Myron Ebell, director of Competitive Enterprise Institute HARDtalk


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Myron Ebell, director of Competitive Enterprise Institute

Stephen Sackur speaks to Myron Ebell, who led president Trump's transition team on environment policy and has long been an advocate of radical reform of the federal EPA.


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Welcome to HARDtalk, I'm Stephen Sackur.

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The trump administration is intent on a radical reset of America's

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energy and environment policies. The implications will be profound on

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everything from fossil fuel production to climate change policy.

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My guest today is Myron Ebell, who led the Trump transition team on

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environment policy and has long been an advocate of radical reform of the

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Federal environmental protection agency. In America's new politics,

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will the interest of big business consistently trump environmental

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concern? Myron Ebell,

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welcome to HARDtalk. Thank you for having me. Let's ask a

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simple question to start with, in your opinion does the Drum residency

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represent a fundamental reset of environmental and energy policy in

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the United States? -- Trump. Everything that he has said in the

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campaign, it seems to me suggests that it is a fundamental reset and

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that we will be turning a corner and moving to a much brighter future.

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Yes, I mean, you obviously have the inside track on this, because you

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were part of the transition team very much involved with drawing up a

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roadmap for future policy on environmental matters. So, just give

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me a sense of the way in which your input and he insights to you work

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together. Were you both on the same page, or you both talking about

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really moving in a very different direction from the Obama

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administration? First, I have no role in the Trump Administration. My

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work in the transition is over, so I don't represent or speak for the

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Trump Administration or for the President. I was asked to lead the

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transition team on EPA because in fact my views largely respond to the

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views that the President campaigned on and that he promised the American

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people he would do if he was elected. So, yes, I think that we

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share most views on energy and the environment. Let's talk big picture

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sort of mindset before we dig down into the detail of environmental

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policy making. In terms of your approach and the President's, and I

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take the point that the transition is over and you are not part of the

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team today, but in terms of both of your mindsets, do you believe that

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when a scientists, when politicians in the western world, when

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environmental campaigners all talk about the urgent need to

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de-carbonise the global economy, do you think they are wrong? Yes, I do,

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and I think that the campaign that we have just witnessed in the United

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States is interesting, because it is the first presidential campaign that

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we have had where both candidates, Secretary Clinton and Mr Trump,

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campaigned on climate policy and on energy policy and put forward very

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different views. One side won and the other side lost, so I think the

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American people basically agree with President Trump, that climate change

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is not one of their top concerns and that there are a lot more pressing

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issues to take up by the government. Do you think the American people

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agree with President Trump when he tweets, as he has, in the last few

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years, in fact, because it is a consistent thought of his, that

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global warming is a hoax, "I am not a believer" he has said, we have the

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weather, it goes up and down, but we have much bigger problems than that.

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Do you think with those sorts of messages that he tweets out, he is

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speaking for the American people? I think he is speaking for a majority

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of the American people and I think, you know, he tends to exaggerate for

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a fact and then he walks back, so he said climate change is a hoax and

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later when asked about it he said, I was making a joke, but I don't think

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it is a big problem is the gist of his position, I think. I mean, I was

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about to say I am assuming you don't think climate change, giving given

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all of the consensus, you don't think man-made climate change,

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though warming of the planet, you don't think it is a hoax, do you, or

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do you? No, but I think a great deal of exaggeration has entered the

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debate by the campaigners for very rigourous climate policies, and I

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think if you actually look at the science, it doesn't support what I

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would call the alarmist position. And, you know, we can discuss that,

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but I think the fact is that there are large interests, both in the

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scientific community but also in the business community, that it is in

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their interest to exaggerate the impact of climate change. Well,

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let's try to keep it out of politics and the realms of exaggeration,

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let's just, and I don't want to spend long on it, let's be specific,

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two of the US federal agencies that have voiced most concerned about

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climate change, our NASA, and goodness knows they rely on science

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and the US department of defence, which are stated in 2015 that

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climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national

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security, so, leave aside politics, leave aside exaggeration, you would

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accept the words of NASA and the Pentagon, would you? No, I think

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that the department of defence was under very strict political

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supervision from the Obama White House and that they were told to

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make sure that climate change is involved in all of your thinking

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about defence, so no, I do not accept that and I think that opinion

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at NASA is divided between the modelling community and what I would

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call the empirical community, people who rely on temperature datasets. It

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is probably to remind everyone you come from a background, the

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Competitive Enterprise Institute centre for energy and environment

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which in the past winner has been funded by Exxon Mobil, by the Koch

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brothers, by people who clearly have an interest in pouring scorn on the

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climate change agenda, so it is indeed interesting that Donald Trump

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pick you to handle his EPA and environmental policy transition,

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isn't it? Yes, I was surprised. Usually an insider is chosen for

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each transition team. Someone who has had experience working inside

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the agency or the department, I do not have that, I have always been an

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outsider. But I don't think a funding sources of my organisation

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have much to do with the policies that we pursue. The fact is that we

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adopt policies based on what we think are the facts and our

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political beliefs, which are for free markets and limited government

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and then we go out and try to attract funding from sources that

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agree with us. Sure, but in the end you're not a scientist, I mean, I

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was talking about NASA's science and all of the data they collected and

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their conclusion that carbon dioxide particles are the highest in the air

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in 650,000 years, global temperatures have risen much more

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than one Celsius since 1880, you know, this is scientific data, you

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are not a scientist, and the group that you have come from and that you

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have very ably represented, very influential in represented, has an

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agenda which is driven by people who have an interest in denying climate

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change. I think that the facts are that the warming we have seen since

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the end of the little Ice Age in the middle of the 19th century is

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modest. It may be that there is an increasing component of that change

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caused by human activity, primarily burning coal, oil and natural gas,

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but, for example, we have produced - humanity as a whole has produced

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about 31% of the total greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of

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the industrial age, they have been emitted in the last 20 years, and

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yet there has been a pause, or a hiatus, or a plateau of warming in

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the last 20 years. If the climate is as sensitive to CO2 as is claimed by

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the alarmists we should have seen significant warming in the last 20

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years. Now, there was an attempt to rewrite the temperature record and

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that has just this week been exposed as a hoax. Well, I do want to get

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into the detail of what you think is going to happen to environment

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policy under the Trump administration but one more point on

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the politics of this, and again I think it is instructive to look at

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where conservative parties and politicians sit around the world on

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this issue, and I have looked from, you know, Western Europe, Austral

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Asia, everywhere else, and, frankly, right or centre politicians on the

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whole art now very accepting of the scientific consensus around climate

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change -- Australiasia. -- are now. And two other grandees of the

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Republican Party, Jim Baker and Georgia shorts, on this very day

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have published an article arguing for a carbon tax as saying that

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there is mounting scientific evidence of the problems with the

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atmosphere, they are too compelling now to ignore -- Schultz. I use

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weighed by the fact that, you know, so many conservative political fears

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are now saying this? -- Are you swayed. No, in fact, the house of

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representatives held a test vote on a carbon tax last year and every

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single Republican, including those who agree with your statement that

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climate change is a growing problem voted against a carbon tax. Every

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single Republican. So I think that the Republican Party is united, and

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we have some people who have perhaps served their country well many

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decades ago but they really... They are out of the debate, they are not

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a significant part of the conservative movement today. Right,

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well, let's look at what Donald Trump as president, surrounded by

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people from the conservative movement may do in terms of

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environmental policy-making. Let me be blunt about it, was your

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recommendation to him that he should emasculate the environmental

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protection agency? I have seen leaked documents which suggest you

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think the cuts should go from a workforce of 15,000 to 5000, that a

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huge amount of the grant giving activity should be frozen and then

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stopped, what kind of EPA do you imagine Donald Trump will supervise

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and look after? The document I prepared, it it was an action plan

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for the administration, it was advisory and was meant to translate

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the campaign and the candidate's promises and commitments into

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governance. So, let me tell you what President Trump said during the

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campaign. He promised to withdraw from the Paris climate treaty, he

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promised to defunct United Nations climate programmes, and he promised

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to get rid of all withdraw or rescind a number of greenhouse gas

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rules and other environmental rules that he said, and I think quite

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correctly, had very little to do with environmental to it in, but

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have a huge negative effect on the economy and they are blocking

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investment in the economy and creating jobs. So, that is what he

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promised, so that is what I imagine he is determined to deliver. But the

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fact is that he also promised, or he said he wanted to abolish the EPA,

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so when I have been quoted recently as saying, I think we are in for

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some radical downsizing at the EPA, I am actually taking a more moderate

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position than he did when he said he wanted to abolish it, or at one

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point he said, we will leave a little bit. So, let me get this

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clear in my head, you believe that Donald Trump is going to revoke the

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clean air act, that he is going to revoke the standards that he imposed

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on coal and natural gas power plants, he is going to revoke some

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of the clean water regulations, the waters of the US rule, the standards

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imposed on the Chesapeake Bay, these are all gone as far as you concerned

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if Donald Trump gets his way? Shinzo Abe

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not the clean air act. Very important to power stations across

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the nation? It will take some time to withdraw and reseat some of these

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rules but I think those are his commitment and I think largely you

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can make a very strong case that the reason he wanted the election is of

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the reasons because of these policies and similar policies for

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job creation resonated across America in places where we still

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have manufacturing, we still have energy intensity... And America is

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breathing dirtier air and living with dirty water and that is a prize

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worth paying? President Trump said during the campaign that he wanted

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to return to the EPA to look after water and carbon dioxide is a

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naturally occurring gas necessary for life on Earth, it is not a

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pollutant and the waters of the US rule has nothing to do with drinking

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water but expanding Federal jurisdiction over wetland, you will

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recall President Trump said he wanted to drain one particular slot

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in Washington and so it is no surprise that he wants to with draw

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a rule which would expand federal jurisdiction dramatically.

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Interesting you pick on that phrase. Do you think putting a former chief

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of ExxonMobil in charge of the EPA, if he gets is way, Scott Pruett, as

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Attorney General in Oklahoma has run lawsuits and action against the

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environmental protection agency, does that to you represent the

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draining the swamp? Yes, Scott Pruett really has shown his

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dedication to try to rein in the EPA which is really out of control. It's

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regulatory onslaught against people across America who dig up staff,

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grocer, and I am proud to say my organisation has been with the

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Attorney General in Oklahoma on several major suit including the

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case to overturn the greenhouse glass rules will power plants. The

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appointment has not been matched by the feelings of employees. They have

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signed a petition saying he is shown no interest to withhold polluters

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accountable but most significantly, a former Republican chief of the

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EPA, Christine Todd Whitman, saying that she could not remember ever

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seeing an appointment of someone so disdainful of both the agency and

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the signs of what the agency does. -- science. I disagree with that

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characterisation. These are the people I have been posing on policy

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grounds for a long time and I pleased the new administrator of the

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EPA is someone who agrees with me that fundamental reform needs to be

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made at the EPA. With respect, the only people ardently backing him a

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big business leaders, the fossil fuel industry and people like you

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who we have established have a background in think tanks which are

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to a certain extent sponsored by those sorts of groups. Well, it is

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just the fact that elections can change directions and this election

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surprise people and there are a lot of people coming to terms with the

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fact that we have a candidate who ran on these issues and the American

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people elected him and he won in states there are still based in

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manufacturing and energy intensive industry that disagree with the by

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coastal orbital wheat and every person you have quoted all refer to

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is part of the urban elite and think they know better than people who

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have to deal with all issues and think that really do not need energy

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and their career in front of computer screens manipulating

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information somehow everybody can live like that... You are, you know,

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obviously a man with a senior position I do not think you are 1

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million miles away from the elite yourself. But keeping to the

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specifics. There are some very important decisions. The philosophy

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of... We want to push ahead with energy on all fronts. Let's think

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about some of the key decisions. This Dakota pipeline which so many

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people, environmentalists and the Sioux native Americans on whose land

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it will cross, can we take it that it will go ahead and you will push

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for the keystone pipeline to be built as well? President Trump has

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made it clear in his executive order that he expects both pipelines to be

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completed after the regulatory obstacles have been removed and a

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fully permit it. The Dakota pipeline will move very rapidly. The Standing

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Rock Sioux have said they will be a massive backlash and protest if the

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Dakota pipeline goes ahead full of do you think the Trump

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Administration is ready for that sort of public stand-off? We will

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have to see our have lots of experience with pipelines. We've

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have hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines in this country, they

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never became politically... They never became a political matter

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until the environmental community said that we have to stop producing

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fossil fuels. The pipelines in themselves do not resent a safety

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threat, in fact, they register the risks of oil spills because right

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now the oil in North Dakota and Alberta a lot of it is being moved

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by rail cars and we have seen the kinds of disasters that can happen

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when you try to move liquid petroleum in a rail car and you have

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an accident. Let's just end if we may with thoughts of the global

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stage in which it is drama is being played out. At the Paris climate

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agreement was a milestone wrecked it knows as such not just by the Obama

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administration but by governments all over the world and that there

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was a great deal of talk of the United States and China, together,

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leading the move towards a decarbonisation of the global

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economy. You happen to think while the rest of the world continues in

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that direction, the US is performing at heartbreak turned and going in

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the opposite direction? Yes, I think the US will lead the world to a much

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brighter future full think the Paris agreement is a dead end. I think the

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commitment made to their largely on paper and not real. I think every

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country that wants to have a growing and prosperous economy finds out

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that these kinds of commitment are huge obstacle to maintaining

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economic growth. I think is see China has made a promise that its

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emissions will peak sometime in the 20 30s and that gives them a long

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time to grow and they can then say we have made a mistake not take that

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is not what is happening in China. They are interest so many billions,

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it is mind-boggling, in renewable energy. By 2020 half of the energy

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will will be wind, hydro, solar and 14 million jobs will be created.

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They are not bleeding heart liberals but they believe that is their

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future. I disagree with that. If you look at the facts,... Of those are

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facts. We have talked about science and fax throughout the interview...

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Hang on, if you look at other things they are investing in, they are

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making huge investment in fossil fuel in fossil fuel plants. They

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have a variety of policies that they are pursuing the fact is, their

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energy consumption is going up and most of that, most of the new

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consumption is coming from fossil fuels. Windmills are great when they

:23:39.:23:44.

are blowing. Solar panels are great when the sun is shining but in fact,

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their economy, like the US economy and the European economy, runs on

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fossils fuels. 80% of the world 's energy comes from fossil fuel. In 25

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years, the right predictions are that about 80% will still be used.

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We could go on but we have run out of time. Myron Ebell, and cute for

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joining us from Washington. Thank you.

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Stephen Sackur speaks to Myron Ebell, who led president Trump's transition team on environment policy and has long been an advocate of radical reform of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Trump administration seems intent on a radical reset of America's energy and environment policies, the implications of which will have a profound effect on everything from fossil fuel production to climate change policy. In America's new politics will the interests of big business consistently overshadow environmental concerns?