William Reilly
former EPA Administrator during President George H.W. Bush’s Administration

The recent passing of President George H.W. Bush has spurred an interest in his energy and environmental policy and its legacy. In the latest Columbia Energy Exchange podcast, host Jason Bordoff sat down with William Reilly, who was the EPA Administrator during President George H.W. Bush’s Administration.  

Bill recounts the significance of the environment in Bush’s presidential campaign, which led to landmark environmental policies, and discusses the challenges, opportunities, and significance of the Clean Air Act of 1990. He describes what it was like working for the Administration, including internal divisions on the environment. Jason and Bill discuss other notable milestones like the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Jason and Bill also cover carbon pricing, climate policy, and what needs to happen to encourage both sides of the aisle to work together in solving these pressing issues.

In addition to his time with the Bush administration, Bill served as a senior staff member at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, under President Nixon. President Clinton appointed him as a founding Trustee of the Presidio Trust of San Francisco.  President Obama appointed him co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the Future of Offshore Drilling. Bill served as president of World Wildlife Fund and later chairman of the board. He has also served in the U.S. Army. He’s currently on a number of private sector and non-profit boards. Bill holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Yale University, a Law Degree from Harvard, and a Master’s Degree from Columbia University.  

Read the transcript 

[00:00:02]

Jason Bordoff: Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange. The weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I’m Jason Bordoff. The nation has more in these past few weeks, the passing of president George HW Bush. And like many people I’ve been interested to go back and reread bits of the history of his legacy especially as it relates to energy and environmental policy. From the clean air act amendments of 1990 and the Rio Earthd Summit to oil prices during the Gulf War or the Exxon oil spill. I wanted to hear more about Bush’s environmental legacy. I thought, you all might want to as well. So I reached out to Bush’s EPA administrator, Bill Reilly. Bill has served four presidents including as a senior staff member at the White House council on environmental quality under president Nixon and under president Obama who appointed him co-chair of the National Commission on BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill. He served in the U.S. Army. He holds an undergraduate degree from Yale. A law degree from Harvard. A master’s degree in urban planning from, you guessed it, Columbia University. I’ve come to know Bill over the years and I always enjoy having the chance to have conversations with him and I hope, you enjoy this one. Thanks for listening. Bill Reilly, thanks so much for joining us once again on Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:01:23]

Bill Reilly: Pleasure to be with you, Jason.

 

[00:01:24]

Jason Bordoff: It’s really a pleasure to be with you and an honor to be with you as well. We’re gonna need hours to have a conversation unfortunately, we only have a little over 30 minutes. But really, what we wanted to talk about this week which has been so much on the minds of many people around the country is the life and legacy of our 41st president George HW. Bush. You served as his EPA administrator. And his environmental legacy was pretty high in the list of things that people look back over the last week or two and reflected about when they thought about his legacy. He ran on being the environmental president. Just start, there is a lot of things, I want to get into. But start just by broadly reflecting as you thought and you were at his funeral service. Talk a little bit about what you’ve been thinking about over the last week or two and what you think when it comes to the environmental legacy of George HW. Bush?

 

[00:02:22]

Bill Reilly: Very pleased that former prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney referred to the lakes and rivers, the streams, the forest, the integrity of so many biological areas important to Canada and the United States which really were brought back by the clean air act amendments of 1990. The acid rain controls. Mulroney made the point that this is something that is indisputable, and was an achievement of the laws and the policies and that largely it was the Bush’s administration, the small group of us that designed the policy and particularly on acid rain that gave us those results. Bush was very proud of what he did on the clean air act. It’s something that I brought up with him when he interviewed me for a position. A position by the way that I strongly suspected, I would not accept. I had watched vice-president…

 

[00:03:18]

Jason Bordoff: It’s a remarkable thing to say.

 

[00:03:19]

Bill Reilly: Well, I know, I know.

 

[00:03:20]

Jason Bordoff: But you’d be asked to serve in the cabinet of a president and you at the time thought it was unlikely you would accept.

 

[00:03:26]

Bill Reilly: Well, the idea was raised with me by Russell Train who was the second administrative EPA and a close friend of George Bush. I’ve been his guest when he was liaison, ambassador to China. And he came back from a visit with _____ [00:03:42] house. He have been the first administrator, two very formidable environmental statesman and he said, _____ [00:03:50] pointed out that if this was in June of the election year, that if Bush were to win the election, he would very likely turn to those two gentlemen for advice about whom we should get as an EPA administrator and _____ [00:04:05] told Train according to the story that he would recommend me. And Train who is my chairman of the board in a group that we had put together under wildlife conversation foundation said what would you do if that was offered to you and I said, I would turn it down. Why? I said, well, we watched Bush as vice-president. He’s been a loyal supporter of president Reagen’s approach to environment which was largely one of neglect honestly. And I said, I just wouldn’t be comfortable. I’m not confident, he’s gonna do what he said, he’s gonna do. And Train said well, it’s pretty hard to say no to a president if you’re offered something like that especially given your career. So I would ask you to think about the future of wildlife fund here and who should succeed you if you do get asked and accept. I remember telling my wife that, that conversation. She said, yeah, you’re going to EPA. I said, you think, it’s a sure thing. She said, you’re a patriot, you’re not gonna say no to the president. And anyway, I did finally get in front of him, the recommendation of those two individuals. And so…

 

[00:05:14]

Jason Bordoff: What do you remember about that? How did that conversation go?

 

[00:05:17]

Bill Reilly: What I remember most vividly is when I arrived in the office of the vice-president which is where the president _____ [00:05:24] was, I was sitting opposite in the outer office. The ranking member, republican member of the committee on environment, on interior affairs from the house Immanuel _____ [00:05:36] and I have been told by the transition head Bob _____ [00:05:42] that the intention was to tilt toward the environment EPA and toward the development of the interior department. And I remember being kind of being used to the idea that sitting across from someone who had sponsored a bill to allow the Cincinatti zoo to import a panda which I had contested in a lawsuit and I thought interesting to put someone into interior that I basically sued as EPA administrator. So they really are gonna get a balanced ticket, if that’s your idea. When I got in front of the president, I answered the first question he asked was about the budget. He said, if I were to curtail the EPA budget, how would your friends in the environment feel? How would you feel in withstanding with their criticism? And I said, well, honestly, if you do it because of reasons of prudence and necessity and it’s proportionate to the cuts of other agencies, I could defend that. I understand that and I think they would too. And I then told him what I would want if I were to be administrative EPA. I said, did you, are you serious, are you going to propose a new clean air act and will it have the three key elements of acid rain controls, smog controls and toxic substances. And he said, absolutely. Yes, I will, I’ll do it.

 

[00:07:06]

Jason Bordoff: And this is one of the legacy, maybe on the environment most remembered for is the clean air act of 1990 dealing with acid rain and that was a commitment you got in order to take the job.

 

[00:07:14]

Bill Reilly: This is a signal commitment. He had made it in his campaign. I don’t say, I invented the idea. But I confirmed it with him. I then asked him for assurances that I could have access to it and I said, I won’t abuse it. He said granted. And then I asked if I could appoint my own people including a few democrats and he said, well you can have some democrats. Don’t have so many that you embarrass me. But he said, I can’t give you that. But I will give you and this is something I don’t believe he gave to anybody else in the cabinet. Nobody, you don’t want and I wish to use that pretty regularly because the White House staff which never…

 

[00:07:50]

Jason Bordoff: And to people listening just so it’s clear, meeting, you know, sometimes the White House will send people to the agencies to hold senior appointment, yeah.

 

[00:07:59]

Bill Reilly: Almost always.

 

[00:08:00]

Jason Bordoff: You would be able to…

 

[00:08:01]

Bill Reilly: Cabin officers rarely have that much control over whom they get. Secretary Tillerson of course that was a continuing aggravation for him. He did not get the people he wanted. Now, that was a very generous commitment and one that I needed because White House staff didn’t really understand why George Bush had promised to be the environmental president and they honestly didn’t have that much sympathy for what he was proposing to do there. It, however was something, these were promises he kept and I always felt his support. I was told by later EPA administrator that my reputation was sort of having done what I pleased while I was at EPA and it’s true that we have a lot of conflict with the White House staff but I always got a different message from the president than I got from his staff. We were in a way divided on the environment.

 

[00:09:00]

Jason Bordoff: Say more about along what lines was that?

 

[00:09:05]

Bill Reilly: Well, I think that, I think that there was an outlook that Bush had used the environment very effectively in the campaign against Governor Dukakis in Massachusetts. He had famously swept into Boston, gone out on a boat on Boston harbor and decried the poor state of the water, polluted water in Boston harbor. Used that effectively against the governor’s own record on the environment. And they quite a lot of his commitment to a new clean air act acid rain control to no net loss of wetlands. These were very major commitments especially from a republican president. And they had the advantage of both being ambitious, especially a clean air act because no one had been able to get a clean air act for at least 12 years. Though senator Mitchell had tried very hard, the majority leader and it was unexpected. So it was novel, it was newsworthy and I think the president got good bit of attention for it. But there was a sense, I think among a number of people around him that it has served its purpose. And the idea of actually doing things that were ambitious, expensive, controversial with the business sector affected. All of those were unnecessary, I think in the eyes of a number of people in the White House staff.

 

[00:10:25]

Jason Bordoff: And when you read the history of these, the names that come to mind first for me would be the chief of staff John Sununu, the budget director Dick Dorman is that…

 

[00:10:30]

Bill Reilly: That’s correct. That’s correct. I think in both cases and vice-president also at that time. We then did mount and basically drafted what became the essence of a clean air act amendments with poll using rights trading a very novel device in the law. We proposed to reduce by 10 million tons or 50%, the amount of…

 

[00:10:58]

Jason Bordoff: And for people listening, pollution rights meaning, we talk a lot about cap and trade today that was the idea. So to instead of EPA regulating a particular pathway that you would set a limit on how much emissions would be permissible and then allow a trading mechanism. This was sort of an innovative idea at the time. A market based mechanism to air pollution problem.

 

[00:11:16]

Bill Reilly: Exactly. It said, if you were a company that couldn’t really afford to put in expensive, say $100 million in scrubbers, you could buy the rights from a company that had done that and already had exceeded what it had to reduce. So, it made for a very cost effective spreading of expenditures. And it worked famously. It resulted in less than half the cost of what had been anticipated to control acid rain in the United States. But those initiatives, those innovations were largely from the Bush White House and they were accepted by the congress. They became law.

 

[00:11:55]

Jason Bordoff: A democratic congress.

 

[00:11:56]

Bill Reilly: Democratic congress, democratic house in senate. Senator George Mitchell, the majority of it was key to that. We had other stalwarts of the environment, Senator Chafee, Barkis, Lieberman were important in that. But it was a two year slog getting the Clean Air Act passed and during that period, there was a great deal of environmental criticism because the early report of a bill that is senate environment public work’s committee was a very expensive one. It was costed at something like 42 to 44 billion dollars of expense for the economy for the business sectors, the rest of us who would have to pay for it. The bill that president Bush had proposed, it had costed at about 17 to 19 billion dollars. So, it had to be paired down and senator Mitchell took on himself.

 

[00:12:47]

Jason Bordoff: We know now that it turned out to be far less costly. I think there was a history of environmental rules that follows somewhat similar lines.

 

[00:12:54]

Bill Reilly: Oh, it was brilliantly cost effective mechanism. More so even than those of us who were in adherence and designer and expected it to be. It vindicated the decision to go up and propose it. But the two year period was one during which the administration got regular criticism from the environmental community because the more expensive bill had come out of the environment public works committee was what they favored. And as it was trimmed down to reduce its cost by senator – under Senator Mitchell’s control and guidance essentially. The criticism mount and by the time it was passed, there was a sense in the White House that it had not worked politically for the president. That his environmental initiatives should have won him a great deal of favor and support and praise. They didn’t. Congressman Waxman chairman of the key committee in the house did say on the day that the law was finally agreed that this bill, this law is out to the two Georges. To George Bush and George Mitchell which was generous and true. But it was a long time coming. And there was a sense in the White House and it is also worth remembering by that time, we were heading into recession. There was a good deal of a criticism of the president on part of the Wall Street journal of Patt Buchanan and other conservatives that we were overregulating the economy. And so, the bloom was also flower in terms of the moment for environmental initiatives that would garner political support. It was pretty clear that no matter what the president proposed, it wasn’t gonna get support from the environmental community.

 

[00:14:43]

Jason Bordoff: And did that cause, so, it sounds like you’re saying, people used a lot of political capital to push forward these ambitious 1990 clean air act amendments. You were leaning forward within the administration in the face of some opposition even from within the administration. But and you’ve said this publicly before, you didn’t feel like the environmental community gave Bush much credit for taking that forward leaning position and did that cause them to retrench and say, well, look, we are not going to get any political benefit. No one is gonna say, thank you from the left for going in this direction on the environment and we are gonna take some hits from industry or we’re concerned about the economy. So there is not much upside to staying the course with being as aggressive and ambitious on environmental policy. Did that develop over four years? There is a sense by the reelection campaign, they were much more cautious when it came to the environment than the first time when they did lean in. Is that…

 

[00:15:40]

Bill Reilly: That’s perfectly fair. I think the environmental community never adapted to the concept that Bush wasn’t Reagan’s vice-president. Bush was his own guy. In fact to claim that he would be the environmental president was really startling thing for Reagan’s vice-president to say. And it should have been more, I think generously received. But the environmental community first of all had that legacy of Reagan which they never forgave him for and also democrats. And that became clear to all of us that really there were exceptions to that, the environmental defense fund and a number of others who collaborated in the design of the legislation. But by and large, have never thought that he got a very free ride or fair ride from the environmental critics.

 

[00:16:39]

Jason Bordoff: Does that explain in any sense or what does explain, I should ask, where we are today, three decades later where we just had a national climate assessment come out. We had a republican president who said, I don’t believe it. I don’t, basically he said, I don’t believe the science. The reaction to Bush 41s energy and environmental policies didn’t contain the sort of venom or as hyper partisan as it feels today. So how did the issue, the issue of the environment, especially for young people, students listening, wasn’t the hyper partisan issue that it is today. We might have different views on what the role of government is or the right kind of approaches but what’s caused it to break apart the way it has?

 

[00:17:25]

Bill Reilly: I want to be clear. The clean air act amendments were a  triumph of bipartisanship, I think the vote was 89 to 11 in the senate and it was 424 to 13 or something in the house. It was a triumph of collaboration. It took two years to get it and there was a lot of _____ [00:17:44] along as we did it. But it worked and it was a fabulous achievement and I thought that the understanding on the part of the president’s campaign in 1992 was really insufficient that they should have made more the fact that, this was a victory, this was a country’s victory and it was also George Bush’s victory. I was told by the president’s pollster Bob Teeter before I became EPA administrator that throughout the years when vice-president Bush was preparing to run for president in working with his future campaign staff, they tried very hard to get him to say, what are those issues and how will you define yourself as different from president Reagan? The vice-president was very circumspect and I couldn’t draw him on much except that he finally said, I would really like to be more forward leaning on the environment. So, this came from him. Came from his heart. He wanted to be. He was outdoorsman. He was always jogging or throwing horseshoes or shooting, hunting whatever. And it came naturally to him to want to clean things up. To get better quality and be with acid rain and the rest. The…

 

[00:19:01]

Jason Bordoff: He was also an oil man, we shouldn’t forget that.

 

[00:19:03]

Bill Reilly: Yes, he was.

 

[00:19:05]

Jason Bordoff: There is sometimes the view that these things are intention, especially when you think about global climate, not necessarily local air and water issues but was that, how did that inform his thinking about environment?

 

[00:19:14]

Bill Reilly: Well, he was an oil man and I can recall coming back from the Exxon, it wasn’t very long after that we consider what to do about offshore oil and gas development off the pacific coast and off the Atlantic coast and we had a conversation about it and I recommended that he basically come out against it. That he closed those areas off and he said, well, Bill, you know, since Santa Barbara which was the big spill that we had back in 1968, I think it was. The technology and the safety and the controls have gotten much better. It’s less risky than it used to be and he spoke from authority. He knew what the business was and my answer to him was well, you know, governor Reagan, then President Reagan, Secretary Watt, Governor Deukmejian they all had the position that we should open up more oil and gas fields in off the coast of California and elsewhere. None of them succeeded. You’re not gonna succeed either. I would just, I just make the decision that for the moment at least, for the next period, I had that we not allow it because it can be done anyway. We’ll just measure ourselves in a big conflict and a lot of litigation. He then said to me, is the environmental community gonna say, well, this is another Bush wimpy maneuver is just for ten years. It’s not permanent. Are they gonna criticize me for that? And I said, no, sir they are very sophisticated. Our club set almost exactly that. So he was correct in anticipating the criticism. But he did make that decision. There is the oil man who made the decision and also…

 

[00:20:56]

Jason Bordoff: Also sign the oil pollution act in response to that.

 

[00:20:58]

Bill Reilly: Absolutely. That’s right. Double hauls for tankers. That’s absolutely right. And so, in so many ways and the enforcement record on oil and gas development as on all other areas of environmental compliance was solid gold. It’s the best enforcement record that before sense that we had on the environment. In fact, I think we had more fines and settlements in our four years than in the previous 18 years history of the environmental protection agency. He was very sound on all of these matters. To come back to your thought about whether there was a response or whether there was a consequence to the criticism he received and in fact that he didn’t and his environmental commitments didn’t result in positive support. I believe that the policies of his son were influenced by the fact that as Karl Rove once said to me, your guys never support us. And you know, it’s hard to argue with that when he saw how his father laid out so much and made so many commitments and didn’t get the support that they thought he had learned. So the answer is, I think that it has consequences.

 

[00:22:14]

Jason Bordoff: And what is that mean for our ability to find common ground if, when people sort of cut against the grain a little bit or try to take righteous positions. It sounds like you’re saying, maybe even his son George W. may have potentially been forward leaning on these issues but and even George HW. Bush toward the end of his term was more cautious, I should say because of a sense of there is no political upside? Was that fair?

 

[00:22:41]

Bill Reilly: Well, I think that the political aspect of it was only part of it. I think the president really did believe that the acid rain problem especially was out of control and the summer of 1988 was a terrible summer of heat waves, smog alerts, medical waste washing up on the beaches of New Jersey and Long Island. So he wanted to deal with that as a major problem of concern to the country and that went beyond politics. He also had a foreign policy objective. He thought that Prime Minister Moronie had been very supportive of free trade with the United States. At some cost, his own reputation in Canada. As a result president Reagan had promised acid rain legislation. He promised that when he swore in _____ [00:23:25] house for a second term in 1981 or 2, I was there and heard it said. Well he didn’t follow through. The budget director David Stockman blocked it. So, there was that whole history. There are so many reasons to act on environment and also to recognize, I think that we rarely get policy in the United States that is lasting, cost effective and determined to have solved the major problem in a significant way that won’t be revisited. We rarely get that, if it’s not bipartisan. I started life as a land use lawyer and one of my first discoveries was if you want to have land use for environmental protection for lands or pollution controls on land and things of that sort, you better talk to the farmers first. It’s often a mistake to assume that they will be opposed. They often are opposed. They are the most charged. They have the most people who pay the most cost. And yet, if you don’t get them, they are the major stakeholders. Probably, you won’t get anything as successful or last. I think that’s true in American politics generally.

 

[00:24:39]

Jason Bordoff: And people on both sides of the aisle want clean air and clean water. We’ve talked about things like acid rain and oil spills. Climate change is a different sort of problem. And it certainly is today a more partisan divide when it comes to the issue of climate change but even that was different. We mentioned the national climate assessment a minute ago which was resulted from the, from a law that created the U.S. global change research program that president George HW. Bush created and that’s what required the study that just came out. Also famously went to the Rio earth conference and helped your administration when you, in your position at EPA helped to negotiate the UN framework and mention on climate change, we’re talking as countries are gathering in Poland to continue that in the 24th conference of the parties. Just talk, reflect a little bit about where President Bush was on the issue of climate change at the beginning of the administration, the change by the end of the administration and then kind of the evolution of folks on republican side of the aisle since then.

 

[00:25:48]

Bill Reilly: Kennedy Bush famously said that he would bring to White House effect to bear on the greenhouse effect. We supported the convention which the protocol in Kyoto was a part of on climate. We supported very significant increases in scientific observation, NASA, Noah, national center for atmospheric research, a very large support for array of agencies to try to monitor the temperatures of the ocean, the land temperatures, the evolution of measures in glaciers and in ice course. President was very sensitive, it’s a good sign. He had a first class science advisor Dr. Allen Brownly and paid attention to it. And I remember, I would often be criticized by the chief of staff for getting too far out in front of the administration to forward leaning, to put on climate and I could always absolve myself by saying, well, I’m quoting the national academy of sciences which has defended the rule on this, concluded on this is and they were in those days, not quite so certain of the human impact as they have since become. But they already were saying that, it was probable that it was human impact that was resulting in the CO2 build up since the industrial age. That, I think guided a great deal of what we did and the other thing that, I think needs to be recognized. For the last several years, the United States has been decarbonized. We appear to have some increases in emissions last year. But the decarbonization, I have seen first hanged on the board of an energy company in Texas where the clean air act required outlays.

 

[00:27:45]

Jason Bordoff: You’ve previously served on the board of _____ [00:27:48] Phillips. Is that what you’re referring to?

 

[00:27:47]

Bill Reilly: No, I’m referring to Energy Future Holdings which controlled own Luminant which is the electric utility that serves about almost 40% of Texas. And the sulfur dioxide, NOX controls, particulates, mercury, the requirements of the clean air act imposed very significant cost on coal fired power like in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. That has had a very significant affect along with the really low price of natural gas which has now been true for several years in causing coal fired power to be less competitive with natural gas as a result of that has been CO2 emissions, greenhouse gas emissions are a lot less. They are about half from gas what they would be with coal and of course, the renewables have some impact on that as well but mostly, it’s been the price of gas and the clean air act which president was responsible for in fact, the only question, I recall at the cabinet meeting, where I presented the new clean air act draft was what will this do to gas? What the president asked and I said, this will really promote gas over coal.

 

[00:28:59]

Jason Bordoff: Talk a little bit about the internal dynamic on the choice, on the decision to go to Rio and then negotiate the UN framework? Not everyone as you said a minute ago not everyone in the administration was on same place. What were the different views there and why in the end did his decision to go prevail and what was president Bush’s view of that decision?

 

[00:29:22]

Bill Reilly: Well, the president was mulling that decision for quite a few months before he actually went. I made a trip to Rio and then to the capital to Brazil to speak with the president of Brazil and with Rio minister of energy, foreign affairs, and I think environment about the way they were organizing the conference. And this probably was maybe six months before the conference in Rio. We had a lot of concerns that there were different messages coming to us in a sense, the disarray that they were not that organized and I made the case that the president was being _____ [00:30:05] by people to be very careful. He was going to be in the middle of a political campaign and obviously, this was a major conference that would really focus on achievements and deficiencies of the United States and we always United States tend to take heat in international conferences from other countries. Anyway, president of Brazil promised to do everything he could to ensure that the president of the United States would work with the president of the United States and that he would not be embarrassed. He by the way was as good as his word. He really did and nevertheless, there were those administration you saw, no advantage in his going. I think he went for a number of reasons. First of all, it was the signal gathering on the environment, the international community of our time and I think he knew, the president of the United States ought to be there. Secondly, it had been made clear to me that it was extremely important to Brazilian U.S. relations that the president of the United States come and set that example. He said there are scores of heads of governments, heads of state who were standing by, awaiting the decision of the president of the United States to come. If he comes, they will come. So there were those who said, this is not gonna play into our strengths. It’s just gonna be a moment where president gets beaten up and he did get criticized. I don’t think in the end, it was as negative. Certainly some of the people feared, I think good many environmentalists were pleased to see the president was represented, our government was represented at the highest levels and I remember he was very good humored and did a nice job at the press conference essentially saying what is manifestly true which is, we had a better record than almost anybody. Whether it’s endangered species, freedom of information, environmental impact assessment, the clean air act, I mean, it just go right on. The national park system, United States has an extraordinary record on environment and nature protection. Anyway, he, I must say that I want to say that he was a pleasure to work with. There was a quality of integrity, straight forwardness and modesty that communicated itself just by example to the people who work for George Bush. You wanted to have those qualities because he had them. And I worked in the Nixon White House and people in that White House, I was on the counsel on environmental quality there. It was just starting up. I had great respect for the president. But I don’t think they had anything like the affection that we all had. I mean, people who disagreed with me on things too but all of us for president Bush. This was an exemplary man and president.

 

[00:33:03]

Jason Bordoff: One of the things I’ve been thinking about. I’m curious if you have thoughts on this and thinking about George HW. Bush’s environmental legacy with things like Rio and the UNFCCC, the clean air amendments of 1990. These important legacies that are still with us today. The national climate assessment. We’re having conversations about how to put in place stronger climate policy. We’re not on track for anything close to what it would look like to meet target of two degree warming and there is a broad consensus that an important part of that is a price on carbon. Maybe not sufficient. People will argue about whether it’s at the top of the list or in the middle of the list but as an important ingredient of a policy. But as you know, there is intense political reluctance to do anything that is perceived or as raising energy prices and people have pointed to what’s happening in the streets of Paris now and use that to say, see we can’t even think about carbon taxes because look how sensitive our people are to fuel prices. He famously paid the highest political price, you can, a lot of reason. It’s a complicated story. But no new taxes and then went back on that. And then in some sense that may have been one of the seminal moments that led to, you know the deeper version politicians on either side of the aisle have now with coming anywhere close to things that are perceived as raising taxes on people and I’m just wondering, I have a sense that, that, you know, is directly tied to how much more difficult it is today to have a conversation openly about putting a price on carbon. From the president who developed the market mechanism to put a price on acid rain, on SO2. Does that make sense to you? Is there part of the legacy there with regard to tax policy actually affects our ability to make progress on climate change today

 

[00:34:56]

Bill Reilly: I think students of the Bush administration are very attuned to the fact that it was his own party in the house of representatives that turned against him and embarrassed him by opposing his proposed. It wasn’t just taxes. It was new solidity and it was in many ways a very responsible policy and position and reason that it was as difficult as it was because of the promise he had made. And he recognized that. He knew, it was going to cost him. And I think it had a lot to do with costing in the election. The idea of a tax to me is always seem to be something and I should say, I once co-chaired the national commission on energy policy and every witness who testified before us who was an economist was clear that the most efficient way to pushing cost and to incentivize reductions would be tax, would be a price. And everybody who had any experience with Washington and politics said, if you come out for a tax here, that’s the only thing your report will be known for. And so, we didn’t. We came out for cap and trade. My own sense is that cap and trade in California is producing something like $3 billion a year and most of that is not going for climate protection. It’s going for environmental justice and I think 50% of it is going to build a new high speed rail. So, in that sense, it’s a bit of a disappointment. That could go for the issue that was seen as most important in California’s forest and in increasing forestry and improving it. If you really want to affect climate. I think, it’s going to be difficult to do anything of this sort but in the context of dealing with what looks to be on the horizon and very severe collection of succession of deficits and growing national debt, I suspect there will be a significant reform and that, that will be a moment when some reapportionment of taxes may make sense and climate maybe taken more seriously by the public, because you will have more experience with climate change. I’ve always thought that we are going to require some kind of acknowledged climate caused crisis before we have a political disposition to address this problem. But we’ve done it before. We did it on clean air. We did it in the bipartisan way. It was very controversial and was strongly opposed by pretty entrenched interests in industrial Midwest and west Virginia and leaders in the congress and nevertheless they were overcome. So, I think, I wouldn’t give up on some of the more efficient, what appeared to be more efficient approaches to some of these problems. But one has to be careful and clearly people I know in the congress who would like to recognize publicly, the seriousness of the problem. Many of them don’t think the moment has come politically. They tell me, they will never ask as they go to their districts for vacations for recess and the rest. They never asked about climate. Until that changes, I don’t think that the politics will be there.

 

[00:38:15]

Jason Bordoff: You talked about some of the legislative environmental achievements. I mean, obviously energy and environment are closely related. You also had during the administration of HW. Bush, I think the only major energy legislation passed that decade, one of the few pieces bounced since then, the energy policy act of 1992 which had elements of energy security and domestic production but also investments in research, alternative transportation fuels, energy efficiency and was a bipartisan piece of legislation, just I wanted to ask, because I haven’t seen it talked about as must actually in his legacy. But what was most consequential about that and what kind of allowed for the where you and Secretary _____ [00:39:00] on the same page on that and what was most consequential about the legacy of that legislation.

 

[00:39:06]

Bill Reilly: You know one of the first things, I did when I was beginning to work on the Clean Air Act was to talk to the energy secretary at _____ [00:39:14] and make a deal with him. And I agreed to support research in the clean coal, coal technology, pollution control management of coal in return for his support of a 10 million ton acid rain bill. So we were right together on that and that removed immediately the most likely opponent or objector to the kind of thing we were doing on the environment. And Watkins was a great partner. We also worked together and sometimes competitively on efficiency standards for appliances. I can recall that we had a proposal to require a sleep function in computers and we’re gonna do it with one computer company and about a week before I was to make the public announcement, I got a call from the trade association that said, actually, all of the companies would like to be involved with this. Could you delay it enough to let us all come on board? And I later heard from the energy department, well, hey, isn’t this our department? I said, yeah, well, it is your department. You didn’t think about it. And we then got into code development of standards for refridgators which are vastly more efficient than they were 25 years ago. This is a huge success in terms of use of resources. And that started with us, with the Bush administration. We did green light city PA, where we encouraged the new, I forget what the congressman in Texas pejoratively calls them _____ [00:40:50] light. But they were much more efficient and someone came to me and told me that we could save very significant amounts of money for companies if we encouraged them to change their lighting and I found this hard to believe. I said, it’s the least counterintuitive that EPA has figured out how to save company’s money and they haven’t. He said well, everybody just pays his lighting bill. They don’t think about that as a cost center that they can control. But they can. Well, it turned out that we created a number of incentives for that and you think about lighting. It entails a great deal of electric power and often pollution associated with that for lighting. It was a fast growing area. Computer as well of energy use and it turned out that companies saved a very significant amount of money. They saved it partly in the technology of the lighting because the lights lasted much longer. But you know, the real saving turned out to be one we didn’t even anticipated. At least, I didn’t. It was that they had to change the light bulbs much less often and that was a labor cost. So, there were a lot of things that flowed that were experimental or innovative or important and have had lasting consequences and that’s part of the legacy of George HW. Bush. I remember having a conversation with a president of Columbia at one point who told me that the president had talked to him about Kuwait and the war in Kuwait and I thought isn’t it interesting. President of the United States consulted the president of Columbia and I know that president of Mexico told me the same thing that he had conversations and given his own views. Well, that was a political skill that also it was a respect for the rules that different people have and that we basically resolved these problems together. We are part of an international community. And Bush was very attuned to it. It had, I think a lot to do on the way, we all behaved towards other countries and other delegations and things of that sort. But most of all it made us very proud of it.

 

[00:43:01]

Jason Bordoff: Those are powerful reflection and I think that a poignant reminder about the power of knowing someone respects you and what you do and what you did. And I just want you to know how much I respect you and what you’ve done with your career and what you did serving in the EPA and in so many other places. It is an honor to be with you and it’s always a privilege to have a chance to spend time with you and learn from you and I appreciate your making time, so that everyone listening could learn from you and learn about the legacy of our 41st president.

 

[00:43:31]

Bill Reilly: You’re very generous, so it’s easy to talk about for what we’ve been covering. I appreciate your questions.

 

[00:43:37]

Jason Bordoff: Bill Reilly, thanks for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange. Thanks to all of you for listening. For more information, check us out online at Energypolicy.columbia.edu or follow us on social media at Columbiauenergy. Until next week, I’m Jason Bordoff. Thanks for listening.