“I’m afraid that’s all we have time for,” declared ABC This Week host George Stephanopoulos at the end of today’s pitifully short segment on President Obama’s efforts to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants:
You’d figure that public and planetary health would merit more than five minutes—I mean, did we really need to hear Senator Ted Cruz blather on for twice as long?–but ABC executives thought otherwise. Wonder what motivated them…
In any event, the segment wasn’t completely terrible, but it obviously didn’t do enough to offset the paucity of quality climate coverage on Sunday morning news programs. The segment began with ABC News correspondent Ron Claiborne’s observation that Obama was “bypassing Congress” with his carbon-reduction effort, failing to note that this effort is required by the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA. We were then treated to the usual nonsense from Karen Harbert of the right-wing US Chamber of Commerce, who proclaimed economic gloom and doom. While admitting that human activity is a contributing factor to climate disruption, she pulled out the old denialist dodge:
The climate has been changing forever and will continue to change.
Then we are treated to yet another round of the “climate is always changing,’’ rather like a murder defendant telling the jury that people are always dying.
In his discussion with Natural Resources Defense Council head Frances Beinecke and National Mining Associated head Hal Quinn, Stephanopoulos, to his credit, pointed out that Paul Krugman had debunked the Chamber of Commerce’s economic-apocalypse claims. Quinn, not deviating from the polluter script, insisted that Obama’s actions would impoverish the country.
Beinecke provided the common sense:
It absolutely is worth the cost and actually our analysis shows that this could be done very efficiently, economically.
One of the major ways to make this work is to invest in energy efficiency, which will actually save the consumer money. And we’ve seen that happen all over the country. Our energy system is getting cleaner; we’re relying more on efficiency and more on renewables. and our emissions are going down.
The purpose of this rule is to really close the loophole on carbon pollution, reduce emissions as we’ve done with lead, arsenic and mercury and improve the health of the American people and unleash a new economic opportunity.
Stephanopoulos asked Quinn if he accepted or rejected mainstream climate science. Quinn responded with an implied endorsement of the fiction that is “clean coal”:
We can address the problem; we can lower emissions. Coal plant carbon emissions are 24 percent lower than just in 2005.
What we do need to have is a balanced set of policies that allow us to build new baseload coal power plants that would reduce emissions 25-30 percent below the old subcritical plants that dominate the fleet today.
And that’s what this policy doesn’t recognize. It’s not balanced in that sense.
Stephanopoulos then made a shockingly stupid observation to Beinecke:
I was a little surprised that the president emphasized the public health aspects, preventing asthma deaths and heart attacks rather than the environmental benefits.
Beinecke again had to save the segment, and again she delivered:
These have multiple benefits. Health benefits are paramount because coal-fired power plants emit particulates, which cause respiratory problems. There are enormous environmental benefits as well.
And I think we have to really focus on what the costs are that we’re experiencing from climate disasters. We’ve spent $200 billion in the last two years on extreme weather events. For those of us here in New York, Hurricane Sandy was devastating. There are other events all over the country, drought, wildfires.
This rule is designed to get us on a pathway to clean and efficient energy, reduce the health effects, benefit American families and I think this is really important, invest in innovation and technology that’s creating new jobs.
In a rational world, Beinecke would be the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, using that position to emphasize the economic benefits of a clean-energy future. In a rational world, ABC This Week would devote this week’s entire program to discussing the full ecological and political impact of Obama’s effort to confront the consequences of carbon. In a rational world, members of the political right would be as interested in joining the fight for a stable climate as they are in blustering about Benghazi.
It’s not a rational world, just a warming one. Stephanopoulos should send a hand-written thank-you note to Beinecke for making this segment worth watching. Were it not for her, the dishonest spin of Harbert and Quinn would have driven viewers to the boiling point.
UPDATE: Another sadly short segment for a story with such long-term implications, from today’s Weekends with Alex Witt on MSNBC. Great work, as always, from Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post.