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Transcript: This is Climate: The U.S. Climate Agenda

MS. BAIRD: Good morning. Welcome to The Washington Post. My name is Kathy Baird. I’m the chief communications officer here. At The Post, it has long been a priority to devote extensive coverage to issues involving the climate and environment, and we are very pleased about the recent expansion of our climate coverage which has been a major investment that is commensurate with the story of climate change and its profound impact on humanity and the planet.

Here at The Washington Post today, we are delighted to welcome two very special guests to join us for conversations about the future of the U.S. climate agenda and how America's role is shaping and combating global warming.

First, we will hear from former Secretary of State John Kerry. He's currently serving as the United States’ very first special presidential envoy for climate, and he announced the creation of a carbon offset plan at last month's COP27 meant to help developing countries speed their transition away from fossil fuels. Kerry will be joined and interviewed by Post executive editor Sally Buzbee.

And next, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah will join Leigh Ann Caldwell, who is the co-author of The Post’s Early 202 newsletter and anchor of The Washington Post Live. They will be discussing his work on the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, and how the two parties are working together to come up with new smart energy projects. Sally Buzbee will join us up here on stage with Secretary Kerry after this short video. Thank you.

[Video plays]

MS. BUZBEE: Hello and good morning. Thank you all for joining us here today at The Washington Post. I'm Sally Buzbee, the executive editor here at The Post, and we're grateful to all of you for joining us for this important discussion today on the U.S. climate agenda, part of our ongoing series "This is Climate." I'm pleased to be joined today by the United States climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry. Thank you so much for coming to The Post.

MR. KERRY: Thank you for having me, Sally. I appreciate it.

MS. BUZBEE: Great. So, before we dive in on climate, I just wanted to very quickly get any reaction to the news this morning of the release of American basketball star Brittney Griner.

MR. KERRY: Well, obviously everybody is excited and delighted for that. I think she was--most people believe she was wrongfully held and was given a ridiculous sentence, cruel. But I think it is just terrific, and I thank our hostage leader Mr. Carstens and the president and everybody been involved in trying to make this happen, Secretary Blinken. And it's always terrific when you can get somebody out. Obviously, I know the president and everybody would have preferred that Paul Whelan could have come out too. So there remains work to be done. But I think it's absolutely fabulous.

MR. BUZBEE: Do you see any deeper U.S.-Russian potential cooperation because of a breakthrough like this or--

MR. KERRY: It's my sense that President Putin has sort of signaled that he's prepared to try to have some kind of discussion. But I think it's not clear to the president--and this is out of my lane, obviously--but it's not clear to the president and others that the moment is ripe. So, I think we have to continue to hope that the better angels of wisdom will land on the right shoulders here.

MS. BUZBEE: Yeah. All right. Thank you for that, sir.

And now we will turn to the matter at hand, which is--

MR. KERRY: Yeah, which everybody--I looked out here. It looks so grim. Come on, guys.


It's another day. Wake up.

MS. BUZBEE: So I wanted to ask you first, of course, about the recent, obviously COP meeting, COP27 in Egypt and really the major accomplishment about the creation of a loss and damage fund, where rich industrialized countries provide money to more vulnerable countries to try to help them cope with climate change. And I think the main question for many people is why this was able--why this happened now, and also really why it took until now for this to happen. Any thoughts you can give them?

MR. KERRY: Well, I think the second part of your question is the answer to why it happened now, because it's been long overdue. It's been building. It's a crescendo.

Fifteen million people are dying every single year

around the planet because of the quality of air, the lack of quality of air, the pollution, most of which comes from greenhouse gases. And 10 million people a year are dying from extreme heat. The presidents, leaders of island states around the world are not just contemplating, you know, the normal responses to bad weather and crisis, but they're thinking about where do they move their nation, what's going to happen to their people. As sea level rise continues, Bangladesh, two-thirds of which is about this far above sea level, disappears in the simplest of flooding. And we've seen the most complex of flooding with what happened in Pakistan and so forth.

So, it happened because it would be the height of arrogance and stupidity to look at a leader from another country in one of those places and tell them that damages don't exist, that there isn’t loss. So, I think for the credibility of the world, this was the moment where we needed to step up and make it clear that we have to find a way.

Now we didn't define the way yet. That's the work that's going to be done over the course of this year. But hundreds of billions of dollars of damage are done every year. Look at the United States. In three storms a couple of years ago, we spent $265 billion just cleaning up after the storms: Maria, Irma, and Harvey. Is that smart? Is that good governance? I mean, it's just the levels of human resistance that we see here to science and to facts is absolutely staggering.

And let me emphasize everything that President Biden and the world is trying to do through the UN process is predicated not on the whim and fancy of some leader or some ideological, you know, popular notion or unpopular as the case may be. This is about science. It's about mathematics, and physics, and some biology and chemistry mixed in. But the fact is, Sally, that if you were to talk, for instance, to one of the leading scientists in the world on this issue, Johan Rockström, who heads up the Potsdam Institute in Berlin--and I spent some time with him in Sharm talking to him, and I asked him what bothers you the most, what sort of concerns you the most about the road we're on? And he said, you know, I'm concerned--and this is a man, you know, who is not subject to hyperbole, I don't think--he said that he's worried that we may be past five tipping points: the Barents Sea, the permafrost, the Arctic, the Antarctic, and the coral reefs. You add those five potential tipping points up, and you have global catastrophe. So, look, I'm not a Cassandra. I don't run around saying doomsday is around the corner. But logic and basic interpretation and understanding of science and extrapolation of all of the evidence tells me that the precautionary principle of governance requires that we respond. And then we get ahead of this if we can. Now we can, but we're not choosing to. And so that's really the crisis we face.

If you look at Sharm El Sheikh, it is good that at Sharm El Sheikh all these nations came together and resisted the siren call of a few nations to sort of walk back from Glasgow. There are people who wanted to go back to the old formulation of well below two degrees or 1.5. And no, nations refused to do that and stuck with 1.5. But that doesn't mean they're all doing enough to get there. So, the crisis is really growing, and we have to find a way, Sally to be able to respond faster.

The missing ingredient here--let me just say that first of all--and thank you for--excuse me, I’ve to clear the post-COVID frog out of my throat. The--30,000 people marching around this conference with no masks, folks. And having traveled for two years around the world and avoided COVID, it proved to be more than I was capable--

MS. BUZBEE: Sorry for you about that.

MR. KERRY: But the key here is that we are seeing an opportunity lost. And it is only if every country comes to the table that we win this battle. No one country--United States, if we could physically go to zero emissions by tomorrow, and with Europe, we would still have the same crisis, because of all of the gas that is already up there in the atmosphere. Even if we were to get to net zero by 2050, we still have to find a way to suck and deploy 1.6 trillion tons of CO2 that's already lodged up in the atmosphere that will continue to do damage. But we--with technology moving--we have about a trillion dollars now of venture capital moving into the sector--that's going to grow, I think. And economies are beginning to actually outdistance legislatures around the world. Business is now very much a partner in our effort to be able to meet this challenge. There's still tension. There are still procrastinators. There are still obfuscators, liars even. And so we have a big fight on our hands to be able to marshal the truth and move in the right direction.

MS. BUZBEE: One of the things that I wanted to ask you about is something you alluded to, that the details of this agreement, the loss and damage agreement, are still to be worked out. And of course, many of those details are very tricky. I'm sure you're used to that. There's things like who are the countries who are going to pay, who are the countries that actually would receive assistance, who would oversee that fund. And I'm going to ask you about U.S. taxpayer dollars next. But can you just give us a bit of a timeline and a bit of an idea of how you alluded to this is going to play out over the next year? How tricky is that, and how does that happen?

MR. KERRY: Well, it's very tricky. It's very complicated. There aren't many legislators in the world that are prepared to put up public money in the sums that we need. And I believe that there's no government in the world, none whatsoever, that has the kind of money necessary to affect this transition at the pace we have to do it.

The UN Finance Report estimates that there's about a two and a half to four and a half trillion dollar per year deficit between now and 2050 in order to achieve the 1.5 degree limitation on warming.

MS. BUZBEE: A lot of money, right.

MR. KERRY: So if the public sector doesn't have the money, who does? There's only one place. It's in the private sector. And in the leadup to Glasgow, we--many of us worked very hard to bring major financial institutions of the world into the game to pledge what they would be willing, for instance, to invest--not to give away but to invest in this endeavor. So, I went to the six biggest banks in America, and they sharpened their pencils, they did their homework, and about a month later, after the request, they came out and said we are prepared, each with their own number, to invest between now and 2030 $4.16 trillion. That's a lot. That's serious money.

But it's not going to deploy unless you have bankable deals. So where do you find--how do you get the bankable deals? Well, for that, we have many different approaches that we're trying to bring together in sort of a blended finance approach, and one of those approaches is to get the MDBs, the multilateral development banks, to be able to have larger drawing rights--so the IMF--or be able in the banks themselves to be able to put more concessionary funding on the table so you could blend your finance and derisk the deals. If you could derisk, if you could have somebody else in line for taking the risk off initially, many of those entities, whether it's a Blackrock or, you know, Standard Bank, or whoever it is, could step up and say we're willing to invest at this point in time.

That's what we did, Sally, actually with--we did it with Egypt, and we did it with Indonesia. And a big announcement was made at the G20 by President Widodo and President Biden and the EU that we were going to work with Indonesia, which has significantly increased its NDC, its committed level of reduction. They have taken it from about 23 percent up to 43 percent, reduction by 2030. That would meet the standard of trying to keep 1.5 degrees alive. And they've doubled the amount of money up to about 30 gigawatts of renewables that they've pledged to deploy. And we're going to try to help them deploy. That's where the private sector comes in. So, if we can--in the case of Indonesia, we have cobbled together about $10 billion of public money, which will be added to by leveraged--another about nine half billion of leveraged money. And together that amount of money will help to facilitate the deployment of those renewables and the shutting of coal fired power plants. That has to happen on a vastly broader scale than we are able to do it now. We can't run around and do one bespoke deal here, another bespoke deal there. It just isn't going to be fast enough. And so everything has to accelerate and by, you know, vast amounts. We have to be deploying renewable six times faster than we are today, we have to be deploying electric vehicles about 20 times faster than we are today, if you're going to keep the earth's temperature at 1.5 degrees of increase.

MS. BUZBEE: Right.

MR. KERRY: Now, why is that important? Because every 10th of a degree above the 1.5 takes you into what scientists will say is really dangerous uncharted territory, which is far more expensive to cope with. So, you want--and every analysis, economic, of this challenge, makes it very clear it is far less expensive to be investing now, get ahead of it, than it is to wait when you will pay untold trillions of dollars and economies will be--if you think supply chains were interrupted by COVID, wait till you see what happens when 100 million people are moving in Africa because they can't live there anymore and they can't produce food, there's not enough water, and it's too hot. And we're already seeing indicators of that in various parts of the world.

MS. BUZBEE: So back on the loss and damage fund, though, I mean, is there going to have to be U.S. taxpayer money that helps the United States--presumably, the United States is going to have to be one of the nations that contributes--

MR. KERRY: Well, it’d be great if there were some. It's--I mean, the United States of America, proudly, is the largest humanitarian donor in the world. The American people already do an enormous amount around the world.


MR. KERRY: And you look at the program we've done--you know, what we did with AIDS in Africa, or what we did with President Obama to deal with Ebola and so forth. So, we're on deck. I mean, we're in the fight. But, yes, we're the largest economy in the world, $21-$22 trillion economy. The next closest to us is China, at, what, 16 or so trillion. We have to step up to lead. And but we have to also demand everybody else is at the table. And that means China too, and other countries who can't hide behind this UN cloak of we're a developing country, or it's a--it's a common but differentiated principle that we apply to this. It is common but differentiated. But common means you accept your level of appropriate responsibility. It doesn’t mean none.

MS. BUZBEE: You would expect China to potentially [unclear] contributor nation?

MR. KERRY: I would hope. I would hope.


MR. KERRY: I mean that's--we will, you know, we're--we picked up the conversation with China in Sharm. Unfortunately, you know, I got COVID in the last few days, and we had to--we couldn't quite finish those conversations.

MS. BUZBEE: Right.

MR. KERRY: But we will continue.

MS. BUZBEE: Were you disappointed, sir, that the--that the commitments on emission cuts did not increase at Sharm?

MR. KERRY: Yeah, that's a great question, Sally. There are a couple of ways to look at that. I mean, the short answer is I was disappointed that there wasn't a more collective decision that everybody agreed on with respect to mitigation. The--and there are two levels to look at in terms of that. There are individual nations that have stepped up that are doing things, and then there's the collective that has to really join together to make this happen. At the collective level, I think it fell slightly short. And the individual level, there were a lot of countries that did step up. Thirty nations increased their NDCs. We had the Indonesia just economic--you know, just transition partnership announced. We had an agreement we reached with Egypt, a very interesting one, where Egypt will shut down 11 gas turbines, and they will cease the use of five gigawatts’ worth of gas power, transfer that gas to Europe in order to help Europe through the difficult time with Ukraine, but shut the turbines altogether, which reduces their emissions, and deploy 10 gigawatts of solar and wind. So, it’s a 15-gigawatt net transition in the right direction, which we helped by providing $500 million together with Germany, which really stepped up, and the EU and the EBRD, the European Development bank, Reconstruction Bank. So, we put together about $500 million to do what I talked about a moment ago, the concessionary money, the risk taking money up front in order to help grease the skids and make the deal happen.


MR. KERRY: So that's a big step forward. The Methane Pledge, we started that in Glasgow. There was no focus. It's amazing. I mean, having led the Paris team when I was secretary, we barely talked about methane.

MS. BUZBEE: It's been very--right. It's not been as high profile.

MR. KERRY: And methane is responsible for half the warming of the planet. It's also the fastest reduction that we could get conceivably. So we now have 150 nations that have joined in the Methane Pledge, which is to have a global reduction of methane by 30 percent globally by 2030. If that were to happen--and I think it can; I really believe it could--because methane is simple. It’s not high tech. It’s low tech. It’s plumbing. It’s plugging a well or plugging leaks and stopping it in the transfer or use, and there are ways to do that that we can do. So if we accomplish it, it’s the equivalent of every automobile in the world, every truck in the world, every plane in the world, every ship in the world going to zero by 2030. That is a big grab.

MS. BUZBEE: Right.

MR. KERRY: So that’s the kind of thing that’s encouraging and says, who, you know, 150 nations? Fifty of those nations have put forward national action plans on methane. So again, it’s great, but we’ve got to get 200 nations. We’ve got to get everybody engaged. Well, 200, I’ll settle--with the island states and a few small nations in Africa obviously are not contributing to this problem.

MS. BUZBEE: Right, right.

MR. KERRY: So we’re really close to the critical mass we need to be able to do what we need to do.

MS. BUZBEE: And not to get too nitty gritty, but obviously Russia is, you know, a contributor on the methane side in the Ukraine war, and all that complicates--

MR. KERRY: Russia is one of the largest.


MR. KERRY: And obviously there is a huge amount of environmental destruction taking place in the war, and that is setting us back in and of itself.

MS. BUZBEE: Right. Setting back by how much?

MR. KERRY: I can’t tell you a percentage.

MS. BUZBEE: And also in terms of just to negotiate the lack of ability, though, to bring [unclear].

MR. KERRY: No, but what it’s changed--look, nothing--there’s--I don’t want to diminish one iota, the horror of what is happening in Ukraine and the absolute--the illegality and the depravity of what has been taking place there. So nothing that I say is meant to somehow, you know, be a comparison to that process. That said, Ukraine has altered the dynamics of the transition that we were really ramping up to out of Glasgow. And because of the lack of gas and the energy prices going up, it has afforded some people an opportunity to be able to make the argument, oh, you see, we were going too fast on the green side, this is why your prices are high and people are exploiting it and trying to push in the wrong direction. It's craven, but it’s a reality.

MS. BUZBEE: So many policy experts obviously, while in some ways applauding this work with the private sector also, you know, continue to say that this is--it can’t mask just the real public financing, the real government financing that needs to come to play here. Can you--can you tell us how you think of that? Are you trying to leverage the private and the public together? Are you disappointed by still the lack of commitment from the United States to other places in terms of just real government money for this?

MR. KERRY: Well, I think the president has stretched to do everything that he can do with a Congress that has obviously been very reluctant to put money on the line on this specifically. But Congress, to its credit, passed one of the most important pieces of legislation ever with respect to environment, and that's the Inflation Reduction Act, which is going to have a profound impact on our ability to be able to raise our game. And that's--you you heard President Macron sort of, you know, complaining a bit about it. I think the answer for Europe and for other countries is to do the same thing, because that's a reflection of exactly what we need to do to win the battle.

So the United States has stepped up. We're actually right now--without bragging about it, but we're a pretty good actor on this, because we are--we have the pieces in place now to be able to achieve our goals for 2030, if we follow through adequately. But again, I say that the public sector is--can help shape this more, the public sector can create more incentives, the public sector could put more money on the table that could leverage the money, for instance, a few billions of dollars. In a world where we’ve put 1.9 trillion into the COVID initiate and then 1.2 trillion into the infrastructure, and now about 400 billion or so into the--into the IRA, all of which I think is necessary and great. But, you know, I hear people when I go to other countries say, hey, you guys have done a pretty good job taking care of yourselves. But there are a lot of countries that don't have that kind of money. And you want us to not exploit our gas or our oil. But we don't have the money to be able to buy the technology and deploy the technologies, the alternatives.

And I've met with many a president of a country in the last few years who's complained about that and said, I'm ready to do something different if you're ready to help us financially in that effort. So, we really need to do what the United States historically has done, which is leverage outcomes in other countries by being willing to invest and put money on the table. The Marshall Plan is one of the greatest examples of that, for God's sakes. I mean, you take Germany and Japan, where we turned, you know, the two countries that attacked us and the rest of the world into two of the strongest democracies and partners that we could ask for in the world. So, I think the value of those kinds of investments cannot be overstated.

MS. BUZBEE: And as we head into a Republican-controlled House, are you more worried about the ability of the United States to do that, to put in money that can be leveraged in that way?

MR. KERRY: Well, I don't want to prejudge, but I mean, I'm just, you know, going by what has been said publicly. There's cause for some concern, sure. But I hope--again, I hope people will depoliticize this issue. This is not--I've said this many times to China, particularly--this is not a bilateral issue. This is not a partisan issue. It has nothing to do with Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative. It has everything to do with the survival of the planet. And that's not an exaggeration.

And if you look at what's happening in this conference in Canada right now on biodiversity, I mean, we've destroyed--dead, gone, extinct--half the species of the planet, and they are disappearing at a rate that is terrifying when you look at an ecosystem which requires that interaction between these species and between the various forces of nature on the planet. We hear warnings today of the potential of the Gulf Stream being diverted as a cause of the vast amount of water melting in the Arctic and coming down and clashing with the warm water of the Gulf Stream. And that would be--if it--if it were to happen would have profound impact on Europe's climate, our climate, the Northeast. You know, it would just be profound.

I mean, again, I'm very cautious about putting out scenarios. But we see so much of this already happening in so many ways. I went to the Antarctic and I went to the Arctic as secretary. And I stood on top of the ice sheet in which we landed on in Greenland, and you look down a hundred feet and you see this torrential river flowing down out into the ocean. And I went to a fjord there where 86 million metric tons of ice every single day is dropping off and flowing out to sea to melt. That's enough water each day to meet the needs of Greater New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey for an entire year, every day melting into the ocean. So, I mean, you see these things and you say to yourself, you know, what is the matter with people that they want to politicize something like this, that they mock it, that they make it into a political joke. We desperately need to come together as a world on this.

And as I said, money, it--really money will make a huge difference here. That $130 trillion of assets that are managed and owned by various people around the world is prepared to invest intelligently in revenue-producing enterprises. You have water projects, you have transportation, you have the provision of power, electricity, all of which are revenue producing. You can make money. There's an enormous amount of money to be made in this transition. And that is what private capital is now realizing, and it's moving in that direction but still, not fast enough, not big enough, and we need to get the rules of the road hammered out more effectively so we attract more of that.

MS. BUZBEE: All right. Senator Kerry--Secretary Kerry, thank you so much for joining us today and giving us your perspective on where this is going now.

MR. KERRY: My great pleasure.

MS. BUZBEE: We very, very much appreciate it.

MR. KERRY: Thank you. Thank you.


MS. BUZBEE: Up very shortly, coming up very soon is my colleague Leigh Ann Caldwell with Senator Mitt Romney right after this video. Thank you all so much.

[Video plays]

MS. CALDWELL: Good morning. I'm Leigh Ann Caldwell. I'm Washington Post Live anchor and co-author of the Early 202 newsletter. Joining us now in the next part of our program is Senator Mitt Romney, as you saw a great introduction, Republican from Utah. Senator Romney, thanks so much.

SEN. ROMNEY: Thanks, Leigh Ann. Good to be with you and your colleagues.

MS. CALDWELL: Yeah. Great to be here. So first, we’ve got to start with news of the day. Big news out this morning from the administration about Brittney Griner being released. What is your reaction to that?

SEN. ROMNEY: Well, I'm delighted she's being released. The fact that they held her, arrested her, put her in jail is outrageous, and says a lot about them. And the trade they've made says a lot about both of us. We care about an individual, a human being. It's symbolic that we go to great lengths to recover our citizens.

At the same time, who do they want to get back? An arms dealer. It's symbolic of our--of our two--of our two nations. I'm very disappointed that Paul Whelan was not part of this trade. I would think that our focus ought to be bringing people home based on who's been there the longest, as opposed to who perhaps is the most publicly known figure. But I'm sure the administration did their very best to get Paul out and hope we'll--hopefully we'll see him out soon.

MS. CALDWELL: Should they have held out for something better to get them both released at the same time?

SEN. ROMNEY: You know, I’ve negotiated before doing various kinds of deals, and it's very difficult without having been at the table to know what was possible or what was not possible. So, I'm going to be happy that she's coming home, and hoping that we'll be successful with Paul as well.

MS. CALDWELL: Great. And now we're going to move to topic of the day, which of course is climate change. I want to talk to you about just big picture. Over the summer, you wrote an essay warning that Americans were dismissing the, quote, "potentially cataclysmic threats posed by climate change." How does our country change that, and especially moving into a divided Congress this next year?

SEN. ROMNEY: Well, I think it's important for us to be very, very clear and honest with the American people, the people in the world, which is as ambassador--I know all the titles that John Kerry has--ambassador, senator, the list goes on and on--but he pointed out this is a global issue, and the American people need to understand that we recognize this is a global concern.

China, for instance, puts out more CO2 than the U.S., Europe, and Japan combined. So, when we deal with this issue, we can't just say, oh, how can we make things better in the U.S.? The question is, what things will have an impact on a global basis?

We also have to consider how do we get the private sector to do the innovation that's necessary. I think, from my part, and the part of many of my colleagues on the Republican side in particular, we’re concerned that we often spend vast amounts of money to do things that make us feel good and make the public think we're really solving a problem, when in fact, we're not. Because the problem is global, when we do things like, oh, we're going to reduce the water in our washing machines, or we're gonna make our toasters use less energy or whatever, which is all--that's all fine, well and good. But to spend billions of dollars to do things that won't affect global CO2 and methane emissions is, in our opinion, not wise money spent. Instead, we should be focusing on those things that will be adopted globally and will help bring down emissions on a global basis.

MS. CALDWELL: But what about the notion that the United States needs to be a leader, that the United States is one of the biggest polluters--not the biggest, but one of the biggest?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, I--there's no question that all of us should do our part. And I appreciate the fact that we're setting goals and we're--each nation has tried to achieve those goals. But, one, I don't think China looks at what we do and says, oh, my goodness, we have to catch up with America. Look, the leaders of China and Brazil and Indonesia, India, these are nations which are focused on their problems. My guess is global warming is not high on their list. Xi Jinping has a list of priorities. I don't think global warming is one of them. I don't think that that's true in India and Brazil. I mean, maybe Indonesia. But I think they're focused on other things, and we need to find ways to help them adopt the technologies because they're low emitting and low cost. And that means--I mean, I'm a big believer in investing in technology, and part of the Inflation Reduction Act did that, which I applaud. A lot did other things that in my opinion were not necessary and will divert the attention from the real problem.

MS. CALDWELL: So, Senator, Climate Envoy, Secretary of State Kerry, he just said that--you know, he talked about a plan where American businesses would help fund the clean energy transition. So, it sounds a little bit like you are on the same page. But how does--how does that work in practicality?

And also, there was a big conference earlier--or last month. There's one every year--this one was COP27 in Egypt--about this global problem? Is there not enough being done coming out of that conference?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, there's not enough being done coming out of the conference. And in my opinion, there are--there are several things we could really do that would change the trajectory. And the folks at MIT, as you probably know, built a model saying, okay, what things that we do will actually reduce emissions, reduce temperatures or hold temperatures from going up as fast as they have been. What can we do? And the number one thing--and frankly, the only thing that had a major impact--was having a price on carbon, a carbon tax, either through a whole series of mechanisms, but a carbon tax of some kind, a price on carbon with border adjustment taxes. That's the only thing that has a significant impact.

MS. CALDWELL: But hasn't your party rejected that over and over again?

SEN. ROMNEY: Well, you know, the Democratic Party had an opportunity this year--Democrats only--through reconciliation they took--they had two opportunities. They could have put in place that carbon tax with the core--border adjustment fee. They didn't do it on their own. You can't blame Republicans when Democrats change tax law, spent $1.9 trillion--this was--that was the year before--and did so entirely on their own. This is something they could have done and should have done.

And that will--I mean, is not going to happen very often where you have one party in charge of the House, the Senate, and the White House. They could have done it. It was an opportunity that was missed. And we will--we'll be very sorry for that for a long time. So that's one.

Now there are three others, but I'll stop there.

MS. CALDWELL: Well, doesn't that show that perhaps it's not up to the private sector to lead this revolution? Because they're--I mean, the reason businesses aren't punished oftentimes in Congress is because of their political clout and they have lobbyists who don't want things implemented that will hurt their bottom line. And so does the government need to do more if this business lobby isn't willing to--is pressuring lawmakers, even Democrats to not have these things move through?

SEN. ROMNEY: Well, by the way, I think the reason that the carbon tax didn't occur--price on carbon didn't occur is because people were concerned they might lose one or two Democrat senators, and I think they could have negotiated with those senators or that senator to say, okay, how can we adjust this tax or this price in a way that won't hurt your state, or what's something else you want to get done? I mean, do a deal. That's what--part of what Washington is all about.

But I would note that a price on carbon is a way of not just raising money for the government. That's not the purpose of it. The reason for putting a price on carbon is to create a massive incentive for the private sector to innovate, and to create innovations which will be low emitting and low cost and therefore will be adopted not just here, but adopted voluntarily, in India and Brazil and China. That's what we have to do--do things that get accepted globally, not just because people want to be proud at the next COP, but because they want to reduce cost and provide better services to their people. So yeah, for me, the reason for a price on carbon is to create a massive incentive for the private sector to innovate.

MS. CALDWELL: Do you think you can get Republicans on board on that in the next Congress?

SEN. ROMNEY: Some, but not a lot. And--but I don't need--I don't need a lot, you know, because I think we can get a lot of Democrats and I think we can get some Republicans. But we've got to be honest with people, because my colleagues correctly point out that a lot of what we're doing sounds good but won’t make a difference. I mean, one of my favorite stories that comes to mind is Mike Leavitt, former secretary of the EPA, coming down, leaving the office and there were three bins there for garbage, one for bottles, one for paper, and one for other trash. And he saw a custodian taking all three and dumping them into the same container. And it's--we do some of that. We do things that are politically attractive. We're going to spend a lot of money insulating our buildings in the U.S. We're going to get people to buy electric cars here in the U.S. Isn’t that wonderful? Look, if every car in America stopped running, CO2 emissions keep going up in the world. So, we have to do things that will be adopted everywhere, not just things that that make us feel better about ourselves here. Those things, nice to do, they're not harmful to do necessarily. But when we spend a lot of money to do them and divert from the real answers, then I think they can be counterproductive.

MS. CALDWELL: You voted against the Inflation Reduction Act. It was the biggest investment in climate change proposals. Are you--were you opposed to it because those don't do enough? They're not the right answers? Or is there another reason you voted against it?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, well, first of all, this is not a great time to be putting more fuel on the economy. We have, as we all know, a small inflation problem going on, a very substantial inflation problem going on. Number two, I think it's not the right way to go for one party to put through its agenda without negotiating with the other party. We could have worked together on proposals, and perhaps we could have passed some of the things that--for instance, a good portion of the Inflation Reduction Act is associated with investments and new technology. I'm all in favor of those things. We could have done those on a bipartisan basis, in my opinion.

But there are other parts of that act that I think were inappropriate, and a long list of democratic hopes they included in that, which I think should not have been included. So, you know, you have to make a choice on a bill. There's some things you like, there's some things you don't. That's not one that I would have liked, and I certainly didn't like the process.

MS. CALDWELL: Something--Republicans often say they don't want to pick winners and losers in the economy. You know, why bolster renewables? But the oil and gas industry has been subsidized for decades. Does the U.S. need to stop those subsidies for fossil fuel industry?

SEN. ROMNEY: You know, I’d probably have to look at what the subsidies are. I mean, we have a tax code that tries to assess what is an investment, what's a loss, we--do we allow companies to deduct the cost of investment? Yes. Is that a subsidy? I'm not sure. So, you'd have to give me a sense of what the subsidy is we're providing to the fossil fuel world.

I can note this, that this administration has done everything in its power to reduce the development of oil and gas in our country as we desperately need it. And you know, I said there were four things that I’d do that I think could make a real difference. One is recognizing over the next decade or two at least, fossil fuel is going to be the major source of energy in our country, and that's true around the world. So, if that's the case, at least for the next couple of decades, we ought to get as much oil and gas as we can. You know, we say we're going to shut down this coal plant. Well, we have 467 coal plants in America, and we're shutting them down one by one. Do you know how many China has? Over 3,000. And they're adding almost 500 new on top of that that have already been announced. So shutting a coal plant here doesn't make a lot of sense if they're going to be adding the same number there. These things we have to do on a global basis, or our people just pull their hair out.

So, one, yeah, let's use our own resources. By the way, as we go from fossil fuel to all, let's say, solar, recognize where the batteries are coming from, where the solar panels are coming from. They're all coming from China. We don't--we don't have the minerals that we need for these technologies. And the manufacturing and processing is done by China. We're going from a world where we're the largest producer of fossil fuel in the world, of oil and gas, by far. We're number one. We're not going to go to a world where China dominates in the energy world. China is going to be, if you will, a one-member nation of its own OPEC. And we're saying, hey, this is the right way to go. We need to--we need to actually organize a strategy for how we're going to lead in the new energy economy. We need to be able to develop minerals here and process them here that are going into batteries and solar panels. We're not doing that. So, we talk about these things without thinking about what other steps do we have to take if we want to actually lead and create the kind of change in the energy economy that we need.

MS. CALDWELL: There's a debate going on, on the Hill, behind the scenes about this permitting bill that would enable, you know, advocates--progressive, more liberal Democratic advocates are saying that this would be good for more renewable projects to come online. Senator Joe Manchin thinks that it's good because it helps some of his fossil fuel projects in his state of West Virginia. Is permitting reform necessary, and are you willing to support that component should it be attached to any other bill or get a standalone vote?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, let me just characterize how things are actually able to get done in the Senate these days. If you look over the last couple of years, we were able to get a COVID relief package done, and that was done on a bipartisan basis. We got an infrastructure bill done on a bipartisan basis. We got a gun bill done on a bipartisan basis. We were able to get--it hasn't passed finally yet, but I think it will--electoral account reform act on a bipartisan basis. So, when two parties come together with gangs or committees or whatever, we're able to get things done.

Now, Senator Manchin has a permitting bill that he'd like to attach to something and make us vote for it. That's not likely to be successful. He may be able to do it if he attaches it to something we really need and the government's closing without it, I mean. But the better way to get things done, as I've demonstrated, is by putting a group together and negotiating something that's good for both points of view.

So, Dan Sullivan has a permitting reduction bill, and Shelley Moore Capito has a permitting improvement bill. Joe Manchin didn't negotiate with them. He's got his own. So the Democrats want to pass his and force us to accept it.

The better way to get permitting reform is to all come together and negotiate. There are parts of his that Republicans don't like. A number of my colleagues have pointed out--John Barrasso in particular--that under his bill, you're going to have red states paying for transmission lines going into blue states, and the red states don't even get to use the energy that's going through their state. That's not going to sell. You're not going to have Republicans vote for that unless, you know, you hold a gun to our head.

So again, there's a way to get things done in the Senate and in Washington, and my Democrat colleagues who have gotten used to this idea that they have the House, the Senate and the White House, they're going to have to recognize we’ve got to work together.

MS. CALDWELL: Earlier you said that for the next two decades, it's--fossil fuels are going to dominate our energy supply. You also talked about, you know, innovation, global innovation needs to change the climate change problem. So, are you saying that now there is not a solution, a viable solution that is on the table in the immediate future?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, I don't--I don't know that we have a--that with our current technology that we have a capacity to actually stabilize temperatures or start bringing them down. I don't think we're there yet. But I think we will be. Carbon capture, for instance, we keep on bringing down the cost. It used to be $200 a ton to take out carbon. It’s down to like $50 a ton now for taking it right off of a power plant. It's going to keep coming down. And investing in those technologies and creating credits for people who are doing the carbon capture, that helps create the technology that we need. So, we're going to get there.

Battery storage, for instance, we don't--we don't have the battery capacity to be able to provide electricity from wind and solar that don't really work very well during the night for us to be able to power our economies. So, what are we going to do in the interim? Well, nuclear. Nuclear is not emitting. It's a technology that's available. Let's invest in nuclear. Whether it's the small systems or the major ones, let's make sure that we have the technologies that are able to meet the needs of our--of our economy, as opposed to just dreaming that we're all going to be solar and wind. That's not going to get us there. So, as we transition, we're going to use things like nuclear and fossil fuel to help get us there. Natural gas, a lot better than coal in terms of emissions. But let's have a strategy that lays out how are we going to transition from one to the next, how do we make sure we don't hand over our economy to China, how we develop the resources here to be able to meet that strategy. We haven't done that yet. And instead, it's sort of an ad hoc, hopeful that somehow we can get there with more wind and solar. That doesn't get the job done. We're going to invest in new technologies, and we're going to invest in oil, gas, nuclear, and helping getting us to the--to the promised land.

MS. CALDWELL: I want to turn locally to your state of Utah. The Great Salt Lake, it's beautiful. I have spent a lot of time in Utah growing up. Let's bring up some images right now of how this lake has changed over the years. So, this is 1987, and then 2021. It's shrinking. There was a bill passed earlier, I think just a week ago, to help study this, money to help study what's happening. What do you think the problems are? What do you think the government needs to do?

SEN. ROMNEY: Well, we're going to have to dramatically reduce our usage of water, because the water flowing into the Great Salt Lake is insufficient to keep it filled. And the consequence, not just for Utah, but for other states downwind is pretty significant, because the Great Salt Lake and that area was covered with water for, I don't know, hundreds of thousands of years and deposits have gone into the base of that lake, and it includes not just salt but also arsenic and other heavy metals. And as the lake disappears, you're getting more and more dust. If it disappears entirely, the dust will be extraordinary not just in Utah but across the country with poisons in the air. So, there's a great priority to make sure that we don't let that lake continue to disappear. And that means we're going to have to find ways to use less water. It means conservation. 70 percent of the water that goes into the lake is used by agriculture. So, we're going to have to have technologies that are available to dramatically reduce the amount of water that goes into raising crops in our state and in surrounding states as well.

Homeowners, we have a lot of lawns in Utah. I have a big lawn in Utah. I shouldn't. I talked to my--

MS. CALDWELL: Are you going to change it?

SEN. ROMNEY: I said I’d like to go--I’d like to redesign this and go to zeroscape if we can and put in some AstroTurf. Hopefully that’s not terribly environmentally unfriendly. We’ll find out. But you know, we’re going to have to change the way we do things. And that's probably going to require the government to say, you know, what are we going to do collectively. That’s going to be a state issue. But it's also possible that we're going to need a federal involvement. I mean, if it turns out that we're going to have to bring in water from the ocean to help fill the Great Salt Lake, or pipelines that balance the new dynamic of water flow in our country, pipelines and other places--

MS. CALDWELL: Is that a possibility? What’s the status of that?

SEN. ROMNEY: It hasn't been studied really thoroughly. There have been some studies in the past that have looked at that, taking water from areas where there are floods and bringing it to places where there's a need for water. The cost is very substantial. But it's being looked at now, because conservation can only get you so far. But I think--I think with conservation measures we can get--we can save the Great Salt Lake. But if our climate keeps getting warmer and warmer, and if the--we don't see a change in some of these rain flow figures, well, that could be a challenge for us.

MS. CALDWELL: If the--if the Salt Lake does disappear, is Salt Lake City inhabitable? I mean, will this change how people live and where people live?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, I'm not going to allow a headline “Romney says Salt Lake uninhabitable.” So, I'm--no, I’m not going there. But it would not be good for our health if we keep on letting this lake get smaller and smaller. And I think that, look, the state legislature has put I think it's $500 million now into projects to help ranchers move to--away from sprinkler systems where a lot of water is evaporated to systems which are computer controlled that actually provide water to crops on a computerized basis based on need. That saves a lot of water, I think about 50 percent of the water. Those kinds of answers are there, and the legislature is taking action to address that. And that's the way we’re going to have to deal with these problems I think across the country.

MS. CALDWELL: Right. So, I want to talk just about generally the Republican Party. We--there was an election.

SEN. ROMNEY: I noticed, yeah.

MS. CALDWELL: The last election of the election was Tuesday.


MS. CALDWELL: Herschel Walker did not win the Republican. What is your reason for Republicans underperforming in many races across the country, especially in these Senate races?

SEN. ROMNEY: Well, it's not rocket science. This is not like climate science that requires Ph.Ds. to do the calculations. I mean, you can look very simply at states where there--there were candidates chosen and endorsed by President Trump versus those who were not chosen by President Trump and not endorsed by him, actually opposed by him, to see how they both did. And in states like Georgia, Governor Kemp won by a very substantial margin, Herschel Walker lost by a very substantial margin. But that's not just true there. If you look across the country, whether Ohio and other places, you see that there's about a five point spread between those candidates that were opposed by President Trump and those that were endorsed by him and chosen by him. And President Trump has proven that his selection in the primary is definitive in many cases. I mean, it's the--it's the ticket to winning the primary. It's also the kiss of death for the general election.

MS. CALDWELL: Is that a problem for the Republican Party, though? How does the Republican Party get past that if they--you have to do that to win a primary, but you can't win a general?

SEN. ROMNEY: Yeah, well, over time, I think people in our party are going to recognize that winning is more fun than losing. And President Trump said we were going to get tired of all the winning. And a lot of us are waiting for that. And I think a lot of us are saying we're tired of all the losing and we're going to be focused not just on who President Trump endorses, but on who we think can actually win. And that doesn't mean we want to choose someone we don't agree with. But the difference between President Trump's nominees, if you will, and others is not their policy. It’s whether they will subscribe to the president's lie about the 2020 election.

My party sometimes gets focused on seeing if we can't win the war we've already lost, and instead looking forward to making sure we can win the battles going forward. And if we focus on going forward, look, I'm--the reason I'm Republican is I'm convinced that our policies are best to help the people of America--the poor, middle class, the people of our nation. And if we can communicate that effectively and well with candidates who have a vision for the future, then I think we win. But if we instead focus on President Trump's obsession with his loss, then I think we're going to get stuck with candidates who lose.

MS. CALDWELL: Do you think the Republican Party has lost its way?

SEN. ROMNEY: Oh, I--you know, have some people lost their way? Yes. Are others filled with a vision for the future? Absolutely. I mean, I think we’ve got, I don't know, 12 people or more that would like to be president that are thinking of running in 2024. If President Trump continues in his campaign, I'm not sure they can--any one of them can make it through and beat him. You know, I think he's got such a strong base of, I don't know, 30 or 40 percent of the Republican voters or maybe more, it's going to be hard to knock him off as our nominee. If he became our nominee, I think he loses again.

MS. CALDWELL: Would you support him if he's the nominee?

SEN. ROMNEY: Absolutely not. And I mean, I get asked that.


Look, I voted to remove him from office twice.


MS. CALDWELL: I knew what your answer was going to be, but I had to ask.

SEN. ROMNEY: But the answer is--and it's not just because he loses. I mean, that's my reason that I offer to other people who are big fans of his, but it's also he's simply not a person who ought to have the reins of the government of the United States.

Remember, Bob Gates, former secretary of state, secretary of defense, I heard him speak at the Center for International Studies and--Strategic and International Studies, and he was asked what's the number-one quality--you see a number of presidents. What's the number-one quality you would think is critical for a president of the United States. And he said, that's to recognize that you're not the smartest person in the room and to be willing to listen to others. And that's not one of the qualities President Trump has in abundance.


And I hope that we find someone in my party who has those qualities and other qualities to lead America to a better future, to deal with China, to deal with the debt we have, and to deal with climate change. Look for me and for a number of my colleagues--I mean, I--you know, I got asked by one of my colleagues are you sure this is that just happening on its own, the Earth has been hotter in the past, you know, this is just happening on its own? And I say, I hope we're causing it, because that's the only way we have any hope of stopping it. And so let's take every action we can that make sense that has the prospect of reducing the impact of climate change. But I want to do that in a way that's smart and that will actually make a difference globally, not just something that will make us feel good, like putting cans in a recycle bin that we know are not going to be recycled.

MS. CALDWELL: Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, thank you so much for your time today.

SEN. ROMNEY: Thanks, Leigh Ann.


MS. CALDWELL: And thank you all for joining us. You can join us online. To find this program and more

Thanks, Senator.

SEN. ROMNEY: Thank you.

[End recorded session]