Steve Mufson & Amy Harder
Journalists, The Washington Post & Axios

The year 2020 promises to be a tumultuous one in the U.S. for any number of reasons, including a national election, an impeachment of the president and ongoing divisions between Republicans and Democrats over the future course of government. And among the issues that continues to heat up is climate change.

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless meets with two of the leading energy and environment 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. His current beat is the business of climate change. Earlier, he worked at the Wall Street Journal in New York, London and Johannesburg.

Amy has been with Axios for three years, with her column, the “Harder Line,” a regular feature of the news service. Previously, she was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal and the National Journal.

Sitting down with top energy and environment reporters in January to talk about what’s in store for energy and climate issues in the new year has been a regular feature for Bill for several years now, and Steve and Amy offer a behind-the-scenes look at some of the major stories and trends taking place. 

The program also offers Bill an opportunity to talk about the Energy Journalism Initiative, an annual seminar conducted by the Center on Global Energy Policy to help energy journalists deepen their understanding of complex issues associated with the beat. The deadline for applications is Feb. 16.

TRANSCRIPT

[00:00:00]

Bill Loveless:  Hi this is Bill Loveless with 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 brings 20 energy journalists to New York to help them deepen their understanding of disciplines, key to reporting effectively on energy like markets, 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 Peace Sloan Foundation and others, but the deadline for applications is coming up on February 16th, so if you are an energy journalist, 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 2020 promises to be a tumultuous one in the U.S. for any number of reasons including a national election and impeachment of the president and ongoing divisions between Republicans and Democrats over the future course of government.  And among the issues that continues to heat up is climate change.  Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  Our guests today are two of the leading energy and environment reporters in Washington, Steve Mufson of the Washington Post and Amy Harder of Axios.  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, is currently   is the business of climate change.  Earlier he spent six years at the Wall Street journal in New York, London and Johannesburg.  Amy has been with Axios for three 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.  As I do each January, I enjoy sitting down with these reporters to sort out how the New Year might shape up when it comes to energy and climate issues.  Here is our conversation I hope you enjoy it.  Steve Mufson, Amy Harder, welcome back to Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:02:32]

Amy Harder:  Great to be here.

 

[00:02:33]

Steve Mufson:  Good to be here.

 

[00:01:42]

Bill Loveless:  Well, Amy Steve it’s a -- a New Year, a new decade, when so much is at stake you know, we sit here in Washington and just -- look around us and it seems like everyday is just a crazy news day, but -- but we’re talking energy and climate change and Amy how is it shaping up when as far as those issues are concerned?

 

[00:03:00]

Amy Harder:  Well, I recently wrote that for a story dated January 13th that although it had only been 13 days it felt like we had enough news for 13 months.  And it still feels like that going into finishing off the first month of the new decade and I would say that climate change is really getting to the top to of issues among businesses, even among Congressional Republicans are starting to more readily acknowledge the issue.  And so while climate change has been a growing issue and concern since I would say President Trump entered the White House, I think we’re seeing it even more so this year and of course I’ll be watching closely to see how much of -- of a topic it gets in the presidential election.

 

[00:03:44]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, yeah.  Certainly that’s -- that’s the backdrop for so many issues these days, Steve you see it the -- the same way or -- or differently?

 

[00:03:53]

Steve Mufson:  No, absolutely.  Climate change has been inching its way to the center of business and energy coverage and that’s definitely different from way things were before.  So a lot of corporate coverage is very much focused in that direction.  You’ve seen that just last week with the decision by BlackRock to make carbon -- to make climate change a more essential part of their entire business policy although it’s not really clear how that’s going to shake out in reality.  But I do think we see more and more companies talking -- talking the game anyway and we still need to see more to get a better sense of how much action that’ll be behind it, but people are definitely talking about it more.

 

[00:04:40]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah it’s interesting and -- and you’ve each brought up the idea of -- both talking Capitol Hill, but more activity in Corporate America too and what is the relationship between those things between the politics and -- and the business side?

 

[00:04:54]

Steve Mufson:  Well -- well money drives so much of politics you know --

 

[00:04:57]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

 

 

[00:04:58]

Steve Mufson:  I’ve always said here at the Post that you know, the national section writes about some issues and the financial section fills in all the -- the details about you know, why we’re -- why all these things are coming to the forest.  So I -- I definitely think that it’s always important to -- to think about where the money is coming from and we see more and more climate activists who are catching on to that idea also and the formation of this group the -- they need a pipeline the money pipeline --

 

[00:05:29]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.

 

[00:03:44]

Steve Mufson:  which is all about trying to make it more essential to businesses and they get businesses that cut off funding for fossil fuel companies.

 

[00:05:41]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  But the -- the message that the -- the companies project publically, nationally, internationally any different from what they’re saying when they go to Capitol Hill?

 

[00:03:44]

Amy Harder:  Well, that’s interesting because I did a recent story about what Microsoft is doing.  They recently announced a very aggressive climate change goal.  I happened to also be sitting down with the House of Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and he was talking about their new climate change plan.  And he mentioned that he was on the phone with one of America’s biggest companies about this issue and I just happened to guess correctly that it was Microsoft CEO Brad Smith President of Microsoft Brad Smith.  And Smith said according to -- to Congressman McCarthy that they wanted to support what the Republicans were doing.  Yet at the same time, they have this really aggressive climate change goal as a company.  And that’s not necessarily hypocritical although some critics would say that.  I think it’s a sign of the times we have the split screen debate going on.  You have companies doing what are -- in many cases very aggressive commitments I think time will obviously tell how much teeth there’s actually is there, but then on the other hand these companies are not naïve when it comes to what’s going to happen on -- on Capitol Hill.  And even though they say they support carbon -- price on carbon dioxide emissions they know that that’s unlikely with this Republican setup right now in the House in particular obviously with Democrats controlling the House, but with Republicans in the Senate and President Trump in the White House that’s unlikely.  And so you -- you see these companies supporting much less aggressive policies in Washington DC while being more aggressive in their own companies.  And I think some say that that needs to change that these companies -- companies need to go to Capitol Hill an aggressively lobby for something big.  I -- I don’t see that happening in the next couple of years, but I think that that would be the next big change that I am looking for.

 

[00:07:37]

Bill Loveless:  But what would it take for that sort of change to occur among -- among these companies to become more aggressive?

 

[00:07:45]

Steve Mufson:  Well, I think the -- the biggest things would be to make use of their shareholdings and when the shareholder resolutions come up four big institutions BlackRock, Fidelity, State Street and Vanguard probably account for just a huge percentage of almost any company’s shareholders.  So that would be one thing to look at.  Another thing is if you are looking at the financial sector to see what sort of loans people are giving out, Bildman [Phonetics] [00:08:16] said it was going to stop lending to any Arctic Oil and Gas Project, I am not sure how much lending they had done to Arctic Oil and Gas Projects, but it’s -- it’s a step and I think that’s what a lot of climate activists are going to be looking for more and more evidence.

 

[00:08:36]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  How big you -- you wrote the other day of the -- the action at BlackRock, Steve Larry Fink the CEO they declared that climate change has become a defining factor in the company’s long-term prospects and as you wrote, he said we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.  How -- how big was this statement by BlackRock’s Larry Fink?

 

[00:08:58]

Steve Mufson:  Well, again we’ll see how much substance there is through it.  But I think you know, the language was certainly there Bill McKibben who’s been very active on climate issues as you know, called it the -- the first significant breach in the -- in the dam on the financial front.  So -- we’ll see, but I think that that -- that language is much stronger than anything we’ve seen today.

 

[00:09:27]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:09:28]

Amy Harder:  I would say that it was very aggressive for BlackRock and of course probably never quite enough for a lot of the activists, but I -- it reminds me of a year ago this time there was a -- a prank played on BlackRock, somebody send out a fake press release saying that they were going to do all these aggressive things to companies not committing to the goal that the Paris Climate Agreement.  And eventually it came out that that was a false letter written by pranksters who wanted to highlight what they describe it as BlackRock’s hypocrisy on climate change, but I would say that -- this latest announcement is probably a little bit closer to that spoof letter from just a year ago compared to where they were a few years ago.  Now I would say I’ll be watching to see not necessarily if there is a high profile votes on certain shareholder resolutions which basically force companies or compel -- companies to pursue certain climate change targets and -- and actions, but to see if they support really aggressive resolutions by some of these other more activists organizations.  And you -- you may see oil and gas companies for examples committing to reducing the emissions beyond just their operations.  And -- and so that’s what I’ll be looking forward particularly in the spring time because that’ll be able to tell whether or not this announcement by -- by BlackRock had a lot of oomph to it.

 

[00:10:53]

Steve Mufson:  One thing I think that’s interesting is that you could look at what BlackRock is saying as being very self-serving, right.  It’s -- it’s in a way a new marketing tool, here’s our environmentally you know, correct mutual funds or whatever.  But in some ways that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  If -- if you see that as a manifestation of a groundswell of opinion of people saying you know, this is what I am looking for then you know, maybe it doesn’t matter how -- how heartfelt it is on the -- on the part of Larry Fink maybe what’s really matters is how heartfelt it is and that kind of groundswell of pressure that companies might be feeling and not just among its customers or its shareholders, but also the people who are going to work for them.  There are a lot of -- anyway we got a basically a full employment economy and I think companies find it easier to recruit people if they are saying some of these things about climate.

 

[00:11:56]

Bill Loveless:  You know, there’s been a lot of activity on Capitol Hill over the past year on climate change.  Primarily, in the host side where of course the Democrats took control last January.  You know, we’ve seen the first we had the Green New Deal which was unveiled too -- too much fan fear a -- a year ago.  And since then we’ve seen the other Democrats in the House take the more traditional route to deal with the issue and try to come up with a legislative framework as the Democrats of the House Energy and Commerce Committee did recently.  And as you noted before Amy there of course the House of Republicans too are responding more so now than they have in the past to climate change and even using the term -- occasionally at least.  And -- and I found fascinating you know, this latest effort by Minority leader Kevin McCarthy too to pool together some action items for Republicans on -- on this topic.  What do we make -- what shall we be looking for in Congress this year when it comes to climate change?

 

[00:13:03]

Amy Harder:  Given it’s a presidential election you know, I think we’ll be looking -- I’ll be expecting at least mostly messaging and Republicans, but also Democrat’s response to the concerns that they think voters have on this issue.  And I think when it comes to Republicans they haven’t given polling by various organizations that show younger Republicans really care about this issue.  And -- and not only that that at least saying that yes climate change is a problem and the government should do something.  Saying that maybe enough for a lot of voters in the country.  I -- I do think it’s -- it’s unclear if there’s a broad support for the Green New Deal particularly in the battleground states.  So these Republicans and in my interview -- in my recent interview I sat down with Congressman McCarthy and also two more Congressmen Graves, Louisiana and Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and they were very clear that the Green New Deal was you know, they continually criticized the Green New Deal that was their -- their main focus, but then they -- they want to be for something as well.  And so I think that’s we’ll be having this debate about how big of a answer the government should have in -- in my latest story I talked about -- I laid out what’s going to be in the Republican’s plan and it includes a lot of things that they’ve already been doing some new policies, but still in the -- the category of -- of innovation and -- and smaller subsides and things like that.  There is no carbon price, there is -- there is really nothing big in there and that is just fundamentally not enough most experts agree and so I think that’s the debate we’re going to be having.  At the same time, I do think a lot of voters around the country and the world have not supported big climate policies in Australia, in Washington State.  And so I think that’s also something that I’ll be looking for throughout the presidential election.

 

[00:14:56]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  Of course in Australia who knows what’s going to happen now given the fires this may have an impact a national policy there we haven’t had quite -- well we’ve had something close to those catastrophes in California this year.

 

[00:15:07]

Amy Harder:  Right. I -- I went to Australia last February precisely because Australia is Ground Zero for not only the impacts of climate change the horrific bush fires that we’ve been seeing, but also because it’s on the front lines of fossil fuels.  It’s the biggest coal exporter in the world, but they also have a lot of renewable energy and they are struggling with high electricity prices and so it’s sort of hop head [Phonetics] [00:15:29] of experimentation for better or worse when it comes to both the climate policy and the impacts of climate change.  I will definitely be seeing if this becomes an issue that votes out the current prime minister.

 

[00:15:42]

Bill Loveless:  You know, the -- with these activities you mentioned what our House of Republicans are working on the Democrats of course have a framework at the Energy and Commerce Committee and will have as we speak they haven’t put out any -- any legislation yet, but we expect they’ll have something out soon.  But they -- they at least in the initial statements on this there’s no price on carbon included as there is among there -- at the -- the Republicans, is that still an issue that is difficult for politicians to touch?

 

[00:16:13]

Steve Mufson:  I think it’s very difficult and I think the Republicans aren’t -- aren’t quite there yet.  If you look at the things that they are in favor of, they are in favor of giving money away carbon taxes about sacrifice and that maybe fatal to it.  But at least Democrats I think more -- there are more actually not that many Democrats are in favor of --

 

[00:16:36]

Bill Loveless:  We’ve got to say it’s not that all that --

 

[00:16:37]

Steve Mufson:  But there are few -- but I do think what the Republicans above -- above all are -- are interested in and I guess and now that I am thinking about maybe the more and more Democrats are -- is about giving money away.  So you see people coming together over 45Q the tax credit for carbon capture, you see them coming together on infrastructure projects you know, don’t -- don’t call it a climate change, but you know, we’ll -- we’ll do some of the adaptation if you will, but you know, those are easy to sell back home.  And -- and the same on innovation you know, innovation perhaps the most overused word of last year, but something that everyone can get together on because what’s that really mean?  It means giving money away for science projects it’s not that different from ARPA-E or something like that.  So it’s interesting to watch the Republicans and maybe they are evolving a bit, but from a substance point of view there are -- it’s not -- to me it doesn’t seem that different yet you know, --

 

[00:17:33]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:17:34]

Steve Mufson:  but definitely something that I think we’re going to be paying a lot of attention to this year and to see how that plays out.

 

[00:17:51]

Bill Loveless:  You know, historically major government policies resulted from you know, a feeling, a very strong feeling in the public as well among those in government that there is a -- a threat that the -- country faces a major threat and we need to do something.  I don’t really -- certainly if you talk to the Democrats in the House I think they -- they convey that that -- that message I think the Democrats and the Republicans don’t necessarily speak in those terms and I often wonder if you’re ever going to see a major policy without this sort of consensus in the country that donut [Phonetics] [00:18:34] climate change is -- is a huge risk for this country and for the world and -- and it demands a -- a big response in terms of policy.

 

[00:18:44]

Amy Harder:  When I was interviewing the three Congressmen the Republican Congressmen about this issue, I -- I tried to sort of open a -- a conversation about that very topic of well scientist say that we need to drastically reduce emissions in the next 20 years you know, 30 years and they just continued to go back to this idea that the U.S. has reduced emissions more than any other country which is mostly true, but still not nearly enough according to what scientist say.  And so I do think there is a fundamental you know, big difference among the parties about the -- the gravity of the problem.  And I -- I would say the Republicans are somewhat alone in their thinking on this that they -- they have these smaller policies that they support, but they’re not committing -- for example overall emissions reduction target and that’s typically a sign of you know, a -- a serious commitment.  Now, I will say that a lot of companies and politicians do put out these you know, random targets and they don’t tell us how they are going to meet them.  So those scrutiny needs to be there as well.  But I do think that if -- if you don’t see climate change as a very big problem then you’re not going to put very big policies to address it.

 

[00:19:59]

Steve Mufson:  Exactly. You know, I think -- I think Amy said it just right.  We did -- one of the more interesting things we did last year was a big climate poll and it showed that an increasing number of people see it as a question of that has -- of urgency.  A surprising number of people thought that something had to be done by 2030.  And especially among young people -- astonishing statistic you know, one in eight people between the ages of I think where 16 and 28 something like that had engaged in some sort of a climate activism some you know, a school strike or a march or something like that.  And so I think you -- you are seeing some interesting things going on in public opinion, but still -- still not enough to move --

 

[00:20:53]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:20:53]

Steve Mufson:  the need on a large scale.  And you know we are talking about scale is the problem.  This is -- this is my main thing it’s -- there are a lot of interesting things happening out there.  There are a lot of interesting science investments, there are some interesting state initiatives, cars get slightly better fuel efficiency that’ll be only slightly, but you know, nothing on a scale that that we need to do if we are going to meet the targets that scientists say we need to meet in order to avoid some really dire effects.

 

[00:21:26]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  And again -- so you have the -- it almost seems as though the -- the public generally and Corporate America and -- and States as well in terms of policies _____ [00:21:39] a -- a way ahead of Washington when it comes to this and -- and there’s lots of reasons for it, but how long it remains that way I am not sure.

 

[00:21:51]

Amy Harder:  One common thing that I focused on a lot last year and I anticipate doing so again this year is what I’ve described is the big climate disconnect.  So, you do have this growing concern among the public that climate change is a -- is a present and urgent threat, but then when push comes to show almost very few people actually want to accept the consequences of really big climate policy that can solve the problem on the scale that that Steve just mentioned.  And so Washington State voters that’s my home states it’s full of -- liberals who are concerned about climate change, they voted down twice now a price on carbon.  Now there is a lot of reasons --

 

[00:22:26]

Steve Mufson:  And the modest price too.

 

[00:22:28]

Amy Harder:  A modest price and -- and there is a lot of reasons for that oil companies buried it in 30 million dollars is one good example.  But I -- I talked to some you know, people in my family who you know, it wasn’t because the oil companies opposed it, it was -- they didn’t like it for other reasons.  And so -- so I do think there is this idea that yes climate change is a big problem, but no people don’t want to accept higher energy prices and -- and  so that’s something I am watching because you know, I cover energy and climate change not just climate change and not just energy.  And so that’s something that I -- I wonder as the impacts of climate change become more severe and present will people begin to accept.  You know, what most experts inevitably say will have to be the consequence of big -- big policy which is higher energy prices.  Now, I will say that the House of Republicans their core message according to -- Congressman Graves who is the top of Republican on the House of Select Committee for the climate crisis, their whole stick is that you need to make clean energy cheap without a price on carbon because developing countries like India won’t ever impose a price on carbon, so therefore you need -- you need to be able to make the technology cheep in the market as it is today and then we can export it to other countries like India.  And so basically make -- make clean energy cheap don’t make dirty energy expensive.  Now, I tend to think it’s two sides of the same coin, but nonetheless that’s their reasoning and so I’ll be interested to see if that’s actually possible.

 

[00:23:53]

Bill Loveless:  Well, when all is said and done here will climate change be a big issue in the 2020 elections?

 

 

 

[00:24:02]

Steve Mufson:  I think it’ll be a -- a moderately big issue.  I think you know, people are still very concerned about healthcare, they want to preserve this economy.  Some people feel strongly about women’s rights and so there -- you know, but I think climate changes snuck its way up to I don’t know maybe fifth or sixth place it’ll be my guess which is you know, no -- no small thing.  If you look -- one of the interesting things in our poll was that among people who are supporters of President Trump and those people -- those people are generally you know, given 95% approval rating and almost everything.  But the highest disapproval rating not very high was on climate issues.  You know, still on the 20 something category, but noticeable and -- and who knows where that will lead of time.

 

[00:24:59]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, yeah.

 

[00:25:00]

Amy Harder:  I’ve described the -- the current critical climate for climate change as being sort of a high water mark n pun intended for this issue which is to say that this is the most detention climate change has ever gotten in an election year cycle.  But that doesn’t mean it’s going to beat out a lot of these other issues.  One -- one project that Axios is undertaken this election cycle is to sit in on some focus groups swing voters and battle ground states.  And that’s -- the purpose of that is to try to offer some anecdotal counter way to some of the national polling you see -- yes Americans in general are more concerned about climate change, but for the people whose votes matter more ugly than -- than some other states is still not as -- as much of a concern, it’s some of these battleground states.  And that’s something that I’ll be seeing in you know, Florida versus Wisconsin seeing how it ranks in those issues.  I do think of course that the outcome of this election will matter a lot for climate change along with how much any other policy you can think of, but this one thing that’s very unique about this problem is that it’s a cumulative problem.  So the longer you wait the harder it gets.  And so unlike healthcare for example a bad healthcare policy it’s just as bad today it was five years ago, ten years ago it’s impacts are not good, but nonetheless how bad it is it stays about the same.  Climate change it’s -- it’s not like that and so that’s why the longer there continues to be no solution, the harder it gets and the harder it gets the harder it gets to solve and then there is this terrible snowball effect.

 

[00:26:32]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:26:33]

Amy Harder:  No pun intended there as well.

 

 

 

[00:26:35]

Bill Loveless:  Those snowball melt quite quickly these days.  You know, Steve you’ve covered the PG&E bankruptcy in -- in California.  And -- and it’s often cited as an -- as an example of -- of a victim of climate change and perhaps among the corporate calamities to arise from climate change.  And perhaps it has some impact on what more California might do on climate change as well as the public perception of the needs there.  But it raises a lot of ticklish issues and especially -- when you talked reliability of electricity at he same time you want to lessen the impact of climate change on and -- and its contribution to fires and things like that.  Are we going to see more -- I mean hopefully we won’t see more of these sorts -- sorts of disasters, but I mean these sorts of things whether it’s fires in -- in California or flooding in -- in Miami, gonna have much impact on -- on the public and on voters?

 

[00:27:33]

Steve Mufson:  Well, I think they will and I think partly through because of financial issues and insurances is -- is probably the leading edge of this.  If you’re insuring some piece of property each front property you might not want to insure it anymore.  And we’ve seen that in California fewer and fewer I should say more and more people are being bumped from the insurance roles to so much so that the insurance commission say the California to clear to one year more artorium [Phonetics] [00:28:02] preventing insurance companies from dropping people, but you know, you can only do that for so long and one has to think that you know, unless there is something more fundamentally different about the situation once that one year more artorium expires you cannot see a little mini stampede of insurance companies out of the state.  So, you know, this is one of those issues where we’ve had -- and we’ve had a lot of government assistance to people to rebuild houses in the same vulnerable places they’ve always been.  And now the insurance companies are coming along and saying you know, you are on your own basically because it’s not a good investment for us.

 

[00:28:44]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  And I have interviewed Senator Sheldon Whitehouse early in -- in 2019 and -- and we talked about maps showing his state and my home state of Rhode Island and -- and the impact of a 100 year storm there, a storm that may occur more frequently than that term suggest.  And it’s a lot of a lot of coastline obviously of Rhode Island.  And he said when you are the senator of the ocean state the smallest state in the union you’ll certainly worry about these things.  Cause this is the time of the year where I talk a lot about the energy journal -- energy journalism initiative at -- at the Center on Global Energy Policy where we bring reporters in once a year for a deep dive, to sort of simply learn more and report more effectively on energy.  And it gets me to thinking about has coverage of energy changed at all over the past year, past years, recently?

 

 

[00:29:41]

Amy Harder:  I would say it’s changed significantly and that is a lot more about climate change as well.  I -- I tend to think that they’re two sides of the same coin.  You -- the emissions from the energy that we consume is -- is the main culprit of -- of rising temperatures on this planet.  And so and as investors and activists and politicians in the public grow more concerned about it, there’ll be more pressure on the energy industry.  However, I would be -- to mention something that hasn’t come up yet which is oil prices you know, oil prices are surprisingly low despite ongoing unrust [Phonetics] [00:30:17] in the Middle east and the fact that oil prices are low thinks largely, but not only due the oil boom in the United States.  It has made it -- it has opened up a political space to talk about and be concerned more about climate change.  I think if -- if we didn’t have this ironically this abundance of oil and natural gas it would make it harder to be more concerned about climate change because energy prices would be higher.  And so I think that’s something to keep in mind that even though climate change is injecting itself a lot more into the energy industry, fundamentally prices and you know, until we are better at using less energy, I think prices will still run the day if they are very high.

 

[00:31:00]

Steve Mufson:  So, you know, I’ve -- I’ve also covered energy for awfully a long time here the better -- better part of the last 13 -- 13 years or so.  And it’s -- it’s changed you know, almost every year and early on it was a lot about prices and Washington politics.  We spent a good chunk of 2009 just on the hill looking at the Waxman Markey Bill 2010 was the disaster year coalmine falling in, the BP Oil Spill, 2012 was dominated by Shale gas becoming a bigger thing and also by a trip I took down the Keystone Pipeline and did some stories there.  So, really you know, every year has been a little bit different.  And -- and so a little bit about a year and a half ago, we took a bunch of us who were sitting in two different sections with four different assignment and put us all together to focus much more on climate change.  So, we’ve only recently assigned someone to take over energy coverage which we sort of abandoned for a little while.  And so that’s -- that’s I think says a lot about the -- the direction we’ve taken and on that -- in that energy group we’ve spend most of last year on one project which was this what we call 2C a -- a project about places around the globe that are already broken through the two degree Celsius mark that scientists and leaders say that we should avoid by the year 2100, but if global warming doesn’t happen evenly and so a lot of places already broken through that barrier and we wanted to take a look at what -- what that meant and what -- and whether that was some noticeable impact and if so what sorts of impact.

 

[00:32:54]

Bill Loveless:  You know, and it seems as though some discreet issues are -- are getting more attention for example you know, a couple of years carbon CO2 removal wasn’t on anybody’s radar it seems, and -- and now it’s a major topic in climate circles maybe you can say the same for artificial intelligence.  What’s -- what’s prompting those types of issues to get more attention?

 

[00:33:23]

Amy Harder:  I think a couple of things one it goes back to this comment I made a few minutes ago about how climate change is a cumulative problem.  So the -- the longer we wait to do anything big the -- the more emissions we’re putting into the sky and so this technology is becoming more relevant.  And so most scientists say that there’s going to need to be some level of this type of technology which I like into liposuction for the planet.  It’s little ugly, but I think it helps get the -- the point across and -- and also because rich and deep pocketed companies are starting to care about it.  Bill Gates, oil companies are all starting to invest in this for different reasons.  Gates thinks it’s critical to have this type of technology, be viable and oil companies see it as a way to be able to bring back the emissions of fossil fuels while still having a relatively large fossil fuel business.

 

[00:34:18]

Bill Loveless:  You know, before we go I want to ask because each of you is -- is -- are leaders in covering energy journalism in our -- in the profession.  You’ve been doing it for a long time and been doing it well.  But there is a lot of energy reporters out there and some of them are relatively new to the bead, what does it take today to cover energy and climate change effectively?

 

[00:34:41]

Amy Harder:  One thing that I often get asked about and then try to emphasize is that reporters are not advocates for anybody.  One time I -- I think it was last year, I wrote a column about just laying it out how difficult it’s going to be to really address climate change on the love of that scientist say that we need to going back to what Steve said about the scale of this problem.  The headline was something like you know, climate is getting too big and difficult to solve.  And it just laid out you know and no uncertain terms why that is the case and -- and activists on Twitter said oh reporter frozen the towel on climate change and my response was I am -- it’s not job to hold the towel, let alone throw it anywhere.  And so I think especially as this issue becomes more heated and -- and continues to be partisan and you know, the -- unfortunate to development of fake news and distrust in the media I think it’s really important that we tell the -- the story as it is.  And so we’re not advocates for acting on climate change.  Now, climate -- as I saying all of my stories climate change is a big problem and it’s very much real and impacting people today, but beyond that I don’t talk about what needs and what should not be done.  And I think that’s really important as people become concerned about this problem.

 

[00:36:01]

Steve Mufson:  Well, I think I -- I agree with everything Amy said.  I mean I will say I would say that you know, if you’re thinking about advice for young journalists part of what you need to bring to an energy bee is what you would bring to any business bee.  You’re thinking about corporate corporations what they’re interests are, you know, looking through their filings, I think all that’s -- that’s very important thinking about their boards of directors who the lawyers are you know, everyone who might have done business.  You know, a modern corporate a big corporation does has contact with a lot of different people.  And so all those people can be sources if you’re writing about energy.  And I think one of the things I think is interesting about energy is that has a lot of different dimensions.  So you know, if you are up to speed on -- on politics, on international affairs here the first piece the Post ran about Paul Manafort business dealing was a piece I did with Tom Hamburger, Tom had come to me and said I knew any of these Ukrainian Oilgarchs were and I said, yes I had written about them a few years earlier when no one really cared that much, but it’s part of the energy bee as -- as I was defining it.  And so you know, 10 years later they turn out to be very interesting for a whole host of reasons I could never foreseen.  So I think you know, you bring a lot of your ordinary reporting tools with you when you’re covering a bee like this, but on a much broader scale I think then most beads, so

 

[00:37:41]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  Well, so much ground to cover and I guess there -- that much more of it as we go forward this year Amy Harder Steve Mufson thank you very much for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:37:53]

Steve Mufson:  Thanks -- thanks for having us.

 

[00:37:55]

Bill Loveless:  Well, that’s our show for today.  I hope you enjoyed it and once again if you are an energy journalist or know someone who is, take a look at the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative at the Center on Global Energy Policy.  Details are on the center’s website at energeypolicy.columbia.edu.  We look forward to hearing from you.  For Columbia Energy Exchange I am Bill Loveless we’ll be back again next week with another conversation.