Despite President Trump’s vows to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris accord, there are a number of U.S. senators, mayors and governors who are staging an anti-Trump revolt at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. We speak with Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who is part of a coalition that rejects Trump’s vow to pull the U.S. out of the Paris deal. Markey also addresses need for more resources in Puerto Rico as some 3.5 million U.S. citizens there still lack electricity as they recover from Hurricane Maria, and discusses the Trump’s threats of nuclear war against North Korea.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We are broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany. I’m Amy Goodman.
Despite President Trump’s vows to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Paris accord, there are a number of U.S. senators, mayors, governors, who are staging an anti-Trump revolt here in Bonn. This is Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse speaking in Bonn on Saturday.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: The primary point that I want to make is that the Trump administration is not only isolated in the world community on this issue, but also isolated within America on this issue. Congress has many strong voices who oppose the Trump administration. Governors, mayors, American corporations, our NGO community are all continuing ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Whitehouse, not to be confused, though, with the White House. That’s the Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. The lawmakers are part of a coalition of cities, universities, faith groups and companies who are in Bonn, Germany, to reject Trump’s vow to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord and instead proclaim “We are Still In.”
Well, on Saturday, Democracy Now! asked a number of these senators and mayors what they mean when they say, “We’re still in” – among them, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey. I began by asking him why he’s here at the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany.
SEN. ED MARKEY: We’re here to tell the world that Donald Trump does not represent the majority view in our country, that overwhelmingly people do believe that the planet is dangerously warming and that human activity is causing it and that we have to do something about it. So, we just want them to know that inside our country, mayors, governors, private sector companies and individuals are continuing to move forward to meet the goal that was committed by the United States to the world.
AMY GOODMAN: But what does that mean? I mean, if President Trump says he is pulling the U.S. out, what does it mean to say you’re pushing to meet the goals?
SEN. ED MARKEY: There are existing federal laws on the books that we will not allow him to repeal. There are existing state –
AMY GOODMAN: Like what?
SEN. ED MARKEY: The fuel economy standards that push our country towards over 50 miles per gallon by the year 2025, we are going to fight to make sure that stays on the books. The state laws for renewable electricity to be deployed in state after state, those laws are not going to be repealed. The appliance efficiency standard, that ensure that the toasters, the stoves, the light bulbs are made ever more efficient, we’re going to fight for that, as well.
So, ultimately, it’s the amount of pollution that goes up into the sky, and that comes from appliances, it comes from buildings, it comes from vehicles that are driven. And we are just here to tell them that we are going to make it very difficult for the president to roll back any of those standards. And at the state and the city level, it’s going to continue to move forward very aggressively, along with hundreds of companies in our country who are committed to raising their goals.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there’s the We are Still In coalition that you’re a part.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yeah, We are Still In, mm-hmm. That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re still in the climate accord. But then there’s also the Trump administration. They actually are making the trip over here, some of them, to hold a news conference, pushing nuclear and coal and gas. Your thoughts on this?
SEN. ED MARKEY: The Trump administration is looking at the world in a rear-view mirror, but going forward when there are auctions in country after country. For example, Mexico had an auction for solar power. They came in at three cents a kilowatt hour. That’s below the cost of natural gas. It’s below the cost of coal. So this is a revolution that they can’t stop. The economics of the renewable revolution are now out of the control of governments. They are now out in the economic marketplace. And we are here to tell them that we understand that, that the economics of renewables, of all electric vehicles are all moving inexorably towards the day when his attempt to protect the fossil fuel economy is just not going to be successful.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s going to happen with President Trump’s nomination for his environmental policy adviser, Kathleen Hartnett White, who said carbon dioxide is harmless, actually a plant nutrient, and she described wind and solar power as “unreliable and parasitic”? She says climate change is “a dogma that has little to do with science.” And in a blog, she said coal “dissolved the economic justification for slavery.”
SEN. ED MARKEY: I sit on the committee that had the hearing with her testifying last week. She and her nomination are an embarrassment to our country. She does not believe in science. She does not believe in the harm that CO2 does. She is somebody that is only reflecting the views of corporate America, the fossil fuel industry.
So the Democrats are going to fight her as hard as anyone has ever been fought. In our committee and on the floor of the United States Senate, we are going to make sure that every Republican understands that it will be one of the most embarrassing moments of their lives if they vote to confirm her to a position of high responsibility over the environment in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any Republican allies on the committee?
SEN. ED MARKEY: I think that there is perhaps here a bridge too far, that it might just be something that is so egregious, so bad, that Republicans of conscience, who we know really do want to protect the environment, will have to stand up and say no. And we think that we have an excellent chance to defeat her and to defeat Michael Dourson, who has been put in charge of toxics, as well. I don’t think Republicans want a vote on either one of
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Dourson is and what he represents.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Michael Dourson is someone who worked for the chemical industry, who has now been nominated to take over regulation of toxic chemicals in our country. There’s one chemical, for example, 1,4-dioxane, that scientists at the EPA have come to a conclusion as to what is acceptable exposure for human beings without in fact contracting cancer. He believes that human beings can be exposed to 1,000 times that level of 1,4-dioxane. We think that’s an embarrassing vote for the Republicans out on the Senate floor, as well, and we’re going to make sure that everyone understands how bad not only he is, but his other environmental nominees.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, President Trump says he’s going to relax the car emissions standards.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to ask, overall – it is a repeated mantra in the U.S. media that Trump hasn’t been able to pass any meaningful legislation.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: But that obscures the fact that the EPA head, Scott Pruitt, is pushing fast and furious, repealing one rule, regulation, after another, around the environment. Perhaps, as Bill McKibben said on Democracy Now! yesterday, the environment is the place that President Trump is making the most progress, or regressing us the most.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Well, on fuel economy standards, California and all of the other states that are part of the California waiver, they’re going to have a say on that. And I don’t think any of those states intend on relenting. So, there’s going to be a prolonged, bitter battle in the courts before the Trump administration can be successful on fuel economy standards. And at the end of the day, they’re going to lose this.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the fact that the EPA is moving to repeal so many environmental standards – and succeeding?
SEN. ED MARKEY: Without question, the Trump administration is trying to turn the EPA into Every Polluter’s Ally. But at the end of the day, they cannot repeal the Clean Air Act. They cannot repeal the Clean Water Act. They cannot repeal law after law. They can try to move the regulations, in their discretion, to a more conservative perspective, but that will be temporary. When the Democrats return or some normal Republican administration returns, then I think that the underlying statutes will still be on the books, because we don’t intend on allowing Trump to repeal one single law, even if he can change or interpret the regulations under the existing laws for a two- or three-year period. Knowing, as well, that the NRDC, the Sierra Club and other public interest groups and the attorneys general of the United States are going to sue Trump on any regulation that Scott Pruitt tries to change, it will be years before he’s successful on any significant regulation.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Markey, we just returned from Puerto Rico. And as we were flying here to Bonn, San Juan, which was the most electrified area – still the majority of people not getting electricity – actually lost their electricity.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what will happen with Puerto Rico? The people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Puerto Rico is an ongoing tragedy. It, unfortunately, is something that has had the Trump administration think of them as second-class citizens and not giving them the commitment which they need. The mayor of San Juan, Mayor Cruz, she speaks for me and, I think, the majority of the American people, that they are not ingrates. They are American citizens. They are people who are entitled to all of the full protections and benefits of our country. And in Congress, before the end of this year, we’re going to have a mighty battle over this, over what is happening with the American response, the American government’s response, down there. And we have to make sure that there’s full funding that goes to Puerto Rico, in the same way that it would go to Louisiana or Texas or Florida if they had a catastrophe. And we’re going to make sure we have that battle.
AMY GOODMAN: FEMA has just said that they will move out thousands of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. We were just speaking with a Puerto Rican activist who is here, deeply concerned about the answer being not solving the issue of Puerto Rico and all that has to happen right now, that also goes to its debt and what’s going to happen there, but just moving Puerto Ricans out.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yeah. There are estimates that upwards of 500,000 Puerto Ricans could just leave permanently that island and not go back again. That’s just wrong. These people should be given an option, that they know that the American government is coming in to help them, in a very brief period of time, to rebuild their homes, to rebuild their towns. Otherwise, they’re almost economic refugees, being forced to flee to Florida or Massachusetts or New York or New Jersey or Illinois, which is where they’re heading. That’s wrong. We should actually commit the resources to give them hope for a future in their own hometown, so that they don’t actually have to think about leaving.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be investigating Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary? Whitefish Energy gets this $300 million contract – Whitefish, of course, named for his hometown.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yes, yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And how it’s possible that when Hurricane Maria hit, there were two people who – Whitefish had two people, and they got a $300 million contract. Now the governor says they’re going to cancel it, not clear what’s going to happen with it.
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yeah, that contract is absolutely something that should raise the eyebrows of every member of the Senate so that they hit the ceiling. That’s how bad that deal is. A company that has no experience, very few employees, is given the job of maybe the major reconstruction of an electric grid system in the history of our country. It’s so wrong from step one that it’s not even really debatable. But yet, in this Trump administration, it is. And so, we need to make sure that we use that as an example that illuminates the soul of the Trump administration when it comes to how the people of Puerto Rico are treated.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your view on nuclear power? It seems that a number even of progressives are starting to say, “Well, it’s better than coal. It’s better than gas.” But so many people have fought nuclear power in this country for so many years.
SEN. ED MARKEY: The economics of nuclear power are absolutely abysmal. Westinghouse went bankrupt trying to build nuclear power for the people of Georgia and South Carolina. And that’s been what has happened over the last 30 years. It never did come back from Three Mile Island or Chernobyl or any of the other questions that have been raised over the years. It’s just almost impossible for them now to receive private sector funding. That’s why we have the Price-Anderson Act, that has the American people covering a major meltdown to the tune of $20 billion or more if something goes wrong. You don’t need that with renewables. You don’t need that with natural gas. And I think, ultimately, utility executives are rational, and they’re going to move towards the kinds of electrical generating technologies that are drawing the bulk, overwhelming bulk, of private sector investment.
AMY GOODMAN: Perhaps the greatest threat to the environment is nuclear war. President Trump has certainly upped the ante when it comes to North Korea, saying he’s going to unleash “fire and fury” –
SEN. ED MARKEY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: – on a population of 25 million. Your thoughts as he comes back from Asia now?
SEN. ED MARKEY: On Tuesday night, we’re going to have a hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee. I asked Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to have a hearing on the use of nuclear weapons by the United States first, in a conflict with the North Koreans or any other country. It’s time for us to have this debate across our country. Should the United States be the country that initiates a nuclear war, even if we have not been attacked by nuclear weapons? We need a national referendum on this issue. Donald Trump – no single human being should have the power to use nuclear weapons when they have not been used by an opponent, an adversary, of our country.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel we are closer to nuclear war now?
SEN. ED MARKEY: I think it’s very possible on the Korean Peninsula that we could slip into a situation where conventional war escalates so quickly that nuclear weapons becomes contemplatable on both sides. And I’m also concerned that there may be a plan by the U.S. government to use small nuclear bombs, baby nuclear bombs, to go in and surgically try to attack the nuclear weapons systems inside of North Korea. The problem with that is that even the Pentagon has concluded that there’s no guarantee that we would have knocked out all of the nuclear weapons capacity of North Korea, which could still leave them with the capacity to launch against South Korea, where we have 200,000 Americans, including 30,000 military personnel, or towards Japan or towards Guam. It would be catastrophic.