Investigative journalist Steve Horn breaks down the special interests behind the Trump administration’s pro-fossil fuel presentation at COP23
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor in Baltimore. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is in full swing in Bonn, Germany and all eyes are now on the US, now the only country in the world to reject the Paris Climate Accord. In Bonn on Monday, the Trump administration held a presentation they called “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation”. The presentation sought to pose coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as the solutions to the climate crisis. Climate activists disrupted the panel during opening remarks. Joining us to talk a little bit about the Trump administration’s Bonn panel, for the first time in our studio in Baltimore, is Steve Horn. Steve is a research fellow for Desmog.com and a freelance investigative journalist. His writing has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, The Guardian, Vice News, The Young Turks Project: TYT Investigates and many others. Thanks for being here today, Steve. STEVE HORN: Good to finally be here. Thanks for having me. DHARNA NOOR: So, today during George David Banks opening remarks on this Trump administration panel, climate activists came in, they disrupted, they started singing songs. Talk a little bit about him and generally about this panel pushing clean coal and nuclear power as solutions to climate change. STEVE HORN: So, yeah. I think it’s important to like first point out who is George David Banks. Basically, before he came to the Trump administration, like almost everyone who is involved in the current administration, he came from either, some people came straight from the industry, such as our Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, of course the CEO of ExxonMobil before this. But, many came from institutions that are funded by the likes of ExxonMobil, Koch industries, et cetera. One of those people is George David Banks who was the Executive Vice President of The American Council on Capital Formation which is basically a think tank that’s pro-everything that’s being touted in this panel. They’re very much big pushers of LNG Exports which represents Tellurian interest. They’re very pro-coal, which represents Peabody’s interest. So, he was very naturally placed to convene and introduce a panel of this sort. DHARNA NOOR: Yeah, and he also previously was an energy or a climate aid, rather, to George Bush. So, okay, one of the firms you just mentioned is Peabody Energy. A representative from Peabody Energy actually spoke on this panel also. They’re not really like a household name in the same way that ExxonMobil is, for instance. But they’re the largest private sector coal company in the world, right? STEVE HORN: Yeah. The important thing with Peabody right now and during the Obama administration into today and even before that, but huge miner of coal on US public lands and big ambitions to export a lot of that coal to countries that are building coal fired power plants, especially, in Asia. So, while coal is being phased out a bit in the US at the power plant level, there’s still a lot of mining happening and Peabody is doing a lot of that mining on federal lands, which are leased out by the US Bureau of Land Management through the Department of Interior. So, they do still have a lot of coal all around the United States, particularly in the Illinois basin and in the Western United States. So, not a household name, but a huge name in the coal industry. DHARNA NOOR: You also mention the name Tellurian, they’re a natural gas exporter. Again, also, of course, represented on this Trump administration panel. Could you talk a little bit about them? What’s their role in the Trump administration? STEVE HORN: Yeah, Tellurian is probably the name that people will know maybe in a year or two, but not quite the household, maybe never will be a household name but increasingly becoming a player in the oil and gas industry. They’re basically an offshoot of this company named Cheniere , which is the biggest exporter of gas right now. The CEO of Cheniere is Charif Souki was, Charif Souki was forced out by Carl Icahn through a sort of a major shareholder of the company wanted new executive level people for his own whatever profit motives that he had. So, Souki was forced out as CEO and started this new company Tellurian which unlike Cheniere, they do large scale LNGs. So, these are on huge tankers that sign long term contracts to particularly countries in Asia right now, Eastern Europe, a little bit in Central Europe. What Tellurian is trying to do is small scale LNG where it will still be in big bulk amounts overall, but each ship will be smaller. And so this a increasing trend within the industry. So, the reason why it matters is that the large scale LGN basically they have to go through the entire regulatory process, through FERC through the Department of Energy and get all the permitting. DHARNA NOOR: FERC is the federal- STEVE HORN: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. So what the small initiative, which is moving right now through the Department of Energy, is basically an entirely new regulatory landscape where they do not even have to go through, first of all no FERC regulatory process, but then second of all it will assumed to be in public interest to export LNG if it’s small scale. So it’s this proposed rules that’s now pending. If it goes through the Department of Energy, Tellurian would be the number one beneficiary. It’s something they’ve been pushing kind of quietly. It’s, iIf you read the industry news, it’s big news. Free the business press is big news, but it’s not quite being talked about at the level of climate activists and environmental activists. But Tellurian is the number one player in that new game that’s being played through the Department of Energy. DHARNA NOOR: And what about nuclear power? Why is the Trump administration also pushing nuclear power? STEVE HORN: Yeah. So, nuclear power is something that’s being pushed at the, through the Department of Energy level with bailouts and you know, taxpayers backing these plants that are not doing well financially. Same thing with some coal-fired power plants. So, it’s not surprising that they’re there at the table. And nuclear power is still a big part of the American energy portfolio at the power plant level as we see coal kind of slide down. We’ve seen nuclear kind of pick a little bit and of course gas is the number one winner right now with fracking at the power plant level and even now with exports ’cause there’s so much gas on the market. DHARNA NOOR: And of course, we’ve talked about this so much on The Real News, but why are coal and nuclear gas and or rather why are coal and natural energy and nuclear power all to be feared? You know, why aren’t they going to save us from the climate crisis? STEVE HORN: Yeah. I’m not a nuclear expert so I wish I could give you good answers, but there are plenty of good resources on that. But in terms of coal and natural gas, coal of course is at the power plant level, still the dirtiest source of fuel in the world in terms of what it emits into the atmosphere at that level plus all of the, all of the ecological class of mining it whether it’s mountain top removal in Appalachia or whether it’s underground as devastating water impacts in local communities where it’s being mined, et cetera. So there’s, then plus moving it by train to market and then the coal dust flying off of trains. That’s, there’s a whole slate of ecological issues. If you look at natural gas, which is the issue I cover the most or oil, also for fracking. What promoters of it say is that it’s the cleanest fossil fuel. What they leave out of the discussion is they’re only talking, when they say that they’re talking about at the power plant level. So, it’s clean air when it’s burned at a power plant, but it’s dirtier everything that comes before that. So actually getting it out of the ground and potential methane leakage that comes from that. Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 80 to 90 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which comes from coal when it emits into the atmosphere in its first 20 years. Then basically ends up equaling out over a longer period of time, but we don’t, but if we’re talking about climate change, the period of time that matters is the short term, those 20 years where it is dirtier. So, the methane issue with gas plus all of the latter issues from fracking that may happen going down under the ground a mile and then out a mile. Potential leakage at that level into underground water, which has been well documented in places like Dimock, Pennsylvania. In Texas and Wyoming, et cetera through those high profile EPA studies that fell through on the Obama administration. So, the set of issues is huge for all of these fossil fuels. I wish I could tell you more about nuclear though. DHARNA NOOR: I wanna wrap up this segment just by asking about a last panel and who is featured. And that’s Barry K. Worthington. He’s the Executive Director of the United States Energy Association. What can you tell us about the USEA? STEVE HORN: Yeah. The USEA is basically if you combined the American Petroleum Institute and you combined whatever the coal industry’s biggest lobby is and you combine the nuclear industry’s biggest lobbies. All of these forces joined into one. It’s basically the voice of the fossil fuel industry in the United States. It’s biggest competitor in the renewable energy sector might be AWIA, the American Wind Energy Association. Or the solar equivalent, SEIA, Solar Energy Industry Association. So basically those are the competitors, but this is the leading voice of the fossil fuel industry of the United States. It’s been around for decades and they’re normally on the cutting edge of the big, you know, if you’re looking at the broad energy portfolio, they are the voice of whatever that happens to be in the United States or what those industries would like it to be. DHARNA NOOR: Alright. Steve Horn. Research fellow at Desmogblog and investigative journalist and frequent guest on The Real News. Thanks for coming and hanging out in the studio with us today. STEVE HORN: Thanks for having me. DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.