2019 is already shaping up as a tumultuous one in Washington, D.C., with divided government, a government shutdown and 2020 presidential campaigns already taking shape. And when it comes to energy and climate policy, there’s a lot of uncertainty, too, including what to make of calls for a Green New Deal.

In this edition of the Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless sits down with two of the most prominent energy and climate reporters in Washington: Steve Mufson of The Washington Post and Amy Harder of Axios. 

Steve has worked at The Post since 1989, covering the White House, China, economic policy and diplomacy, as well as energy. Earlier, he spent six years at the Wall Street Journal in New York, London and Johannesburg. Amy has been with Axios for two years, with her column, Harder Line, a regular feature of the news service. Previously, she worked for the Wall Street Journal and the National Journal. Amy is also the Inaugural Journalism Fellow at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.

Bill, Steve and Amy discussed what lies in store for energy and climate policy and regulation in Washington in 2019, with Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives and making climate change a priority for action this year. They also delved into the emergence of the Green New Deal among Democrats and how that concept may complement mainstream policy objectives of the party or conflict with them. 

Among other topics, they explore legislation aimed at OPEC’s role in oil markets and bills meant to promote carbon-capture and nuclear technologies, as well as whether lawmakers or the Trump administration will take steps to temper the impact on fuel prices of new shipping emissions regulations in 2020.

There’s talk of regulation, too, and what tops the agendas at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Finally, Bill takes a few moments to talk about the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative, a program at the Center on Global Energy Policy that helps energy journalists deepen their understanding of complex issues like markets, policy, science and geopolitics. And while at it, he asks Steve and Amy for their advice for budding energy journalists.

view the transcript 

Bill Loveless: Hi. This is Bill Loveless with the Columbia Energy Exchange. Before we get to today’s show, I want to take a minute to highlight an important program for energy journalists. And that’s the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative. Each June, the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University brings 20 energy journalists to New York, to help them deepen their understanding of disciplines key to reporting effectively on energy. Like markings, policy, science and geopolitics. The presentations are by leading experts from academia, government and business and travel and lodging expenses are covered, thanks to generous support from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation and others. But the deadline for application is coming up on February 3rd. So, if you’re an energy journalist or know someone who is, take a look at the Energy Journalism Initiative online at the center’s website, energypolicy.columbia.edu. Now, on to today’s show. The year 2019 is already shaping up as a tumultuous one in Washington. With divided government, a government shut down and 2020 presidential campaigns already taking shape. And when it comes to energy and climate policy, there is a lot of uncertainty too including what to make of calls for a green new deal. Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless. Our guest today are two of the most prominent energy and climate reporters in Washington. Steve Mufson of the Washington Post and Amy Harder of Axios. For anyone following these topics in Washington, these bylines are very familiar and have been for years. Steve has worked at the Post since 1989 and over that time has covered the White House, China, economic policy and diplomacy as well as energy. Earlier, he spent six years at the Wall Street Journal in New York, London and Johannesburg. Amy has been with Axios for two years now. With her column, the Harder Line, a regular feature of the news service. Previously, she worked for the Wall Street Journal and the National Journal. Amy is also the inaugural Journalism fellow at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. As I do each January, I enjoy sitting down with two of my colleagues to sort out how the new year might shape up when it comes to energy and climate policy including the green new deal which is the talk of the town these days. Well, here is our conversation. I hope, you enjoy it. Steve Mufson, Amy Harder, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:02:42]

Steve Mufson: Good to be here.

 

[00:02:43]

Amy Harder: Thanks for having me.

 

[00:02:44]

Bill Loveless: Well, the year has gotten off to quite a start with the stalemate between the White House and Democrats over a wall between the United States and Mexico. A column in Washington Post by _____ [00:02:56] summed it up by saying, the shut down is an introduction to a year of toxic politics. Steve, what does that mean for energy and environmental issues in Washington?

 

[00:03:07]

Steve Mufson: Well, I think one of the most important things it means is that there probably be very little progress in the climate front. And we have more and more reports coming out all the time that make the climate situation seem more and more dire. So, delaying a year, two years, four years is I think just gonna make it harder and harder to hit some of the international targets on climate change.

 

[00:03:31]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, yeah, it does seem to be. It seems like we’re really stuck in this sort of political environment, right now, Amy.

 

[00:03:37]

Amy Harder: But I do think that there has been a change in the last couple of years somewhat propelled by president Trump and his sort of dismissal of climate change as an issue. Climate change is becoming a bigger political issue both among Democrats in particular with them controlling the house now. They’re recreating another special committee on climate change and there is big debates about policy there. And then even in among Republicans, you’re seeing early signs and I think it’s still somewhat subtle but there is this tectonic plates shifting and so while I agree with Steve that, I don’t think there is gonna be any legislation passing the finish line. I think there is a lot more talk about that and I do think depending on how the 2020 presidential election goes, it’s something climate change could be an issue that actually moves post 2020.

 

[00:04:27]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, I think you wrote just recently in Axios where you see it more as a narrative that’s taking place right now rather than the development of specific legislation.

 

[00:04:38]

Amy Harder: Right and I think the narrative is important because that means the politics and I think, you know, it’s been almost a decade now with very little substantive conversation about climate change. And I think that’s starting to change. I think oftentimes whenever there is a conflict and controversy like President Trump has made climate change, you’re seeing an equal and opposite reaction which is more attention and focus. And I think kind of like when gun sales go up under Obama, environmental focus is going up under President Trump.

 

[00:05:07]

Bill Loveless: Well, you know, there was a large group of economists, I guess the who is who is economists signed an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that it called for a carbon price and a dividend. I read this morning where one of those who signed it _____ [00:05:28] former chair of the federal reserve called it the tipping point for the climate debate here in Washington. Is it that big of a deal Steve?

 

[00:05:37]

Steve Mufson: Well, you know, I think not entirely. Because it’s a big deal for economists, it’s another thing to make a big deal for voters and for politicians. We just saw that in the state of Washington, they tried to get a $15 a ton carbon tax, they call it the carbon fee imposed on their companies and that went down to a pretty handy defeat. So, and $15 is very modest, you know, to really have a huge impact, we should be talking about $50, a $100, _____ [00:06:17] $250. Even some of these groups that are calling for cap and dividend like the one led by former treasury secretary Jim Baker and former secretary of state George Shultz, they are only calling for a $40 a ton carbon tax. So, that would be a big step from where we are now but even that might not be enough to hit the international climate targets. And those targets, you know are fairly arbitrary. These two degree Celsius target that we’ve talk so much about in recent years, that’s just a target that people thought was doable. And now even that doesn’t, on the one hand that seems less doable and on the other hand, international climate scientists are telling us really, we should be trying for one and a half degree Celsius target. So, carbon tax gonna need to be big to have the impact we need and it’s just gonna be hard to get that through congress. And for that matter, you know, we are just one part of the whole global picture. You know, to really have the impact, we need that sort of tax imposed globally.

 

[00:07:25]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. And it seems like, you know, the carbon tax, carbon price, economists love to talk about it but not so politicians and with the change in control of the house of representatives, democrats now leading that chamber, the talk has been much more about this new thing, the green new deal and there seems to be tremendous energy behind it particularly among young progressives like Alexander _____ [00:07:55] of New York. How is this, what do you make of this, Amy?

 

[00:08:00]

Amy Harder: Well, I think, it’s a sign once again of interest in this issue. I think the green new deal is a really punchy slogan. That’s mostly what it is now. It’s representing sort of a catch all set of really progressive policies. There is no legislation that exists on this at all and you can trust that with the carbon tax. It’s actually a couple of bills floating around at least for last congress that did actually layout in legislative terms a carbon tax policy. But the green new deal is getting a lot of attention because of this backlash against president Trump, because the progressives are latching on to it. The only substantive policy that can even be extracted from it right now is this goal to get a 100% renewable electricity. But they don’t say how and they don’t say when. And then in addition to that, they have a whole fleet of progressive causes for example, they say, there should be a jobs guarantee for those in the transition as they call it. That there should be universal healthcare. Even though healthcare doesn’t have a direct connection to climate change. In the progressive community, climate change really encompasses it all. And so, I foresee going back to initial point, I think the green new deal is going to rally progressives for the presidential election but it’s not going to ever cross the finish line. I think it’s just too progressive, too left to pass congress.

 

[00:09:24]

Steve Mufson: Right. Well, I think, I think the green new deal is interesting for one reason. For a couple of reasons. One is that it’s actually not new. Although, you know the new congress from New York, probably not old enough to remember but it was only 10 or 12 years ago that Van Jones and his early incarnation as a community activist a book about green jobs and the need to have basically a green new deal. So, that’s sort of interesting. It’s a reincarnation in a way among people who weren’t even aware of the early incarnation. And the other thing about the green new deal, I think is worth noting is that it’s always easier to give money away. You know, this carbon tax is, it’s even though, you know, you can refund revenues from a carbon tax and call it a dividend or whatever. It’s hard for people to understand that when they are losing, you know on one front. Whereas the green new deal is just a straight away giveaway. And that can be good or bad depending on how you go about it.

 

[00:10:30]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, it seems to have some popular appeal, at least according to some polls.

 

[00:10:33]

Amy Harder: Well that poll didn’t talk about all the other progressive policies that are allegedly in this deal. So, I describe it as a popular but vague policy. So, I take that poll, I think, it was at least one poll done by Yale, I think. I take that with a lot of grains of salt.

 

[00:10:53]

Steve Mufson: And the other thing is, you know, whether the green new deal becomes a kind of litmus test or loyalty test for all the presidential candidates, I think that could be quite negative thing because it marginalizes the people who are in favor of the carbon tax and it’s possible that we might need all of these tools together or some, you know, combination of these tools and you know, I worry that there might not be room for that kind of moving around especially as they try to get every presidential candidate to vow loyalty to this thing.

 

[00:10:53]

Bill Loveless: Right. Well, I mean, how does speaker_____ [00:11:34] navigate this? She has created the special committee on the climate crisis. It reminds me of the committee that was set up by democrats back in 2009 headed by _____ [00:11:45] when he was in the house. It’s still, that committee won’t have the legislative clout that the traditional committees will have. There seems to be tensions between those traditional committees and this new one. How does this all play out?

 

[00:12:03]

Amy Harder: I think, we already think the tensions and I think that will only play out even more the chairman of the energy and commerce committee Frank _____ [00:12:13] has created, renamed a subcommittee that the energy and climate change subcommittee and so you’re going to see sort of competing hearings and among democrats. And, you know, I don’t know to what extent this infighting will really hamper efforts but I think it’s a sign that the democratic party much like the republican party is not monolithic and you’re seeing some more of the center’s democrats which _____ [00:12:38] would probably fit in, given the emergence of people like _____ [00:12:43] who are more left. But I think the other day, _____ [00:12:47] said, she mentioned the cap and trade bill from a decade ago which of course is, you know the trading mechanism of carbon credits to bring down emissions which passed to the house but failed in the senate. She mentioned that bill and then she said in the next breath, we are going to bring that back. Which prompted some people to think, oh, we are going back to cap and trade. I don’t think that’s what she meant. I think she meant, they are gonna come back to some sort of climate legislation. But to Steve’s point, the green new deal is not new. These carbon tax and dividend proposals are not new. We’ve seen several of those not in the last few years but a decade ago introduced by people like senator then representative Marquee, senator Susan Colin, republican from Maine. So, none of these are really new ideas. What’s changed is the overall political atmosphere and I’m looking to see if the political atmosphere and other things like the oil industry sort of shifting their position on climate change. If all of those things can make these old ideas new again and possible.

 

[00:13:51]

Bill Loveless: You’re right. I saw an article the other day comparing, recalling the $90 billion spent by the Obama administration as part of the economic stimulus and that was pointed to as an example of here was a sort of green new deal, a lot of money. I mean $90 billion dollars is a lot of money and it did jump start a lot of renewable energy. Perhaps that’s, maybe they learned from that experience.

 

[00:14:16]

Steve Mufson: Well, definitely, I mean, we refer to that stimulus bill as the largest, you know, energy initiative in the history of the country.

 

[00:14:24]

Bill Loveless: That was in the Post, I think.

 

[00:14:26]

Steve Mufson: Multiple of the departments annual budget prior to that time. So, and then in a way it was similar to a green new deal in the sense that it gave away money. Of course, that’s what the economy needed at that time is to give away money in a lot of different ways. Now, we’re looking at a huge budget deficit and I think just from a fiscal point of view, that makes this kind of spending plan or a big environmental energy spending plan might make it a little less likely. That said, there are people, you know, up in the hill, lobbying for their favorite energy program already.

 

[00:15:09]

Bill Loveless: Right. It’s right thing to learn from that previous experience in terms of how the committees were set up, you know, that special marquee committee and the jurisdictional committees. I remember there were tensions back then. But the house ended up coming up with a bill Waxman and Marquee.Waxmanwas from the energy and commerce commit, Marquee chairman of the special committee did come up with a bill. It did pass the house. There was Amy says, reminds us it didn’t pass the senate. So I don’t know, I mean, from a legislative experience, is there something there that people can look back and take.

 

[00:15:40]

Amy Harder: Yeah, I would say there is two things. One, there is sort of two schools of thought when it comes to legislating in Washington. You can start from sort of edges of the political parties and then sort of compromise toward the end which is what I would argue was the cap and trade approach with democrats controlling all three branches, you know senate and the White House. They didn’t really need to compromise with republicans all that much. And then the other school of thought is that you start from a compromising position where you get both republicans and democrats and oil companies and environmental groups and you had some of that with the cap and trade bill but for a lot of reasons, it didn’t get over the finish line which we don’t need to rehash here. But I think one lesson is there is this assumption that if democrats win the White House in 2020 that they’ll get climate policy through and I tend to think while, you guys tried that, a decade ago and you couldn’t get it pass the finish line. So, this other school of thought, a lot of people are saying which has oil industry support, has the republicans and I think that position, that policy might have a better chance of getting across the finish line even though, it’s not sort of the sexy political idea of the day.

 

[00:16:57]

Bill Loveless: Yeah.

 

[00:16:58]

Steve Mufson: I mean, I don’t know how sexy cap and trade was by the end.

 

[00:17:02]

Amy Harder: I think, new deal.

 

[00:17:05]

Steve Mufson: So much compromise and you know, special provisions were made in that bill to make it something that I think we really don’t want to go back to. I mean, it was an amazing piece of legislation in the sense that, it got through the house and I think that’s a real tribute to _____ [00:17:29] ability to get legislation passed. But I don’t think anyone really wants to go back to that. I think, I would guess that a new bill would be something simpler although, I should caution that, you know, back then, everyone talked about carbon tax like that something clean, it’s simple. But I think the experience in the state of Washington shows that a carbon tax bill could become just as much of a legislative Christmas tree as a cap and trade bill because in that instance, there were a lot of special provisions made to try to bring unions and people of color and you know, even some business interests together behind that and even then it didn’t pass.

 

[00:18:13]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, and I think back that time when the bill got to the senate, there were talks underway then among Lindsey Graham, republican from South Carolina and John Kerry, Democrat Massachusetts to try to find some compromise on legislation, you know, perhaps do something on climate but also do something to promote some oil development as well and of course things collapsed with any number of reason. For one thing, we had the BP spill in the gulf of Mexico in April 2010. And that never really went anywhere. But I’m also reminded me of a colleague of mine at the center on global energy policy _____ [00:18:54] who has been promoting the idea of a carbon tax, a carbon price who warns that democrats should avoid setting up a circular firing squad for themselves over differences between carbon tax, carbon price, green deal and these sorts of things probably.

 

[00:19:13]

Amy Harder: Right, I think you asked earlier about whether or not the support from economist for a carbon tax and a dividend is a turning point. I agree with Steve that it’s not. It’s an important step but it’s not a turning point. What I would consider more of a turning point although, it didn’t get that much attention because again, it’s not being tweeted by _____ [00:19:34] for example. But last year, Exxon Mobil put in $1 million to fund the carbon tax effort. And on the one hand, $1 million is not that much. It’s about 4% of their annual lobbying figures which is for one bill that hasn’t even made traction. I don’t think it’s nothing. But the fact that Exxon is out there, pushing for a live policy when a decade ago, when cap and trade was the preferred policy, they came out and said, we don’t want cap and trade. We want a carbon tax. So, even though, some people, you know, the oil company should be the enemy. I tend to think that the past shows that you can’t get a climate policy without big oil companies on board. The Washington state fee failed because oil companies didn’t like it and they buried it in $30 million. So I think the fact that Exxon has funded it,_____ [00:20:27] just came out with $2 million and I think that’s eventually going to be sort of, that was the turning point and I think, you’re seeing more of that and again, I don’t see action on that in a presidential election cycle but I think maybe after that.

 

[00:20:44]

Steve Mufson: Right, I think that things have changed somewhat you know, since the cap and trade effort and one important thing, it’s not just an opinion among oil companies but other companies which basely are assuming that there is gonna be some sort of price on carbon at some point and a lot of companies are making plans to cope with that.

 

[00:21:07]

Bill Loveless: Right. They’ve been talking a lot about where they may, how difficult it is to figure how some of these positions align at some point. But do you see certain topics, certain issues in which it does seem to be a fair amount of agreement between democrats and republicans that could go even further. I’m of thinking carbon capture for example which enjoy some additional tax benefits now thanks to action by congress in the last couple of years or nuclear energy. You know, again where you see the likes of senator Sheldon in White House and senator _____ [00:21:44] republican and White House democrat co-sponsoring legislation. I mean, on a smaller scale, is there room for compromise and some progress?

 

[00:21:54]

Steve Mufson: Well, I think these are symptoms of people looking for some kind of breakthrough technology. People who are starting to realize that the climate issue has become grave already and that the only thing that’s gonna really bail out the plan is some kind of you know, small time miracle. And in reality the technology on carbon capture and nuclear really isn’t there at the moment. So, I think that these sort of bipartisan efforts are sort of indication that people are understanding that the situation is dire but then where they are making an effort is an area that I think isn’t going to necessarily work out.

 

[00:22:48]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. And I’ve always seen carbon capture is such a long shot in recent years. But I see now that it is getting a lot more attention. I’m sure, both of you were in Poland for the recent climate talks. You’re hearing more about it there.

 

[00:23:02]

Amy Harder: Yeah, I’ve been covering it quite a lot in my last couple of years since I joined Axios and I think part of it is I’m at Axios and I can cover more of what I want. But also because, you know, I agree with Steve that it continues to be a very difficult and very expensive technology to commercialize. But at the same time, scientific reports from the United Nations and others continue to say that, that type of technology is essential. Not only capturing carbon dioxide from the smoke stock of a coal and natural gas plant but taking it out of the sky after it’s been in the sky for centuries or maybe not centuries but decades. You know, carbon removal technology. So, there is this disconnect between the urgency that climate change is creating and then the urgency of this technology. And I think what’s underlying that and I read a story about this from Poland is this debate between whether the concern should be about reducing emissions or getting off fossil fuels. Now, of course, in a Venn diagram type thing, in order to reduce emissions, you really do need to reduce fossil fuel significantly. But at the same time, one stat that I like to quote from the international energy agency is that 30 years ago, the share of fossil fuels for energy consumption in the world was 81%. Today, it’s still 81%. So, we can talk about getting our fossil fuels but we actually haven’t done it. So, if you know, so some people say, experts say that we need to have this carbon capture technology but I sat down with former vice-president Al Gore and we were talking about this issue and he was like, oh, that’s nonsense.

 

[00:24:46]

Steve Mufson: Yeah, yeah, he’s pretty aggressive on that.

 

[00:24:47]

Amy Harder: He was. I was surprised and you know of course, he knows the climate issue better than anybody. So, you know, to your original question, I mean, I do think they’ll continue to be bipartisan conversations about carbon capture and the tax credit that passed a couple of years ago. Is it certainly helping but it’s not big enough to really move the needle at this point. And I would say, I see less likely chances for anybody bipartisan legislation going forward, one because of the presidential election and number two, because bipartisan senators like senator Heidi _____ [00:25:19] democrat from North Dakota, she lost her reelection campaign. So, I see less, I see fewer law makers on the hill who are interested in that.

 

[00:25:28]

Bill Loveless: Steve, there is a bill that on the hill these days, the NOPEC bill that would, it’s in the house, in the senate allow the U.S. to file suit against OPEC, you know, president Trump has complained that OPEC is a monopoly. Justice department has said it is studying this legislation. Is this something OPEC should worry about?

 

[00:25:50]

Steve Mufson: I think not really because it’s hard to extend the jurisdiction of congress to sovereign countries who are doing what they think is best with their sovereign resources. So, I don’t see it as a big problem and I mean there is other legislation, there are other issues here that I think are probably more serious problems for Saudi Arabia in particular. And that is connected to the families of people who died in 9/11 who are trying to get some sort of settlement from the kingdom. So I think that’s something that’s much more worrisome. But the NOPEC thing is, I write about oftentimes, it’s still something there and especially in the wake of the murder of the columnistJamal Khashoggi, I think that helps put a little bit more oomph behind this NOPEC effort.

 

[00:26:52]

Bill Loveless: You know, there is also a big emerging story right now is new regulations on sulfur content in maritime fuels that take effect in 2020. It seems like it was a topic getting all that much attention, getting more of it now. People worry about the impact on the price of diesel fuel and fuels generally especially in 2020 which happens to be an election year in the United States. Is, do you see any action on this here in Washington?

 

[00:27:22]

Amy Harder: Well, the U.S. energy information administration which is the statistical arm of the energy department issued some data the other day and I think the Columbia Energy Group wrote on this and I cited it in one of my stories that does show an acute uptake that will just last for 2020. Which is sort of bad timing. But the data also shows that even despite that uptake fuel prices will still be low then than they are today. So, I think, of course, the reason why this is an issue for the White House and the reason why the OPEC bill is an issue for the White House, all goes back to oil prices which goes back to gasoline prices. I think that one thing that caught a lot of people by surprise in 2018 was how much Trump tweeted about it. Of course, it shouldn’t surprise us because he tweets about so many things. But, you know, one thing I’m watching this year, if prices do spike and one thing, I try not to predict is oil prices. I think that’s a wild card. Who knows what Trump might do if prices go up. I think, he’s, I mean, the government is partially shut down right now because of a fight over the border wall. I think, we should not rule out the possibility that Trump would push something like in the NOPEC bill or something else that’s equally significant if prices spike and could affect his reelection campaign.

 

[00:28:42]

Bill Loveless: Well, we’re talking a lot about the White House and the congress but as is often the case so much, what happens in Washington for the energy business or just about any business is the actions of regulatory bodies which continue to churn away under the laws and regulations that are already in place. Steve what should we be watching for there this year?

 

[00:29:04]

Steve Mufson: Well, I think that the administration is gonna push ahead to try to water down environmental regulations and they have been doing this already. I think a lot of environmentalists were perhaps too confident that these sorts of efforts will get bogged down in court. And that not much would happen over the course of four years. I think, no one really thinks that anymore. And there is, but at the same time, there is a lot of legal battles that are being waged. I think it’s, the agenda is similar to what’s been from day one when he started show executive orders. So try to extend the or started to roll back the meaning of the waters of the United States to make it easier for coal companies to dump in streams, to benefit the _____ [00:30:01] of toxic pesticides. We have a new EPA administrator who was a paid lobbyist for a big coal company. And we have a little bit of the fox guarding the chicken house going on here. And I think we’re gonna continue to see that for another two years. So, I think it’s gonna be a tough fight and it’s possible even if the democrats sort of win back the White House in 2021, there will be a lot of damage to repair.

 

[00:30:29]

Bill Loveless: Right. And of course, the federal energy regulatory commission too is one that we pay close attention to. It's split currently between two democrats and two republicans because of the unfortunate passing recently of Kevin McIntyre the former chairman, a republican. Fritz got a lot on his plate.

 

[00:30:49]

Amy Harder: Yeah, that is something _____ [00:30:51] has been in the spotlight a lot more given president Trump’s call to the energy department and his administration at large to do something to economically help the financially struggling coal and nuclear power plants across the country. _____ [00:31:08] rejected a policy that the energy department wanted it to approve and I think, you want to continue to see that tension and you’ve seen that in the confirmation hearings of some of the[00:31:19] commissioners. I’m going to be watching if this policy, if this request from the president goes anywhere. It’s been more than a year and we’ve seen nothing. I talked, you know, I guess maybe a month ago at this point with the CEO of Murray Energy, Bob Murray who is an interesting character close to the president. And I asked him about this policy, where is it? He’s the one who wanted it the most and he’s like, he’s like, I don’t know where it is. I don’t know what they are going to do. And he was like, I was like, are you disappointed? And he’s like, yes, I’m disappointed. And so, I think that’s significant. When Trump is you know, contributing to the stalemate over the[00:32:00] because he wants the law so much. You know, again, I would say that we should keep open the possibility that he might do something similar to get this passed.

 

[00:32:10]

Steve Mufson: Yeah, certainly. It’s remarkable that this is about the only agency that’s really stood up to the president. A small anonymous, you know, fairly anonymous to the popular consciousness, anonymous little agency that says, no, you know, we’re not gonna do that. And Kevin McIntyre who had long history representing corporations says, you know, there is no emergency here that I can see. So, I think that was actually one of the more stunning political developments from an agency that most of us really don’t spend that much time covering in the mainstream press.

 

[00:32:53]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. Yeah _____ [00:32:54] for a lot of complementary attention because of his actions there. On both sides of the issue, I think because people do see it as a place where day in and day out, there are a lot of very capable and competent people and people who are acting apolitically, you know, as good regulators should do. I want to finish by asking each of you given your long experience in Washington. You know, what advice, you might have for journalists who are interested in the topics of energy and the environment and you know, what it might take for them to be particularly effective in pursuing that beat?

 

[00:33:32]

Amy Harder: Well, I think, you know, ask more questions and tweet less. I think, you know, as a reporter in this social media age, I mean, it’s so easy to get caught up in the news of the day and oh, this tweet. There is somebody, oh, it’s getting tweeted, you know. We tweeted hundreds and thousands of times and you know just try to keep your eye on the big picture and to seek out comment from everybody. I did a story the other day where, you know, it was right when Trump was really beating the drum on how climate change isn’t real and my editors wanted me to run down like where is he getting this information? So I spent all day on the phone with the groups most known for rejecting the mainstream climate science like The Heartland Institute and you know, we had very polite, mostly polite conversations and you know, but you always seek out advice or not advice but you always seek out comment and conversations with everybody and I think that’s the rule in reporter, I think, this hyper partisan era. There is a tendency for some people to sort of choose sides and I tend to think that, that’s not our job as reporters. Our job is to understand things and to convey them to the reader as best as we can.

 

[00:34:48]

Bill Loveless: Right and Steve I know, you spend much of your career not only as an energy reporter but as a financial reporter both here in Washington and around the world for the Post and also for the Wall Street Journal. And you know, I’m reminded of in my own case, you know, I covered policy here in Washington for years and for _____ [00:35:07] and McGraw Hill and it took me a long time to really appreciate that there was, that the world didn’t revolve around Capitol Hill that there was industry and there was trading going on and there were things called commodities that one should understand and you know, I guess, I learnt the hard way, something we try to do with the energy Journalism initiative is to deepen people’s understanding of that. But I think that sort of perspective is important too.

 

[00:35:36]

Steve Mufson: Yeah, I mean, I think energy has turned out to be a great Washington Post story as well as a good story when I was at the Wall Street Journal covering oil and gas in the early 80s. And I think that’s because it is a combination of so many things, politics, financial issues. You know, I’ve written about the oil in the Sudan that went, you know, help reignite the civil war there after a period of peace. I’ve been to off-shore rigs and I go on and talked about the politics of that. And then we’ve been on the hill writing about the 2009 cap and trade and you know, there is just, it’s a beat that has tentacles into a lot of different areas, big money, big politics and I think that’s what made it really a great area to be able to cover and you know, in some ways, each year has been different. You know, one year is about prices going haywire and other years about cap and trade and another year is primary about the BP oil spill. It’s been a vehicle for me to get involved in some of our political coverage, the first piece, we had about _____ [00:36:51] business dealings. I did it with Tom Hamburger because I knew who some of the Russian players were from having written about their oil interests. So, I do think, I’m very enthusiastic about this something that will be constantly changing and as long as you have the ability to bring together politics and economics and corporate interests, that will be very rewarding. Even on the Hill, you say, you know, outside the hill but I would say, even on the hill, you have a lot of big energy interests that are felt there. So, I think, it’s been a good beat to have spent a lot of my career on even though that wasn’t the original plan. But, you know, sometimes plans change.

 

[00:37:41]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, we’re still in a very interesting space as energy journalists. Well, and we have plenty to watch for this year and to learn. Steve Mufson, thank you. Amy Harder, thank you for joining us here on the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:37:54]

Steve Mufson: Thanks for having us.

 

[00:37:55]

Amy Harder: Thank you.

 

[00:37:57]

Bill Loveless: Well, that’s our show for today. I hope, you enjoyed it. And once again, if you’re an energy journalist or know someone who is, take a look at the energy Journalism initiative at the center on Global Energy policy. Details are on the center’s website at Energypolicy.columbia.edu. Also give us a rating on your favorite podcast platform. It helps us grow. For the Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless. We’ll be back again next week with another conversation.