states – New Mexico is another one – and not threaten the efficacy of that – of the industry there. So I think for Bernie Sanders and for Elizabeth Warren, you’re not going to see those policies prevail, and I don’t think those are policies which are going to be centrist enough to be able to carry the day. But I also don’t think that she’s likely to win the nomination.
MS. GAMBLE: Avi?
MR. GARBOW: I guess my only comment, other than to say it is difficult to talk about electability, particularly when you talk about a female candidate. I think that Elizabeth Warren probably gets a little bit more negative coverage in that sense, in my opinion, that some of the male counterparts that are running.
But that notwithstanding, I actually don’t see tremendous difference between the climate plans at least that have been put forward between Elizabeth Warren, certainly Bernie Sanders. Even Joe Biden’s climate plan I think is relatively aggressive in contrast to what we saw in the Obama administration and everything since. Even Pete Buttigieg’s plan kind of compares favorably in terms of what’s gone on in the past. And so to the extent that there is a criticism that Elizabeth Warren’s climate and energy plans are a little bit too far afield, I think one could paint the very same picture for the majority of the candidates leading the Democratic field now.
Now, I tend to think they’re not that aggressive, or at least they’re properly focused on what, certainly, they can control out of federal public lands issues, things of that nature, a lot of investment in R&D, et cetera. A lot – and I’m sure we’ll talk about – is a little bit infeasible just from the executive side of things. But that being said, I don’t see Elizabeth Warren as being much of an outlier.
MS. GAMBLE: Carlos, a lot of your policies were really reflective of a different kind of Republican – a climate-friendly, let’s say, Republican. How electable is that today in the current political environment?
MR. CURBELO: Well, Hadley, I think looking back at 2019 the two major developments in American politics with regards to climate specifically was, number one, that climate became a prominent national issue, and that all of the attention it received in 2019 guarantees that it will be a top issue in an American presidential election for the first time ever. So this is significant and people will have to be monitoring this closely. Which voters are saying that climate and the environment are top issues for them? What states are those voters in? That’s number one. And you could credit the Green New Deal for bringing a lot of attention to this debate.
The other major development that has flown a little bit under the radar, or perhaps a lot because there’s so much noise in political news these days, is the Republican evolution on climate. I got to a Congress in 2015. I quickly educated myself about the risks to South Florida, where I come from, with regard to sea level rise and climate change, and decided I needed to do something about it. Started trying to recruit fellow Republicans; out of 247 House Republicans, I found maybe four or five who were willing to say the words climate and change together – and even then in a whisper only, not out loud. So from that point to where we are today, where just a few weeks ago Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, said that Republicans will put together a package of bills to address climate change; the U.S. Senate, where Mike Braun from Indiana, a coal state, joined Chris Coons of Delaware to form the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus; the growth on the Republican side of the aisle has been extraordinary.
And I think people who are interested in climate policy, who want to influence climate policy, who analyze climate policy really have to start paying close attention to Republicans because we are going to have soon what we haven’t had for a long time in U.S. politics, which is a floor for a national climate policy. Democrats have been very good at setting a ceiling. Some of us on the Republican side would argue that they’ve blown through the ceiling set by the Obama administration. But we’ve never had a floor on climate policy. And Republicans are now stepping forward and will start setting that floor.
They’re compelled by two things. Number one, science. A lot of younger Republicans are getting to the Congress and they understand what’s happening in the world. And number two, politics. Republicans understand that in crucial swing states like Florida this is a top issue.
So a lot of the work that we do these days is trying to get climate policy ideas in front of Republicans because there’s a great demand for that. Republicans are scrambling to figure out what their response is going to be. So that’s, from my perspective, perhaps the most interesting and exciting development in American politics that very few people are talking about these days.
MS. GAMBLE: David?
MR. GOLDWYN: Yeah, I think it’s an evolution. I think it’s a little bit of a – of a silent evolution.
In terms of the Democratic floor, I mean, I guess I have to view the Trump administration as kind of digging into the basement because you’re talking about reversing appliance standards, lowering CAFE standards, not requiring disclosure of emissions, not changing NEPA in a way to sort of say let’s ignore cumulative emissions. So you have a lot that says: Let’s disclose less, let’s require less, let’s do less. You have kind of unregulated flaring in Texas. And the affirmative agenda doesn’t seem to be. And also, I mean, to be honest, you have a purge of the word “climate” in the science.
So the congressional opposition to the administration’s position, if it’s there, has been silent. And of course, Congress Review Act revocation or, you know, revision of a lot of these legislation was the first thing that the Republican Congress did. So I mean, I hear – I hear your orientation. I wish you were staying in Congress to help lead that – lead that charge. But I have to say, I’m not seeing it.
MR. CURBELO: Well, this is all true, but the point is that there’s a paradox. You have the administration. Of course, and everything you said about the Trump administration is accurate. But then at the same time, you have congressional Republicans working with Democrats on issues like carbon capture. You have the formation –
MS. GAMBLE: Wait, they work together? That’s news. Breaking news, they work together? (Laughter.)
MR. CURBELO: Exactly. And you have recording funding for environmental programs through the appropriations process. So, again, the Trump administration is clearly an outlier, but I think the more interesting point is that congressional Republicans, especially over the last year, not so much the first two years of the Trump administration, are clearly distancing themselves from the president. And I can tell you from personal experience, we started the House Climate Solutions Caucus back in 2016. And in 2017 and the beginning of ’18 a lot of Republicans joined that caucus purposefully to distance themselves from the president and to show that they were talking this issue more seriously.
MS. GAMBLE: Avi, weigh in here on terms of if we get four more years of President Trump. Talk to me about the rollbacks. What’s the danger, in your view?
MR. GARBOW: Well, so I get – the first thing I think about is timing of the rollbacks. So another four years is critical, I think, for these Trump rollbacks to have any durability whatsoever. The fact is, is that the majority of the administration’s energy in climate priorities are just now getting finalized. Litigation is now commencing on the rollbacks and replacement of the clean power plan. So it’s critical from the Trump administration’s standpoint that the Trump Justice Department, if you will, is in one year’s time the one defending these rules as they likely go up on appeal from the D.C. circuit.
And so I do think that there is a sense that four more years can bake in a lot of these standards for a period of time. That being said, suffice it to say there has been robust fundraising by environmental groups, NGOs, many of whom are extremely effective litigators. And so I think what you will continue to see is a litigation strategy by those not only in the NGO community but the attorneys general from half or more of the states likely to get involved in many of these rollbacks.
What that ends up doing, and I think that’s a problem in either scenario, is really creates a degree of uncertainty relative to a lot of these rules. Now if they can get them finalized and get the judicial review complete in the first year of their administration, then they’ve got, I think, a three-year kind of runway, if you will, to begin to implement and enforce these. If not, I think then we’re looking at another couple years of uncertainty in this space.
MR. STEELE: Yeah. I want to dovetail on Avi’s point, because I think it’s important to put in context a couple of things that are happening inside the administration, versus what’s happening outside the administration in the climate space. A lot of the rollbacks that you’re seeing across the government are because Obama’s name was attached to the original decision.
So this is not – please don’t walk away thinking, is this some grand policy view that the president in particular has, you know, developed over years of studying this issue – (laughter) – and has come to a different conclusion than his predecessor. No. It is the fact that Barack Obama’s name is on a regulation, on a piece of legislation, in a federal action by fill-in-the-blank department, and he wants to see all of that rolled back. There is a concerted effort to pretty much make that administration, those eight years, nonexistent in terms of policy. That is the honest underlying effort that’s ongoing. And it’s personal for the president. You have that.
The states know that. A lot of the federal players know that. So what’s interesting, from my perspective, is what I see happening out among the states. And I just want to read just a couple of headlines, so you get a sense of how this is – how this is being generated at the state level. Virginia prepares to join carbon market. North Carolina governor seeks 40 percent carbon cut. Colorado doubles down on clean cars. California issues sweeping plan to cut methane. New Jersey races toward 100 percent renewables.
There are a series of actions that are being taken by states, governors, Republicans, Democrats across the board because of the lack of federal action in this area, not just during this administration’s term but even going back because the Congress, for a lot of reasons that Carlos has laid out, you know, everybody’s kind of hushed tones. And some people deny the science. And they’re just whacked out on it. They don’t know how to approach it, right? States are engaged because states have to deal with these issues. They have to deal with the reality of what the science is telling them is happening to their states, their water, their air, their systems.
And so what I’m going to – what I’m looking forward to over the next 10 years is more effort at the state level to drive federal policy. The feds will be catching up to what the states are already beginning to do in some of these spaces. And when they do at some point they may align. But I think, at least in the short term, look for states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Florida, New York, California and others, Maryland, where we’ve got this beautiful estuary called the Chesapeake Bay that is profoundly important. And Governor Hogan just recently announcing new standards and new efforts, suing upstream states like New Jersey that are polluting downstream. You’re going to have this level of engagement at the state level because the feds just can’t move the needle at this point.
MR. GOLDWYN: Well, if I could just jump in. Just three points, Michael. I guess, first, just because the president has a personal vendetta doesn’t really excuse the rest of the Republican Party from taking a position on these issues.
MR. STEELE: Oh, it does to the extent that his base doesn’t want them to take a position. So that’s – understand what motivates these actors. These actors are not motivated by anything other than the pure idea of will this help me or hurt me from getting reelected? Will I have a primary or not? If the president comes out and says to this congressman that, you know, this whole nonsense about clean air or whatever, or whatever the environmental issue in your state, I’m not interested in, that congressman’s not going to go lead on that. He’s just not.
MR. GOLDWYN: Right. Well, I’m not saying everyone has to be profiles in courage, but I just think you can’t have it both ways. And so I think that’s the first thing. The second is, this is why the 2020 election is such a hinge election. Because not only the direction of federal policy, but what happens in the courts because what’s happening now is the administration is taking on the states. You’re absolutely right. Twenty-eight states have removable portfolio standards or removable energy standards. States are trying to do this. But the administration is going to war with California, saying: You can’t have higher fuel efficiency standards than the federal government does. It’s trying to restrict the ability of states like New York under the Clean Water Act to say, no, this isn’t what we want. So it’s great to have the states have the solution, but that – the administration so far isn’t stopping at saying let the states do what they want. They’re saying we are the ceiling, you’re not – you’re not the floor.
MR. STEELE: So we haven’t seen – we haven’t seen what the report said, clap back on the states and told them, no, you can’t – that standard is not an appropriate standard. So we don’t know yet what the courts are going to do because the courts have not ruled. So I’m not going to presume or assume what the courts – just because the president appointed federal judges, trust me on this, those federal judges aren’t necessarily hewing this hard, non-science approach to their jurisprudence. So I think we have to wait and see on that.
MR. GOLDWYN: It’s been – it’s been mixed, but the – whoever wins the next election will appoint a lot more federal judges. And I think the Supreme Court has already signaled that they want to do things like reverse the Chevron doctrine which, for the uninitiated, essentially says that – longstanding doctrine which says that the courts will give great deference to agencies to interpret their own statutes. And the cases that are percolating, and many of the justices – I think almost five of them on the Supreme Court – have questioned whether that’s legitimate. If Congress’s intent isn’t crystal clear, then you don’t have to defer to the agency’s judgement. That’s going to be a big restriction.
And this question about whether it’s ceiling or floor, you’re right. Right now, in the middle of the courts, you know, there – it’s very divided depending on who appointed the judges, to some extent. But it’s going to make its way to the Supreme Court. And if it makes its way this year, we might get one outcome. But if we have a couple more judges who are consistent with President Trump’s philosophy on climate, then I think it’s – the answer is going to be a lot clearer and it’s not going to be positive.
MS. GAMBLE: I want you guys all to walk us through briefly, is there danger in the myth of U.S. energy independence? Is there a danger there? The president’s obviously quite imaginative at times with his verbiage, but is there a problem with proclaiming something that is fundamentally not true, even though obviously the energy paradigm has shifted?
MR. GOLDWYN: I think there is. I mean, I think there’s a false confidence. I mean, energy independence, we’ve heard on the stage, you know, several times today, is a – you know, is a misnomer because oil is a globally traded commodity. The U.S. is not immune from price shocks. Disruptions anywhere, you know, have an impact everywhere. And nobody in the White House likes gasoline prices north of $4, no matter what your political stripe is. That’s a – that’s a big problem. And I think it gives us a false confidence that we don’t have to care about political stability in the Middle East, that we don’t have to care about policies that control demand, that we don’t have to care about the stability of a lot of these countries, and that we can be more fortress America. We can be more inward looking and isolationist.
And the reality is that if things blow up around the world, they will come back to bite us. And we’ve seen it – you know, whether it’s through prices or through terrorism, or through – you know, through transnational crime, you know, we are not immune from the rest of the world, especially being such an outward-looking nation. So I think, you know, there’s a little bit of false confidence and self-delusion that goes into that as it permeates into trade, and it permeates into foreign policy, I think it weakens our strategic position in the world.
MS. GAMBLE: Yeah.
MR. GARBOW: The only thing I would add to that, I think, is that when you talk about energy independence the way I hear it, is it is in a sense a kind of call for the status quo. When you talk about the country being energy independent and the kind of positive aspects of this, what I hear is we should not change. More of the same is needed to kind of perpetuate this myth. And I think, you know, that’s probably the argument that the Trump administration is going to put up against the Democratic nominee, with whatever shades of green is in that individual’s plan. It’s, hey, we’re energy independent. Look at the oil and gas industry. Look at the tremendous, you know, work that this administration has done in terms of expanding leases, expanding extraction on public lands, et cetera. That’s the argument I think they’re going to make. And they’re going to fall back on energy independence as one way of not looking for change.
MS. GAMBLE: Carlos.
MR. CURBELO: I do think it’s important to note that the growth in the American energy sector has been a good thing for our country and for the world. Had this happened 20 years ago, it probably would have been celebrated as a great national achievement. However, today we’re becoming aware – or, we’re fully aware of the cost of the mission. So the response to the strength of our energy industry has been somewhat tempered. But I think without question the world is better off by having a greater diversity in where and how energy is produced, especially in light of what we’ve seen happen in Venezuela over the last decade and the incidents of violence and instability here in the Middle East.
So I think the truth is probably somewhere in between. This myth or idea about energy independence is just that – a myth – to a great degree. But without question, I think if you look at where we were as a country in terms of national security and economically 10, 15, 20 years ago, the growth of our energy sector has certainly contributed and strengthened our position.
MS. GAMBLE: You want to weigh in on that?
MR. STEELE: No. I agree. (Laughter.)
MR. GOLDWYN: Hadley, if I could just respond to that? I don’t think there’s any dispute about that in terms of jobs, and income, self-sufficiency. It’s been tremendous. We’re not really talking about whether or not we should continue that kind of development. At least, not most of the Democratic Party. We’re talking about responsible development. And you know, sometimes the industry can’t help itself. It kind of fought, you know, frack fluid disclosure and it turned out, eh, it wasn’t so hard, and everybody wanted to know what was in their drinking water. Business went just fine. What are we talking about here in terms of the environmental agenda? We’re talking about whether or not you should calculate, estimate, and disclose what the impacts will be of what you do consistent with Congress’s legislation – the National Environmental Protection Act. Is it wise to count? Is it wise to estimate? Is it wise to address that?
Flaring in the Permian. This is a blackeye for the industry. This is not good for the oil and gas business. The fact that you can get away with it, you know, is – you know, is unfortunate. But if you want to sustain that business, we’re talking about responsible development. And so that’s why this polarization I think is really destructive for the economy and for the business. There is a rationale middle path, but we’re having a hard time getting both sides of the aisle to walk down that middle path, which has both development and environmental responsibility.
MS. GAMBLE: How tough does a stock market at all-time highs and an oil price that is, frankly, surviving the minimum volatility that we’ve seen as a result of geopolitical events – I mean, how hard is that? Because one would think if you’ve got a stock market at all-time high, that then one would be investing in alternatives at a much higher rate. But unfortunately, that’s seemingly having an almost adverse effect.
MR. STEELE: Yeah, no, that’s the exact point. And it’s – for a lot of people, to your point, David, about, you know, the – that balance of trying to walk our way through this, you know, a lot of – a lot of the concern that really started the American resistance, if you will – some Americans’ resistance – to this whole climate change and the bad science and all of that, was the cost, and people looking at a cost that no one could estimate nor particular calculate because it was the great unknown. We didn’t know exactly how some of these programs would play out, and some of the efforts to bring online renewable energy.
So you have – you have various narratives and storylines that have sort of taken hold in the psyche of the American people. That drives one part of this debate. Of course, the Congress then follows that. You know, they don’t want to get too far afield of their constituents. So they kind of stay in line, even though they’re getting reports from very smart people, like yourself, and Avi, and others who are in this – in this space and say: Here is what the science is saying. And this is what some of the costs are. So the question then becomes how do the markets sort of take all of that in? And I think what we’ve seen is they’re just kind of playing along, and – you know, and hope there’s no real big –
MS. GAMBLE: Well, I mean, and there’s a significant underinvestment in traditional energy.
MR. STEELE: Right, and so they’re – right. And so, again, they just move it along and say: Here’s the bare minimum we’re willing to risk at this point because those unknowns are still big variables for some folks.
MR. GOLDWYN: Actually, I think that’s a misreading of the market. The fact that the market is doing well isn’t 90 percent weighted because of oil and gas. The fact that, you know, crude – you know, oil is at – you know, gasoline is at $3 and gas is at $2 and change means we probably got a little bit of room to spend, you know, 10-15 cents on environmental protection. But we had a whole panel here today on ESG investing. And the reality is that private equity and other things are saying to companies: This is a risk. This is a risk to your business. We want it priced. We want real metrics. We want to know what’s going on here. And we are going to hold you to account.
So, I mean, the investment in the oil and gas sector, compared to other sectors in this booming economy, is not rising. It is not the favorite sector, driving all this growth. And that’s because it had unaddressed risks to some extent. Now, creating greater certainty would be great all around. But I think the market – I mean, we heard from today from – you know, from PIMCO and Warburg Pincus and, you know, we’ve heard it from a number of others, is that they cannot have a conversation with institutional investors about where they’re going to put that money without dealing with ESG risk. So I think the market is moving.
In the end, I think that’s what’s going to – that is what’s going to move climate policy. I think – my own personal view, it’s going to be trade policy that’s going to drive it in the rest of the economy. But the reality is, is that – you know, between the insurers and the institutional investors, they are going to require more environmental responsibility of companies than anything the federal government or state governments can do.
MS. GAMBLE: Which, frankly, is what his excellency the energy minister was saying to me, onstage and offstage, is his greatest concern. It’s not the geopolitics. It’s the fact that you can’t really price in and estimate what we’re going to see from shale producers in terms of their production.
MR. CURBELO: And, Hadley, since we’re at the intersection of oil or gasoline and politics right now, I think it’s important to note that Americans – and you know this from your work in journalism – Americans are highly sensitive to gasoline prices. So when we filed a carbon pricing legislation in 2018, the first thing we did was decide that we would price carbon, but that we would repeal the gasoline tax. Why? Because I don’t care how many times they tell you, most members of Congress are not going to vote to drastically raise prices at the pump. It is just too much of a sensitive issue in our country. Your cousins at NBC News will lead the nightly news if there’s a drastic change at the pump every single time. So as we think about this, and as the United States weighs a national climate policy the way it did 10 years ago, I think this issue of the gas pump is somewhere where environmentalists, where the left is going to have to be willing to make some major concessions so that we can get gains in other parts of the economy.
MR. GOLDWYN: You know, to Carlos’ point, I just helped complete a National Petroleum Council study in the future of energy infrastructure. And the National Petroleum Council is made up, you know, 60 percent of oil and gas companies. The core recommendation of this study was that the United States, that Congress, should address both a national climate policy and reform of NEPA together. And it was that – and the directed it at the Congress, not the administration, because that’s where the action needs to be, and because it needs to be predictable and sustainable. But it was the first recognition by oil and gas companies, the National Petroleum Council, that they are not going – this problem is not going away. That you have to give people a place to go. And that you have to have a national climate policy and NEPA reform. We just saw NEPA reform come out the other day. So when will we see the National Climate Policy?
MR. CURBELO: I think it’s coming. The next two to three years.
MS. GAMBLE: When we talk about what happens next, Avi, specifically to you, walk me through your outlook in the sense of we’re talking about who’s actually electable from the Democratic Party in terms of their plans? You were saying just a few minutes ago that you feel like all of the plans – they’re not that much of a – not great disparities between them. In terms of that electability, as Michael was saying and Carlos brought up, words like “clean coal” and “climate change” together are very difficult for many Americans, as you know, to swallow, and to understand, and to wrap their heads around. How important are events like what we’re seeing happening in Australia, the optics, to this conversation – Greta? How much of the – this is going to hinge around the ability of Democratic candidates to latch in or tap into that kind of fervor?
MR. GARBOW: So I’ve spent about 30 years in the environmental law and policy realm. And for about 29 to almost 30 of those years, I would have said that the environment, notwithstanding my own fervor for environmental protection, has failed time and time again to show up as a real voting issue. I just don’t know think that no matter – you know, what’s gone on, it I don’t think has every pushed anybody to the polls and made them vote for one candidate or the other.
I actually think things are different now. We talked about – last night there was an off-the-record discussion on the Greta effect. There are all sorts of youth-led movements around the world focusing on climate. We’re now seeing more and more natural disasters. You talk about the Australian bush fires, brush fires as some of them. But more so than the youth, you’re now seeing financial institutions, BlackRock, Goldman, Vanguard, et cetera, who are weighing in on an environmental issue, that being climate, in ways that I’ve not seen them do before.
So I actually think for the very first time – and I think one of my colleagues here said it in the opening remarks – that climate in this upcoming election is going to take a high perch in the ways that no other environmental issue has had in an election, at least in the U.S. to date. And I – and I think it’s extraordinarily meaningful. I think people are not as afraid to speak their mind on climate change. I think, you know, the science is kind of being proven now in the pockets of every American. You know, we talk about taxes. Every one of us is paying a climate tax on a daily basis, given what’s going on around this world and the way that, certainly, our government funds expenditures with natural disasters. So I actually think that climate and energy issues are going to play a significant role in the upcoming election, no matter who the candidate is.
MS. GAMBLE: Well, it’s an incredible investment opportunity. There’s no doubt about that. If you’re looking at the markets and wishing to make some money out of things at the moment, that’s something we’ve covered and something that’s just an obvious answer. But also, the fear factor. The fear factor about what’s happening on climate change, and the visuals, and the optics. I mean, it almost sounds, to me, as if this is really a Republican’s issue, no?
MR. STEELE: Yes.
MS. GAMBLE: Yes. (Laughs.)
MR. STEELE: (Laughs.) Yeah. So Carlos, you were about to say – I’ll let you go first, because I saw you –
MR. CURBELO: Well, I just wanted to make a point that’s important. And this may not be obvious to a business-heavy, science-heavy, perhaps academia-heavy audience. But I don’t think the 2020 election will be decided based on policy. And I don’t think that scaring people to the polls is the best Democratic strategy. So when there’s an incumbent running for reelection, or when a party has been in power for eight years and there’s someone else of that party running, the challenging party always has to make a compelling case for change. With the economy doing so well, that really limits the options of Democrats. When the economy is struggling, you can say: Well, we’re going to change this and that so that people can become more prosperous and we can be better off. That’s probably not going to be on the table this year.
However, think back at what George W. Bush did in 2000. He was running against Al Gore, who was perceived to be an extension of Bill Clinton – a popular Bill Clinton, despite impeachment. George Bush didn’t win because of the policies he proposed. He won based on the statement or the idea that he was going to restore dignity and decency to the Oval Office. That was his compelling case for change. So I think as Democrats think about 2020, sure, policy’s important, and you definitely have to have your agenda out there. That’s a basic credibility test that every candidate has to pass. But I think tone, demeanor, attitude is going to be where this election is either won or lost for Democrats. And I tell a lot of my Democratic friends, in my view Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren don’t really represent change, and they can’t make that compelling case for change, because they’re loud, they’re angry, they’re scapegoating. Which, guess what? Is exactly what the president does every day, and did in 2016, to get elected. So policy’s important. But I think the intangibles are going to be far more important in 2020.
MR. GOLDWYN: Sorry, I can’t let that stand. (Laughter.) I think that is – there is a difference between being passionate or even shrill or being harsh and being insulting and demeaning. You remember what the president said about Mexicans. Remember what he said about Megyn Kelly. So you don’t have a Democratic candidate who is in that class at all.
But I think you’re right, the Bush playbook, which is restoration of decency, that’s going to be a huge factor. And that’s why I like our chances in 2020, frankly, no matter who the Democratic candidate is. And I think you’re also right, though, that this election’s going to be contested on health care and immigration, because the economy is doing well, but it’s not doing well for everyone. And it’s in the people in the Rust Belt in particular for whom it is not doing particularly well. They’re waiting to hear whether anybody is going to address their problems, not the stock market is good, because they don’t really have a big market portfolio which is carrying them and paying them dividends every week.
So I think that’s where it is. But – just to make a third point, on climate. I think what you see on TV does make a difference, not necessarily for every constituency. But try talking to a voter under 30, Republican or Democratic, who doesn’t think that if you’re not dealing with climate you’re out of touch. And I think you see the polling. And you’re right, for the general electorate climate is still probably number seven on the list of issues. You look at under 30, it’s probably still third, but it’s not just Democrats. It’s Republicans under 30 as well.
MS. GAMBLE: Walk me though that, Michael, because jobs numbers – I mean, we’ve got the best job numbers in the United States since the Beatles released Abbey Road. I mean, that’s a huge impact, right?
MR. STEELE: It is a big – a big impact. And in certain states, you’re looking at employment levels where, you know, they just can’t find anybody to fill the jobs that they have. So on the jobs front, it has been – it’s been very good for a lot of folks. But here’s the rub to what you’re saying, I love this reference to the under 30. God bless them. Let me tell you what the reality is with the under 30s. They don’t vote. They don’t vote. 2018, right, all this – you’ve had two years of Trump. They didn’t vote. Their numbers did not – they barely moved the needle in the 2018 cycle. So the question becomes for Democrats is how do you then get that vote, animate it, activate it, and then to the polls? You can get them animated. You can get them activated. But the fact of the matter is their turnout numbers have not been represented by what you see at rallies, and in talking points, and that kind of energy.
So that’s going to be a big test. You still have among the voting population over 50. That’s going to be your core constituency to get to the polls. These issues that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, for example, are putting out there are not going to be drivers for those voters. They just aren’t. And so that becomes the next challenge, to Carlos’ point, is how do you aspirationally move your voters, because that’s what – that’s what most – that’s what winning presidential candidates do, you know? They’re not going to win on the big idea; they’re going to win on the passion about the big idea. And they’re going to win in a way that gets voters excited about electing them. Look at 2016 and understand how 2018 will play out. Look at – I mean, 2020. Look at 2018 and understand what the Democrats did there with those women voters, those center-left women.
Now, keep in mind, you know, a lot of Democrats are out there talking – we’ll get to you, sir; I don’t want your poor hand up in the air. We’ll get to you. The thing to keep in mind about 2018 was that Democrats did not run on climate. Democrats didn’t run on pretty much anything that you’re talking about right now. What was the driver in 2018? Healthcare. And how did they win on healthcare? They personalized it, all right? It wasn’t a policy. They personalized it. And they did it in a very effective way: They’re going to take away your healthcare, they’re going to take away the idea of being able to get the kind of healthcare and access to healthcare you want.
So how the Democrats set their narrative going forward is going to be a challenge for them because a Bernie approach and a Biden approach around policy are going to be very, very different. A Bernie – maybe, I take that back. They’d be similar. But a Bernie approach and a Biden approach on the aspirational aspects of this will be very different. Biden is not running to be the future of the Democratic Party, right? Bernie is, because he’s moving the party into a space that it doesn’t currently necessarily occupy, right? And so he and Ocasio-Cortez and others are pushing an agenda to move the Democrats, very much as what I saw as national chairman with this little group called the Tea Party who came into the GOP to push an agenda and move the party in a certain direction.
MR. GOLDWYN: What happened to that agenda? That was about fiscal responsibility, wasn’t it?
MR. STEELE: Yeah, well, but the Tea Party changed. The Tea Party of 2009 to 2012 is very different from the Tea Party of 2012 to 2016.
MS. GAMBLE: It also brought us Sarah Palin.
MR. STEELE: Yeah. Well, but that notwithstanding, my point is the politics are very different with those. They’re two very separate groups. The energy changed. The emphasis changed. They moved away from constitutionalism and what that was into something that you see now that is more anger-based, more frustration. That’s –
MS. GAMBLE: Speaking of anger-based –
MR. STEELE: That’s what – that’s what Trump tapped into.
MS. GAMBLE: – the Green New Deal, is that viable?
MR. GOLDWYN: Sorry, is it viable? The Green New Deal, as – the Green New Deal has been a very powerful political statement, and to some extent I think can be very helpful to the energy industry because it says you’re going to deal with climate. You can’t take all the emissions out of the power sector. This needs to be economywide. There’s a role for agriculture. There’s a role for transportation. There’s a role across the board. So it has definitely transformed the debate.
The idea that we’re going to get a trillion dollars to do manufacturing and other kind of transformation, not unless you get both houses of Congress. So I think the – just to plug the little report, the Atlantic Council has a report on what’s at stake for the election 2020 that’s outside. And I think the conclusion of that really is that if you don’t have all three houses that range of action is very limited.
So as an aspirational idea – and the Green New Deal is not, you know, a piece of legislation which is very specific – it’s been transformational. You know, the interpretations of a massive, you know, economywide program, you know, it’s probably not going to happen. But pieces of the Green New Deal – just transition for coal workers who are losing their jobs no matter what – that stays. The idea that you ought to deal economywide, that stays. The idea that you ought to be able to invest in new technologies and in innovation, that stays also. And I don’t think those are just Democratic issues.
MR. STEELE: I would submit that if you tag anything with Green New Deal, I don’t care if you have a Democratic House, Senate, and the White House; it will not pass. It will not get out of – get out of a chamber and the president likely won’t sign whatever shows up because, like Obamacare, that now has a taste in the mouth of voters. And you – we still see polls to this day where people tell you they do not like Obamacare and they don’t want Obamacare, but I love the ACA – which is the exact same thing.
MR. GOLDWYN: But that’s how it happens in Congress. There’s never one bill. You’ve got a lot of committees. It gets broken up into pieces.
MR. STEELE: Right, but I – my point is you get around Ocasio-Cortez, who’s already going after her fellow Democrats who don’t support her Green New Deal – she’s looking to primary them – you know, Ocasio-Cortez and Jim Jordan, two sides of the same coin, right? If you – if you allow her to set your tone in your debate, you can just hang that up. Because I don’t care if you have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate and House; nothing is going to get passed because no one’s going to touch it.
MR. GOLDWYN: She’s not running for president, so.
MR. STEELE: Well, she’s not running for president, but with 4.2 million followers and growing she’s making a noise, she’s making a difference, she’s having an impact, and she’s driving the debate inside the Democratic Party right now.
MS. GAMBLE: Before we let you guys go, oh, you all just stand up and do some fist fighting, which I found cute. (Laughter.) I want to go down the line quickly because we only have a few minutes left, and give us just a couple of minutes of your thoughts of what is it actually at stake in this election for climate reform, for the judicial? We’re talking about what’s actually at stake here, because I think that without getting an idea of that we can get lost in the noise. Carlos?
MR. CURBELO: So I think we’re moving inexorably towards a national climate policy. And sincerely, that will happen regardless of who wins the next election. Obviously, if Democrats win the next election that timeline will speed up and there will be a negotiation in Congress. But remember, if we’re going to have meaningful, durable climate policy in the United States, it must be bipartisan – not just because of the numbers in Congress and because you need probably 60 votes in the Senate, but because politically there will be pain if we adopt a serious national climate policy. There will be drastic changes in the economy, and neither party is going to want to face the consequences of that on their own. They’re going to have to do this together the way they would fix Medicare or Social Security, which they’re going to have to do together in the coming years as well.
So I don’t think the trends are reversible. I think every actor in American politics, with the exception of the president, is moving towards a national climate policy, taking this issue seriously. That is going to only grow after the 2020 election passes with this issue becoming extremely prominent and with pretty much every candidate running for national office having to take a serious position on it. So for those of who believe that the world and that our country need a policy to address this serious issue, I think it’s a time of great optimism, although of course patience is required as always when thinking about American politics.
MS. GAMBLE: Avi?
MR. GARBOW: So I disagree with a lot of what Carlos just said there. First of all, I think that the stakes are extraordinarily high in this election when it comes to the issue of climate change and related energy issues. And I do not see any hope or sign whatsoever that if there is another four years of an emboldened Trump presidency that we’re actually going to see Republicans step out from out of the shadows and begin to actually vote and make a difference when it comes to climate change.
I think that you are going to see the president do as he said he would, which is to continue his deregulatory push. No doubt there will be some regs still standing with the Obama signature on them, if you will, that this – a second administration is going to look to tear down. I don’t see any change when it comes to staffing Cabinet secretaries with lobbyists, primarily for the industries that they’re purporting to represent.
So I think the stakes are extraordinarily high. If we have another Trump administration, my fear is that we will see four years of failed leadership, if not lack thereof when it comes to climate change both domestically and internationally. I actually think that there is at least hope if there’s a Democrat for some climate action. I’m sober enough and realistic enough to know that much of the Green New Deal and much of the proposals out there depend in large part on the composition of the Senate and the House, of course, and not everything’s going to get done. But in my view, and certainly in my projections, the difference between four more years of Trump and any of the top-tier Democratic candidates when it comes to climate is significant.
MS. GAMBLE: David?
MR. GOLDWYN: I think the future of U.S. engagement on climate is at stake in the 2020 election, which direction the federal government goes. I think the future of trade policy, whether we engage in a multilateral system and get back to trading rather than just tariff wars, is at stake. I think the future on foreign policy, whether we return to having a grand strategy for the United States rather than a transactional approach. Are we going to engage in the Middle East, are we going to – are we going to have a serious issue for how we’re going to coexist with China in the world and promote innovation I think is at stake. And I think in terms of energy policy, I think the ability of us to sustain the tremendous benefit that we have had in oil and gas production in the United States is at risk if we do not have a rational climate policy to deal with the emissions that is produced by that production.
And so, you know, win or lose – if Democrats win I think we will engage on those issues. If we lose, the states, the equity funds, the insurers, consumers are going to engage on that issue, then it’s not going to be easier to deal with. So I think all of that’s at stake.
And you know, and not to overdramatize it, but you know, for some of the impunity that we have seen, you know, I think some of the integrity and institutions of – you know, of our democracy are at stake also. It’s a hinge election. It’s a big election and it’s pretty much all on the table.
MR. STEELE: I would agree with everything that you’ve just heard. I think all of it’s right. And it’s right in many cases at the same time and it’s right in other times in degrees. And that’s why, you know, I wanted to put on the table and get in front of you as you’re looking at the environmental policy as an idea, look at what states are doing, look at how other actors outside of the federal government are beginning to play in this -in this space and drive some of the narratives to try to reach some outcomes.
You know, in large measure a lot of the big policies that we’ve had to confront in our – in our country, from civil rights to healthcare, have come from the actions driven by individuals, the actions driven by specific communities, the actions driven by certain industries to sort of push along a Congress that had become more sort of locked in its own particular battles. So I’m looking to see over the next two, four, six years how the states move with whomever is sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, whoever controls the House or the Senate. I think that they’re going to have to respond to what we see happening.
I know governors right now, as you do as well, who’ve said, look, we’re going to – you know, the U.S. wants to take itself out of the – out of the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, fine; we’re going to engage directly with those foreign partners, those international partners, and have them work one on one in our states. You’re going to see a lot more of that. And for me that’s a good thing. That’s really healthy. I mean, we’re – we are – you know, a lot of people kind of get confused about what the United States is. We are federalists. We are individual states that under our Constitution are empowered to act individually, as well as act collectively.
And so I think you’re going to see a lot more individual action in some of these areas that I think will actually portend very well for moving this particular agenda, educating their population – which is, you know, paramount right now. We have – a lot of ignorance exists out there in the public about what is and what isn’t true when it comes to environmental policy, climate change, et cetera. And I think where I’m looking to see governors, state legislatures sort of lead in that front is to first start educating the population as to why this particular policy is good for our state, all right? So you personalize it, right? You now have a stake in it. It matters, right? And then you can move forward to putting in place the steps you need to address a lot of the things these gentlemen have talked about.
MS. GAMBLE: So no more fake news.
MR. STEELE: No more fake news, right.
MS. GAMBLE: Gentlemen, I’m afraid – (laughs) – I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much. (Applause.)