Lever Time - Dems' Broken Pipe(line) Dreams (w/ Sen. Brian Schatz)
9:44PM Sep 27, 2022
Rep. Trey Hollingsworth
Sen. Brian Schatz
fossil fuel industry
fossil fuel infrastructure
Hey everyone and welcome to another lever time the flagship podcast from the lever, an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host, David Sirota on today's show, we're gonna be talking about first and foremost, the flagrant corruption of the US Congress, which was highlighted last week during a moment captured on tape right on video during a House committee hearing. We'll also be talking about the concept of green washing, and how the fossil fuel industry is now trying to position itself as a group of Nobel climate champions. And for our big interview lever time got our first interview with the US senator. We talked to Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz about all the bullshit going on in Congress from fossil fuel pipelines to threatening railroad workers to just flagrant outright corruption. We spoke with Senator Schatz for almost a half an hour. And to his credit, he answered all of our tough questions. This week, our paid subscribers will also get a bonus segment, the levers Andrew Perez and Matthew Cunningham cook analyzed a recent statement from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, in which this architect of neoliberalism purports to not understand why everyone is suffering so much under his neoliberalism. And by analyze I mean, they rip them apart. If you want to access lever time premium, you can head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber that gives you access to all of our premium content. And you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at the lever. Speaking of which, if you liked this podcast and our reporting, please tell your friends and family about the lever. The only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth, and we need all the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit that is corporate media. Okay, for the first part of today's show, we're going to do our roundup of some stuff we reported at the lever this week, we're now joined by first and foremost delivers Andrew Perez. Hey, Andrew. Hey, David. And producer Frank. As always, what's up, Frank?
What's going on David,
and as a special guest for today Jacobin, staff writer and author of the new book, The Dead Center, one of my favorite writers, Luke savage. Hey, Luke. Hey, guys,
thanks so much for having me. And thanks for that kind introduction. Thanks for
joining us today. Thanks to all of you. So we're gonna start with our first story, we've got to talk about a moment of open corruption, which was caught on tape during a recent congressional hearing. Now when I say that I've been reporting on corruption and conflicts of interest and the influence industry for 20 years. That's really what I've been doing. And I mean it when I say that I've never seen anything as flagrant as this I mean, this was so flagrant, and it's one of those moments where they're, they kind of screen out what we all know is true, but they don't, but they don't usually scream it out. So let me set this the setting here. Last week during a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, important note, this is the committee that oversees the entire financial industry in the United States. During this hearing, a guy named Congressman Trey Hollingsworth, a Republican from Indiana, took time out of that hearing with bank CEOs to publicly commend Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan for hiring Hollingsworth top eight. Here's how the interchange went down.
Well, good afternoon. I'm excited to be here with each of you. Before I get started on my questions, Mr. Moynahan, I wanted to let you know so Ruthie, raise your hand sort of thing. She has been my team member for a couple of years now. But on Monday, she becomes a Bank of America team member, about which he is very, very excited. So I hope you'll take good care of her know and recognize the talent that she has shown already in our office. I'm sure she'll do the same at Bank of America. We will do that and her father already works for us. So he'll take care of it. You should have told us.
I mean, look, we know that this level of open corruption is rampant in Washington. But I was kind of surprised to see it all spoken this blatantly on camera, right and the corruption here to be very clear for those who need the punch line spelled out the guy on the committee, overseeing the finance industry. He's about to supposedly scrutinize the finance industry. And he takes time out to thank one of the biggest banks in the world for hiring his top adviser Andrew, we'll start with you. Have you ever seen anything like that?
I don't think so. It definitely felt like some like something I had never seen before. Honestly, the thing that really really makes it for me is, is that Bank of America CEO knew that they were hiring her right like, like, it's gone all the way up the food chain to the to the very highest of, of Bank of America, the CEO is personally aware that they are hiring effectively, like a mid level staffer probably at the bank, like hiring her away from Congress. And not only that, he knows that her dad works at the firm in like, if you look him up, he works in it, like he works in it. This is the level of knowledge of sophisticated knowledge that you know, the CEO of a Fortune what like fortune 100 company has, you know, one of the biggest banks in America. So it was really, really kind of startling, to see that, you know, laid laid, so bear, you know, in a different context, you would, you would hear how these people have no knowledge of of low level things happening at their company, but, but they actually really do.
And to give you an idea of Hollingsworth relationship with the financial industry, this is important context, his top campaign donors have included the American Bankers Association, and the Mortgage Bankers Association, two of the big bank lobbying groups. This past January, his Chief of Staff announced that she was leaving his team to join a lobbying firm whose clients have included the credit card processor square Capital One the Capital Group, another financial industry lobbying group. In addition, Hollingsworth is worth about 75 million, making him the ninth richest member of Congress,
I just want to play dumb devil's advocate for a second, but I'm curious, like, what would you guys say to people who defend this by saying, you know, it's, it's their right to go work for any business that they want, because, you know, this is America and freedom, etc, etc.
I mean, there there have been, there's been talk of laws that put on to be put on the books that say, if you're working on Capitol Hill, you can't go immediately become a lobbyist to lobby your former. Your former colleagues, staffers or members of Congress in the like, there are some laws like that. So arguably, this shouldn't be like the revolving door, shouldn't be fully uninhibited, where you can work on Capitol Hill advising members of Congress on the committee overseeing the financial industry, to then get a job in the financial industry? Luca, I'll throw it to you. I mean, to my mind, part of the problem here is not the moving forward, it's the looking backwards. And by that, I mean, if a staffer knows that they can go from advising members of Congress on policy for specific banks, and knows that might get looked at favorably by those banks for hiring decisions, later hiring decisions for much more lucrative jobs that could in effect, distort the policymaking process in the in the, in the current in the present. Right.
Yeah, I mean, and I mean, that's why I think that rules and regulations against this kind of thing can, you know, can probably only go so far, I mean, I assume that there are frameworks in place in other countries, you know, to to avoid this kind of thing, or to mitigate it, which could simply be copied. But at the end of the day, you know, that kind of approach is going to be limited in its implications, because the story like this really reflects a much wider reality of captured political institutions and the culture that comes with them, you know, what these, what this culture needs is to be subjected to mass democratic pressure, and also to be, you know, smashed to bits, in a way it doesn't, you know, off the top, the question was, Does this surprise you? And, in a way, it doesn't surprise me, there's a kind of breaking of the fourth wall and something like this. And, you know, my own stance from following DC and writing about Congress is that they're both very cloistered and, you know, very gilded environments in which, you know, as you just said, David, a lot of the electeds and the lobbyists and the staffers and the people who worked there are quite removed from the rest of the country, they may be, they may enter a job only as a means to, you know, as a stepping stone to getting a different and, you know, higher paying job. And so, you know, given how much organized money dominates just about everything from the legislative process to you know, the jobs that people are seeking. It kind of makes sense to me in a in a sick sort of way that that would seep into the culture and etiquette of the place such that people are perfect ugly happy to talk about this kind of thing out in the open, it's not like they're going to face serious consequences.
Right? I mean, to be clear that that's the shock, right? The shock is not that it's going on, we know that the revolving door exists, the shock is that it's become so normalized. So embedded in the culture that you have a member of Congress elected in, in southern Indiana, by the way, a blue collar, Midwestern area, it's not like some Wall Street area of the country who's on camera, bragging about it, like, that's what's shocking. It's like, they don't even care anymore. And, and I feel like that's a change, don't you think that's there's sort of like been a change in the culture that used to try to hide that kind of thing.
I mean, to be honest, I feel like on the hill, if you were there, you'd probably hear people saying like, you know, that's actually just a lawmaker being a good boss, right, this guy, this guy's retiring, right, like so all of his staff needs needs a new job. And in here he is, you know, being a good boss, who is happy to see his you know, his financial services policy adviser moving on to a bank.
This is laudable this is like, a good a good like a boss being a good dude.
He's, I mean, he's, he's being real chill. Yeah, he's being real cool, real chill, and he's in he's being supportive to his staff. You know, this this, this staffer has been earning in the 10s of 1000s of dollars every year and God dammit, why does that have to be the case? Like he can help her earn hundreds of 1000s of dollars every year?
What a guy What a guy. Yeah, Trey Hollingsworth, like a good guy look at look at what a hero he is. I
honestly, I think, you know, the culture on the hill. Would you be surprised if that's what people are saying? Like, I have the feeling if you were to pull it people, I mean, everyone there to be fair, these people actually are overworked, underpaid for the amount of hours they're putting in. And so it creates a really perverse incentive system where like, you know, they've been under paid for however long and they get to go cash in now they get to it's, you know, like how like, teachers get pensions, congressional congressional staffers get disgusting jobs.
And look this, there's a group called the revolving door project, which has made the point, this is why you should pay congressional staffers better, you should pay them better. And you should have much tougher laws on the books saying they can't go through the revolving door to the idea being that they can't be looking ahead to a sweet payout from the industries that they're legislating oversight against or for while they're in Congress that you've got to create more balance here. But clearly, that balance is not there. Okay, I want to turn to our next story, which is about how a fossil fuel bill gets greenwashed. Specifically, I'm referring to Joe mansions now infamous permitting reform deal. This is the side deal he cut with Senator Chuck Schumer in order to secure mansions vote for the so called inflation Reduction Act, as the lever has extensively reported. The permitting reform deal would speed up the permitting process for both renewable energy projects as well as fossil fuel projects like the mountain valley pipeline in West Virginia. Now the permitting deal is being celebrated by a group called the American clean power Association got that sounds like such a nice group doesn't it's clean power, like who doesn't want clean power? Right? It's it sounds so nice. It presents itself as a super nice lobbying group for clean power. Even though as we've reported, it has ties to the fossil fuel industry, which is not so clean. The group is led by a former natural gas executive who helped deregulate the gas industry when she was part of the Obama administration. The group's Board of Directors includes an executive from next era energy, which just so happens to be the company leading the mountain valley pipeline project, a natural gas project, as well as officials from six other electric and gas utility companies with a direct interest in passing legislation that speeds up the construction of fossil fuel in its fossil fuel infrastructure.
Guys, I've got another dumb question. Please humor me. But why is a group allowed to call itself a clean energy lobbying group when they have a provable financial interest in fossil fuel development? Like, is there is there any kind of like watchdog climate agency keeping tabs on this stuff? Like how are they simply allowed to do this?
Well, I mean, Frank, I'm old enough to remember the Bush era, the George Bush era where they called an air pollution bill, the clear skies initiative, like let's pump a lot of pollution into the air and Call it the clear skies initiative. I think they had a like a clear cutting bill to like, like mow down forests like Lorax style, and they called it the Healthy forests bill. I feel like this, this bait and switch is as old as time itself in the sense that it was, it was satirized in, in one of the Orwell books with with the idea that what was called Newspeak, right, where you, you say something is the opposite of what it is. It's kind of the the proverbial big lie. I mean, this is pretty common, isn't it? Guys?
Definitely. There's, there's a rich legacy of corporate front groups picking the kind of most benign and in fact, appealing names that they can in order to, you know, in order to comfort Americans at home, who might wonder why why are we pushing this pipeline bill? You know, it's it sounds a lot better when it's coming from the American clean power Association. I mean, who can really argue Yeah, as you're saying, Who can argue with clean power? You know, I will say so this this group, you know, they do represent some, some renewable energy companies. But what, you know, the point that we've highlighted is that they also represent a lot of electric and natural gas utilities that have a distinct, indefinite financial interest in seeing quicker pipeline approvals. And as we flagged the mountain valley pipeline project in particular, you know, I think I think this organization, if they were really pressed on it, they would tell you like, oh, sure, we represent these electric and gas utilities, but we're representing their renewable line of business. And, you know, it's one of those things hard to really hard to really assess the accuracy of, of that whole concept. But, but obviously, you know, that we know that the natural gas and electric utilities really do stand to benefit from the pipeline provisions in this legislation. And we also know that is the bulk of what is, you know, what we've actually seen in the mansion, Schumer permitting bill, it is, first and foremost, a basically a gas export bill or a pipeline bill, it is not really a renewable bill, like any renewable benefits here are sort of secondary to the to the broader issue here. And the fact that this bill is being asserted, this organization is led by a former natural gas executive has certainly issues, especially given her history actually pushing gas exports in the Obama administration
and the media. Of course, the kind of corporate Washington press, just takes this hook, line and sinker. I mean, there was a New York Times climate reporter tweeted out, in response to an American clean power Association memo touting the build, this reporter tweeted out, quote, a leading renewables trade group says that without permitting reform, 100 gigawatts of clean energy expected to be deployed by 2030 is at risk of not being built. So clearly, the role of this organization is to, essentially, as we said, greenwash, a bill that certainly in a very big way, benefits the fossil fuel industry. And it seems to me this is part of a larger strategy. And look, I want you to weigh in on this, which is that this larger strategy seems to be the fossil fuel industry is trying to do everything it can to get itself portrayed as part of a clean energy future. You see this all over the place? You see, we reported a story about the fossil fuel industry trying to call different kinds of fracked gas, quote, responsibly sourced gas, you've seen the fossil fuel industry, with its ads, Exxon BP, touting the very minimum amount of investments it's doing in other kinds of non fossil fuels to try to distract attention. From that. I would argue that this is all part of one big strategy. You are up in Canada, where there's a very powerful fossil fuel industry. Is it happening up there? And do you see this kind of thing happening writ large?
Yeah, I mean, particularly when it comes to the fossil fuel industry. You know, I'm not sure what point they settled on this marketing. But if you see, you know, ads on TV for, you know, some of the big oil companies up here, you know, often all they are is just these, you know, very beautiful pan shots of forests and things like that. I mean, there's no actual, there's no, you don't see any oil, you don't see any fossil fuels. You know,
they look like tourism ads, like they look like ads to come travel up to Canada into the beautiful, you know, untouched wilderness.
That's right. Whereas if you actually saw what the oil sands in Alberta looked like, you know, they look like almost the surface of another planet. You're telling
me I should cancel my I should cancel my wilderness tour in the tar sands. I had a plan to go travel up there. I should cancel that.
Maybe But yeah, I mean, I think this kind of thing actually has gotten worse. And it's not just the fossil fuel industry. I mean, I think that over the past 30 years, 40 years, maybe the kind of, you know, markets have become so powerful, and they've kind of penetrated so many areas of life that, you know, they're kind of logic and the way that, you know, the, the, I guess, underlying processes that come with markets, particularly publicity and marketing, they've just come to inflect everything. So, I mean, a dumber example might be, you know, there's a luxury clothes store not too far from my apartment, which invites you in with a sign that says, join the movement. You know, at a certain point, you know, marketing people figured out, that you can just build, if you build, if you build a claim to kind of social justice, or some kind of activism, or in the case of the fossil fuel industry, environmentalism, sustainability, if you build those things in, you know, it's the, it's the ethical consumption model, you're in, or you're, you're eroding the, the difference, or the eroding the distinction between profit driven enterprise and, you know, better impulses that don't have to do with profit. And that's a very successful technique. And and, you know, in the, the piece you cited the New York Times piece about in relation to the story, I mean, you can really see it, you can really see it working, once you brand something with the kind of imprint of science and expertise, you know, they, I guess responded to a request from you guys by saying, you know, this was modeling done by our research and analytics team, once you start talking about modeling and analytics, you know, for some people, that's, that's enough, it has the imprint of, you know, science or expertise and, and you can get a long way with that. And companies have figured this out, and when it comes to fossil fuels, and so much else, one last
point about the about this story here, which is that the American clean power Association, the person that we mentioned, who leads there, that organization, the person who had served in the Obama administration, pushed to deregulate the natural gas industry, who had been an official, a board member of a major natural gas company, that same person, a woman named Heather's ichael, she was also the Biden campaign advisor, who said that Biden would come up with a, quote, middle ground climate policy. And that goes back to the point that I've been making, which is that, that the fossil fuel industry is trying to, or at least parts of the fossil fuel industry are trying to position themselves as a at least a middle ground, a bridge to a clean energy future, if not completely part of that future. And according to science, that is basically a lie that is just that you were going to have to make a choice. And so far, our politics in a lot of ways refuses to make a choice between a clean energy future and a climate apocalypse. Finally, for today, we want to talk to Luke Savage, who's here with us about his brand new book that I encourage everybody to go out and get the book is called the dead center reflections on liberalism and democracy after the end of history. And actually, that's a good segue. The refusal to make choices, I believe, is what we now call, quote, unquote centrism, that if you want to know why the Democratic Party so often seems incoherent, it's because it's simultaneously trying to appease its corporate donors, and also tell voters it is solving problems created by those corporate donors, that, loosely speaking, I think, is is part of what we call a centrist, quote, unquote, ideology. To my mind, it's an ideology that doesn't want to make choices that presumes a world that is not necessarily a zero sum world between, for instance, labor and capital. So just very quickly, Luke, on on that point, is that part of the so called what we what is portrayed as the so called center? And if it is, why do you call it the dead center? What is dead about?
Yeah, I mean, that's, that's an interesting question. I mean, in some ways, right. It's weird to call a book, the dead center, that's, you know, a critique of, you know, of liberalism, you know, when there's a Democratic president in the White House, democratic control of the Senate and the House of Representatives, at least for the time being. I think what's dead about it is that, you know, there's just no credibility to this to this model anymore. And also, there's no real energy behind it. I mean, I think for a time, you know, you have figures like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who are able to, you know, inject some kind of, you know, spirit at least for a short time into this project, which as you said, David, you know, it's all About a lighting certain differences and and, you know, replacing conflict with the idea of, you know, social harmony or or whatever. But I think at this point, you know, I'm the lot of the book has to do with 2020, or was written in the lead up to the 2020 Democratic primary contest. I mean, what that showed us, I think, is that, you know, even though obviously, the, the, you know, the most conservative major candidate in the field was able to win. You know, the American liberalism was not able to really kick the tires in the way that it wanted to, right. Joe Biden was not the person that the you know that, you know, that the marketing people, the marketing team at liberalism Incorporated, really wanted to be the nominee, right? You had all these other people who were all trying to do in different ways, you know, some kind of version of Obama ism, where they were, you know, what they were really contesting was, how do you how do we make this exciting, we're not really going to, you know, we're not really going to propose any kind of significant change or transformative change? Or if we are, you know, we're going to do it with a wink to our donors, and no one's really going to believe us. But, you know, what remains to be contested is what story do you tell about this? How do you make it exciting, and at the end of the day, I think, you know, Biden's victory kind of suggests that you can't really make it exciting. So it's kind of you can, you know, you can lean on a kind of nostalgic echo of a more exciting, you know, time which Biden by virtue of just being around for so long, and, and his association with Barack Obama, I think, was was able to do so, you know, the dead center is the title of the book. I mean, it could have also been the undead center, because, you know, having said everything I just said, you know, the whole thing is still kind of lumbering along and all of the, you know, all of the narratives about how it's actually really exciting. And there's great, you know, leaps of progress happening every day, we're still being subjected to those as well.
Look, I know, we sometimes get criticized here at the lever for being overly critical of the Democratic Party, and not so much of the on the Republican Party, but to quote Twitter user at our six writer, I'm punching right Baby, tell the Democrats to stop standing there. I know. That kind of that's kind of like my ethos. But I'm curious about your thoughts on this dynamic? Like, why write a book about the failures of liberals when Republicans are like, the party of like, cartoonish evil?
Okay, well, yeah, there's, it's a good question. And there's a number of things I'd say about this. I mean, the first is that I should add, there are a few essays in the book that deal with conservatives and conservatism. And, you know, I spent several years working at an investigative news outlet where I covered the right all the time. So that is something that I do, as well. But the question is what I take seriously? And I'd answer it in a few different ways. First, is that I don't think that there is exactly a dearth of criticism of the American right or the right. In general, there's, you know, a huge industry dedicated to it. And, you know, I'm not trying to trivialize that there are people that do really important work to monitor the increasingly sinister goings on in the right. So that's one thing. Something else I'd say is that I don't think it should ever be off limits to criticize a challenge powerful people, even if there are other powerful people that exist, who are worse. Something else I'd say is that I think because of my background on, you know, where I live, etc, many of the people that I interact with on a daily basis, and this is probably true for all of us, to some extent, you know, they're broadly liberal in their outlook, you know, so my writing is at least partly directed at, you know, that kind of liberal ish person, you know, a person who believes in social progress, who wants a fairer society, who dislikes inequality, etc. And my purpose in addressing those people at least, is to try to persuade them that those things are not really represented in the kinds of politicians that they're very often inclined to support or get excited about. There's one last thing I'd say about this, which is that, you know, at the elite level, there is a relationship of a kind between liberals and conservatives. And many of the things that the former group does, impacts the ladder or opens up new space for it to do more awful things that it wants to do. I don't think you get Donald Trump without the Obama administration's catastrophic refusal to take one example to to overhaul the US economy or protect people during the financial crisis. You know, right wing demagogy, would be a lot less rhetorically effective and a lot less appealing. If there were people fronting for the other side, who are more credible As opposed to being, you know, largely being the also wealthy, also privileged and also change averse people that they are. So those are some of the reasons that I often write so much about liberals as opposed to conservatives, Luke Savage,
thank you so much for joining us today on our a blog here where we do a kind of news roundup and thank you for writing your book, the dead center reflections on liberalism and democracy. After the end of history. Luke Savage, of course, a writer for Jacobin. As I said, I meant it one of my favorite writers out there and call it courage, everybody to follow his work, Luke, where can people find you on Twitter?
You can find me at Luke W. Savage, and thanks for those words. That's very kind. And thanks for having me today. This was fun.
Thank you and Andrew, thanks for being here. Of course. Thank you. We're gonna take a quick break, but we'll be right back with my interview with Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii. Welcome back to lever time for our big interview. today. I'll be speaking with Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, myself and delivers Julie Urraca got the chance to talk to Senator Schatz about everything currently going on in Congress. We pressed him on Joe mansions permitting reform deal I'm putting that in quotes permitting reform. It's really a pipeline deal. But Schatz is currently supporting it. At the time of this podcast recording the Senate will be voting today Tuesday on a short term spending bill to fund the government for the next several weeks. But it looks like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will not attach mansions Bill expediting oil and gas pipelines to that spending bill. That's a big win for the environmental movement. But it might only be temporary. Democrats may try to have the fight again in the lame duck session after the election, they may try to attach it to another must pass bill. Later in the year. Democrats like shots have been touting the bill as a great environmental when arguing that its provision speeding up transmission lines will boost clean energy. But on the eve of the vote, a new study came out from Oil Change International, showing that the bills oil and gas pipeline provisions could erase all of the purported climate benefits of this bill. We also talked to Senator Schatz about the failed vote on the DISCLOSE Act the bill to try to end dark money. And we talked to him about the potential railroad workers strike and whether Congress will intervene against the workers. To his credit, Senator Schatz talked with us for almost a half an hour, and answered all of our tough questions, which as you know, is not something most politicians are usually willing to do. Senator Schatz thanks so much for taking the time today.
Thanks very much for having me. Okay. So
in the news this week, has been permitting reform, you've thrown your support behind this deal, which would fast track approval of various energy projects, including a number of fossil fuel projects that have faced some pretty significant opposition. You've said, quote, I'm, I'm about the art of the possible if we can get it into a spending bill, we should get it into the spending bill, if we can pass it as a free standing vote. You also said the environmental movement that addresses climate also has to be about building things. So the question is, maybe the bill would speed up approvals of interstate transmission lines and clean energy projects? But isn't the primary purpose rubber stamping some major fossil fuel infrastructure projects that aren't so good for the climate?
Yeah, it's a fair question. And I suppose it depends who you're asking. Right? I think that the people who want mountain valley pipeline do this as a mountain valley pipeline question. And the people who are opposed and and have been fighting mountain valley pipeline for many, many years, I understand this to be something that would fast track that, from my standpoint, you know, I'm for permitting reform, because just to get a little bit into the weeds, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission right now has the authority to essentially establish interstate transmission of natural gas or other fossil energy, it does not have that authority as it relates to clean energy. And this bill would remedy that and put the our ability to electrify the grid all the way across the country into action. There are also parts of this permitting reform package that I don't like. And that I wouldn't vote for under another under other circumstances, but because permitting reform, I think, is essential for our clean energy strategy. And frankly, because it was part of the bigger package with the inflation Reduction Act. I'm in support of it. And so
you recently told The Washington Post a quote, you hear anytime you do a change in the way that the federal government regulates it has to apply equally to dirty and clean. So that's the compromise we struck. Can you explain exactly what you meant by that?
Yeah. FERC and these other eight and you know, of course, the the the EPA under the National Fire mental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act. You know, they are bedrock environmental policies and they apply to any project, whether you're building housing, or putting up a hotel, or a casino or a wind, energy, farm or electricity transmission. And so all of those laws apply equally. What we tried to do was was say this, as we were in the negotiation, don't touch NEPA don't undermine any of the specific provisions in the statute called the National Environmental Policy Act. But there are some legitimate complaints out there about the speed with which the federal government and state governments move on these things. Just as the, for example, a colleague of mine has been trying to get a Transmission Line in New Mexico, and they're going on 15 years. And as I look at the urgency of meeting our clean energy goals, we're not going to be able to meet our clean energy goals, if it takes 15 years to do a transmission line,
and is NEPA. What is holding up the approval of that transmission line? Well, that's
a really fair question. There are lots of things that are holding up transmission. But the FERC backstop authority, which is what I was describing to David earlier, is really, really critical right now for can go ahead and say, Look, this is in the national interest, we're gonna go ahead and impose this pipeline, right across state lines. And they can do that you mean transmission line? No pipelines right now FERC has the authority to do that for fossil and does not have the authority to do that for clean. And so this permanent reform bill remedies, that issue?
So let me ask a broader question. We pull back here and ask this question, because we keep coming at this in our reporting, which is, it seems like the democratic strategy has been to tie clean and not so clean energy policies together, that the inflation Reduction Act had a lot some oil and gas provisions in it had some clean energy provisions in it. The pipeline bill, same thing that we're talking about. I guess the question to folks who are watching this a lot of folks is, why are we putting these things together? Why they don't have to go together? But why are they going together? Especially when science is saying, Hey, everybody, these things can't go together? If we want to have a livable climate.
Yeah, I mean, I guess I give you a very simple answer, which is that if I were to write this bill with Sheldon Whitehouse, and Ed Markey, and Martin Heinrich and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, it probably wouldn't have had those provisions. But the configuration of the United States Senate is such that we needed the votes of people who want a mix. They may be, you know, better than Mitch McConnell on these issues. But they are not all in on clean energy, under all circumstances, in the same way that I am. And so I had a choice. And I think, you know, that's part of the, the sort of bottom line here is two months ago, we were staring down the barrel of nothing. We were staring down the barrel, the barrel of abject failure. And so we made compromises that I certainly wouldn't have embraced on the front end did not embrace on the front end. But that's the reason. I'm not here to defend fossil energy as policy. What I'm trying to say is that in the net, this is the biggest climate action that any country has ever taken, which is not to say that I love all the concessions that we had to make, but just that the nature of the business is that in order to get Joe Manchin on board with, with some stuff, there had to be some things that the senator from Hawaii did not like.
So I reported a story this week on the permitting reform bill, in which I quoted an environmental activist who said that you were sort of basically helping greenwash this, this bill that would expedite fossil fuel infrastructure by really selling the transmission components and not sort of giving a full, honest picture about, you know, how the bill might impact carbon emissions. I'm wondering if there's if you've seen sort of an emission study of, you know, the whole permitting reform bill and sort of what you would say to someone who says that by really touting the transmission provisions, instead of not not speaking about this as what it is, which is a built to represent fossil fuel infrastructure? Yes, that you're helping greenwash it.
Yeah. I mean, I, you know, I'm not gonna get too defensive here. Because I sort of, I think it is important that people try to hold all of us accountable to move as fast as we possibly can and not enable fossil fuel infrastructure when, when it can be avoided. But the bottom line is that I really do believe permitting reform is necessary and increasingly, the Clean Energy Community is agreeing with that. That doesn't mean they love the other provisions. But I think I've been you know, pretty complete in my description of why I'm for this, which is to say a this was part of a broader deal. I'll be I actually liked the permanent reform piece as it relates to clean energy and what we're going to need to do, we really need to electrify everything, and then move as much of those electrons from dirty to clean as possible. And then the third reason is a deal's a deal, I've made this deal. Now I understand there are other people who were not, you know, sort of part of that negotiation. And they may have more freedom to to oppose it. But I really believe that we were all in a position. And I remember this, you know, in April, May and June and part of July, everybody was like, cut the deal, find out what he wants and give it to him. Right. And backing up a little bit. The disappointment round build back better failing was, you know, was the devastation for I think the entire progressive coalition. But what remained in the inflation Reduction Act was that the climate provisions were substantially intact, right? What the bummer was, is we lost childcare, we lost housing, we lost medical leave, we lost eldercare, there were a ton of very important provisions that didn't make we lost the child tax credit. So all those were devastating disappointments. But if you look back at the climate provisions, the foundation of it stayed intact, and the emissions reductions substantially stayed intact. And that's why I'm in support of it. But the context was that, you know, we thought we were gonna get something much more transformational. And we got something, I think, still incredibly important, but not as big.
I wanted to ask one other energy question before we go to a couple of other issues. This one other issue keeps coming up, where it seems like parts of the fossil fuel industry are trying to portray themselves as part of a clean energy future, specifically, the natural gas industry, even though there's a lot of arguments to be made, that it is not part of a Livable Future when it comes to the climate. I guess my question for you on this is, do you think natural gas is part of a clean energy future? And and do other Democrats, your other other of your colleagues agree with that view that the fossil fuel industry is now quite obviously trying to put forward in all of these discussions?
Yeah, I mean, let me just sort of agree with you about the fossil fuel industry trying to sort of CO opt the language of clean energy without while doing as little as possible, and some of them are simply just, you know, divesting in ways that are tricky and allowing them to have like a dirty operation, where it's permitted, and then to take advantage of big incentives for wind and solar, where the profitability dictates that that's what they should do. So I think your point more generally, is is the right one. I guess it depends, David, to be blunt, on what you mean by future, right? I think in the in the immediate foreseeable future. People are going to need to keep their lights on and have heating over the winter. And so do I think we should turn off all of the fossil generation tomorrow morning? No, I think that would cause widespread suffering, and not to mention a big political backlash against the climate movement. So I think we should move as aggressively as possible while being sensitive to the idea that if, if, if fuel prices go up, if electricity prices go up, if people's pocketbooks suffer, and they view climate action as the precipitating factor, that that's bad for the climate movement. So my, you know, this is what I did. When I was in Hawaii, I was a member of the state legislature, and we passed the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. We tried to move as fast as possible while being sensitive to rates, right. Because, you know, you, it all has to work, right? We always were talking about Hawaii as an example for the world. But we didn't want to be this negative example of look, they went forward as aggressively as they could on clean energy. And look what happened, the middle class got eviscerated, and people had to pay more. And so we my own instinct is always to move as absolutely as fast as possible and err on the side of betting on the future. Err on the side of assuming that technology ends up catching up with policy, it always does. Markets end up chasing policies and policies, they always do. And so sort of bet on optimism, but understand that if you crank that thing too fast, you can end up in a situation where people say, Whoa, you know, I'm for climate action, but I'm not loving my electricity bill. And so I do think we need to move as quickly as possible, but also just understand, regular people don't necessarily have the bandwidth to think about much more than whether their monthly expenses match their monthly revenue. So I
guess the follow up to that is what do you make of This notion of the all of the above energy strategy. And what I mean by that is, there's this idea that all of the above means we we support the supply of all of these energies, clean and dirty, sensitive to what you've just said, then there's the idea that we have to actually stop one of these kinds of energy stop actually producing it, keep it in the ground. And there's been this idea out there that that's that that's politically untenable. Meanwhile, the scientists are saying I don't care what it whether it's politically untenable, it is sort of in the physics of the environment, it needs to happen. So I guess, I guess the question is on that is, do you agree with the idea of an all of the above energy strategy? or D? Or do you agree with the scientists who say that that just can't be the strategy?
No, that can't be the strategy. I don't agree with that. Now, again, tomorrow morning, we don't turn off all the coal fired fired generation and the gas fired generation in the state of Hawaii as a for example, we're still lighting, low sulfur fuel oil on fire to get our electrons, right. And so we have 100%, clean, clean energy going were among the states that are the most aggressive on clean energy. But one of the reasons that we have consensus on that is everybody understands, we're not going to blame you for turning your lights on when the Hawaiian Electric Company is still burning oil imported from Asia. And so no, we do not want all of the above. But that neither does that mean that we're going to try to move everybody in the stone age, you know, in the next six months while we try to sort our clean energy goals, which is why this massive bet on clean energy is so important.
Okay, I want to turn to the issue of dark money, which the Senate voted on this week, which we've been reporting on extensively. Democrats and President, President Biden have pushed a bill called the DISCLOSE Act, which would disclose or force disclosure among dark money groups. But there's the filibuster that the Senate Democrats have not gotten rid of. Now, I know most Senate Democrats say that they're for getting rid of the filibuster. But the party at the DNC also blocked a measure to essentially try to ban dark, anonymous money in the party's primaries. What do you say to people who see this who want dark money out of our politics, but who think that this is all theater, they see that the Democratic Party also benefits from dark money, they see the Senate having this vote, a kind of big vote, but one where the where the outcome was all but assured because of the filibuster? I guess, I guess how much of this is real? How much of this is theater to just have you guys look like you want to do something without actually doing something?
Well, I mean, I can just tell you, I've talked to dozens of my colleagues and there is a real momentum behind disclose. And also there's a there's a growing alarm and disgust around dark money. And so this is real. And I would just say as bluntly as possible. If we have two more United States senators. Like Mandela, Barnes and John Fetterman, or Sherry Beasley and Val Demings, then we will, we'll be able to pass disclose and deal with dark money. And we will be able to do a number of other codify Roe, we'll be able to do a number of other very important things. So I get your instinct towards being skeptical of people who are in power and who have to sort of interact with with Super PACs in order to survive. I you know, coming from Hawaii, knock on wood haven't had to do that. So I get your skepticism. It's probably well learn. While we're not messing around here. We want to do this.
Thank you for that. Um, I have a question about the rail strike the potential for rail strike. The railroad workers unions have been negotiating with the railroad companies since 2019. For fair contracts. The Biden administration has now stepped in and helped to broker a tentative deal to try and avert a railroad strike, which could grind the US economy to a halt. Democrats have signaled that they might intervene. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has already threatened workers by saying Congress will pass legislation banning them from striking if needed. At the time of this recording. The unions have not voted on the new contracts. Do you support Congress intervening to stop a railroad strike?
No. I mean, I think I support collective bargaining even when it's hard. And I also just to be clear, do not think there will be a rail strike. I think it was substant you know, it was averted. Obviously they have to ratify and we want to respect that part of the process, but it's vanishingly unlikely that they won't ratify after they came to this tentative agreement. So I'm still confident that, you know that the collective bargaining process worked, right, and the willingness to withhold one's labor and to collectively bargain a bargain with, you know, still one of the more profitable industries in the history of the planet, that weren't allowing people to even take sick days during COVID. You know, it wasn't a close call morally in terms of what they were bargaining for. But also, for me, it is a high principle, I don't intervene on collective bargaining matters. Now, there was a little bit of conversation about you know, punting, right if the if the entire American economy, you know, ground to a halt, they were talking about, like sort of doing a status quo thing for two weeks to give them more room to negotiate. I don't know if that's what Steny was talking about. But generally speaking, throughout my life, even by the way, when it's when I know what I view, as you know, that I basically agree with labor in a collective bargaining negotiation, I will not intervene, collective bargaining is not for politicians to come in. And broker agreements, especially, you know, legislators. And so we were all, you know, breathing pretty quickly, as we were watching, you know, we were getting down to, I think, you know, 18 hours left. But when the deal was struck, we were all relieved, you know, not just for the American economy and the farmers and everybody else who needs freight rail to work and passenger rail to work. But you know, more importantly, for those workers who have been I mean, really screw a lot of workers get screwed in the United States with these guys. Their situation was particularly egregious. So you seem
like a relatively human person, as opposed to most people in in the US Senate, having worked on Capitol Hill. I think that's kind of rare for people in the US Senate. And this is a question that I asked my own Senator here in Colorado at one point. And I always like to ask this question, because I think it helps people understand what's actually what what it's like to do the job you do, you're going to DC all the time from very, very far away. I mean, I can't imagine doing that trip, as many times from Hawaii to DC. I mean, that's, that's a lot. And you're getting on that plane from Hawaii, and you're going to an institution that is fundamentally broken. And you're going there knowing that two of your own party's colleagues are stopping lots and lots of things. And I wonder just, if you can give us a little bit of a sense of like, what that's like, every day, like, I imagined, I told my senator, I feel like I would get up and I'd be like getting on the plane, I'd be like, I can't stand this. I can't, I'm going I'm flying here. And I'm I'm trying to do good things. I'm trying to do things that I believe in. And I know that the institution is just fundamentally broken. Like what does that feel like on a human level? Do you are you like, bummed out about it, frustrated about it? Do you get like depressed at times, just because my wife is in a legislature and I talk with her all the time about what that's like, I just want you to give us some some perspective about like, what that's like on a daily basis?
Yeah, I mean, I guess the first thing I would start with is, you know, Sherrod Brown, likes to say no whining on the yacht, right. And so that's been my philosophy, I represent, I think, the best state in the nation. I'm just a fortunate human being to be in the United States Senate, representing the state of Hawaii. So that's sort of not lost on me. I've been in for 10 years. And I still kind of, you know, and I think the good ones still have that humility, that impostor syndrome. So that's the first thing. That doesn't mean, I'm always in a cheery mood when I get on that red eye, or when I land off of that red eye. But you know, I guess it was two days ago, news just yesterday, you know, we passed the Kigali treaty right on on hydrofluorocarbons, which, depending on who you ask, but there are plenty of credible people who who have analyzed this, and who thinks this will reduce warming by a half a degree Celsius. And I tell you what, I can go, you know, 18 months of like being deeply frustrated. And then we, you know, make sure there's a 15% minimum corporate tax on billion dollar corporations that pay nothing now, we reduce the cost of prescription medicine for millions of Americans, including my mother and father in law, both on Medicare both pay more than the $2,000 new cap, right. So there's gonna be capitated. So people I know people I care about are going to be helped by that legislation and the biggest climate action not just in American history, but in world history. And is it enough? No, is it everything that I had hoped for? No. But the beauty of being in the Senate is that even the small All bits of progress are enormously important for people. And so it is everyone else's job to express their frustration and to kind of live in their frustration. But it is my job to go in there and put on a brave face and fight to try to make whatever kind of progress we can.
I mean, are you ever like sitting there in one of these caucus meetings? And I'm not even talking about the Republicans, but I can talk we can talk about the Republicans to where you're talking about something like climate science or and, and your colleagues are like, saying some bullshit that like is obviously bullshit, and you have to deal deal with them. I mean, I just imagine that anybody who takes as an example to go back to climate, anybody who takes climate seriously, who has to deal on a daily basis with somebody like Joe Manchin, that's got to be like insanely frustrating, right? Like, what? What's your inner like, monologue about, like, you know, Serenity now, like, what, what is that, like, in your mind,
my inner monologue will remain inner. But I mean, look, you know, this job's not for everybody. And if you're not able to compartmentalize, you should not do this job. Right. Like, like, you know, as you know, I think we should get rid of the filibuster. But as long as the filibuster exists, you have to find bipartisan partners, which means that you have to, I have exceptions to this, because I won't work with anyone who voted to overturn the election. But other than that, I will partner with any Republican, including people who are wrong on most things, if there's an opportunity to do stuff together. And not everybody can sort of toggle between one's core values, one's opinions about someone, and the kind of necessity to put on a brave face and, and form partnerships and get things done. But that's why not everybody's a politician, you know, like, I am a sort of normal human. And I think in, in, in the Senate, that, you know, sometimes people go like, he's great. And I'm thinking No, I'm just normal. And that seems great. But, but I think that's what it is, is that you have to have a kind of unique ability to say, is to kind of like have a really, really short memory, right, and say, Well, that was hard. But now I got to do this other thing.
I totally agree on having worked in Congress. I remember Bernie Sanders when I worked for him in the house, he was working, in some cases with people like Tom Coburn, Ron Paul, on specific issues, and there was sort of an attempt to say, Well, if you're working with them, it must mean you agree with all their entire entire, you know, portfolio of things they believe in, and that just if you believe that it's very difficult to work in a legislature. Okay, one, this is the final question, because you mentioned it, I just, I will be remiss if I don't ask this question. You mentioned the filibuster. There is this argument out there who are concerned that, okay, Democrats want to get rid of the filibuster, they say they want to get rid of the filibuster, if they get a couple more seats, they'll do it. But if they do it, if they get rid of the filibuster, the next time the Republicans are in control? It will it will be the Republicans will use a non filibuster Senate to do all sorts of horrible things. What's the answer? What's the response to that?
Well, I think we have to believe that our ideas are fundamentally popular enough that they will win the day. And we have to understand that the crisis of democracy and the crisis around the planet is urgent enough that we need to operate like a majoritarian institution, which is what every other federal legislature does, right? The filibuster is not totally unique, but mostly unique to the United States and unique to our federal legislature. So I think we can't be afraid of our own majority. And will we get our asses kicked certain years? Yes, we will. But that's better than decades and decades of inaction.
Senator Schatz, thank you so much for taking the time today. Julia, thank you for for all your questions as well. And again, Senator, thank you for taking the tough questions, and taking them like a normal human being as opposed to many of your colleagues we really appreciate it.
Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium get to hear our bonus segment, the levers reporters analysis of Larry Summers wondering why so many people are suffering under the neoliberal policies created by Larry Summers
you know, it's one of these things like I don't know how these people like show their face in public like but I also don't know how they're not getting routinely screamed at in public or like hit with pies or whatever, just like, like braided like braided like, like Ted Cruz gets braided when he goes, you know, grocery shopping or whatever. Like, why is it just him? Like, why isn't it Larry Summers, Jason Furman the people who are actually helping actively make people's economic conditions much worse.
And please be sure to like, subscribe and write a review for lever time on your favorite podcast app. One last favor to ask if you liked this podcast and our reporting. Please tell your friends and family about the lever and the work we're doing here forward our emails to them, encourage them to subscribe I believe the only way independent media grows is by word of mouth so we need all the help we can get to continue doing the work that we're doing until next time I'm David Sirota keep rocking the boat