All-Star Panel: Is climate change a 'weapon of mass destruction'?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 17, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Climate change is a weapon of mass destruction, according to the secretary of state in a speech in Indonesia. This as the administration makes a full court press on the issue of climate change and executive action. Taking a look at the latest Gallup Poll on the things that are most important to Americans, unemployment and jobs, as you see 23 percent, economy as 20 percent, dissatisfaction with government, 19 percent. Climate change does not -- or global warming doesn't get into the top 10. A recent pew poll has it 19 out of 20 of issues of importance for Americans.

Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Charles.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, look, the president pretends that this is all settled, settled science. I mean, Newton's laws were considered settled for 200 years until a patent clerk in Switzerland turned them over with a single paper in 1903, and that was pretty settled science. The idea this is all settled is absurd.

However, even if you accept it, then you look at what he did last week. He wants to pretend that these individual weather events are the cause of global warming, which is supposedly the settled science. And as you showed earlier the New York Times, which is not exactly a right wing rag, it says that there is no definitive evidence it's causing the drought in the West Coast. In fact, I'm quoting here, "The most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms it should be getting wetter, not drier out there in the winter."

So if you accept the settled science of climate change, you would have the exact opposite effect as what we saw last week in California. So the arrogance of this is rather appalling. But worse is the application of it to our economy, shutting the coal industry, herding us into mass transit, getting us out of larger cars. All of this is driven by this ideology which in and of itself is a matter of almost theology.

BAIER: A.B., what about the push now to focus on this now? There were some over the weekend who said, you know, maybe this has to do with the fact that Republicans didn't bite on the debt deal, the fact that they don't want to talk about ObamaCare, that this is leading the way for something for Democrats to hang on to heading into the midterms.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, first of all, before we get into the politics, President Obama and John Kerry believe this. They believe that this is settled. Their supporters believe this.  The military is planning for climate management in the years to come because it feels that it must.

But politically, this is really a risk for President Obama. Pushing now when he's trying for one goal, which is to save a Democratic Senate majority, to try to galvanize groups on the left to turn out in the midterm elections by using executive actions which actually convinced voters who are unhappy with the direction of the country, even those in his own party, and feel that he's powerless, hey why vote for my member of Congress if he can do everything from the White House with a phone and pen.

So is all of these decisions, new regs, will it lead both to a narrative from the Republicans that he is an imperial president and doing extra constitutional things without the Congress, and he's not allowed to, or will it be outweighed by the defendant of Democrats turning out at the polls? I think it's risky.

BAIER: One of the proposed environmental regulations, Steve, is one that would require all new coal-burning power plants built in the U.S. to be outfitted with what is called carbon capture and storage, CCS technology. A recent hearing, the cost of that was explored.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE BARTON, R - TX: All of these carbon capture sequestration technologies add cost to these coal plants. Could you all give the committee, or subcommittee a kind of baseline estimate of how much it adds to the cost?

JULIE FRIEDMANN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT ENERGY SECRETARY: Typically, we express these costs as a range, so for the first generation technology that the Dr. Clare was mentioning earlier, we're looking at something on the order of $70 to $90 a ton. In that context, that looks something like a 70 percent or 80 percent increase on the wholesale price of electricity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: A 70 percent to 80 percent increase in the wholesale price of electricity.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, nobody should be surprised that the costs will go up. I mean, whatever the president has done when he's talked about his environmental policis, when he's promulgated these regulations, there will be costs. That's a feature.  That's not a bug. This is something that's a natural result of the kind of things the president is proposing.

In particular, with this particular carbon capture and storage proposal, what he has in effect said is we're going to mandate that new coal plants have to start up with this technology. If you don't, you can't do it. Well, this technology is nowhere in existence. And the fight that we're having now is, or we're going to have in the future in a more intense way, is whether this is actually viable. Is this something that can be actually demonstrated as commercially viable? Is this something that can be done?

And the argument that you're getting from industry is absolutely not. This cannot possibly be done. It's not scalable, it's not practical, it's nowhere in existence. And you have seen the EPA take several shortcuts, including a disagreements with its own science advisory board, about whether this is be done, because as Charles says, this is a religion. They're making, in effect, a religious argument about this.

BAIER: But that's the question. All the talk is about the flat earth society and the science. It's not about prescriptive solutions to how to deal with the problem, right?

KRAUTHAMMER: And that's because all the so-called prescriptive solutions that are in the U.S. are totally useless, and everyone knows that. You could shut off the United States tomorrow, you could shut down the entire coal industry tomorrow, it would make no difference. India and China between them are opening a coal-fired plant every week, every week. So it makes no difference what America does.

I would say there's actually a good reason that Kerry is in Indonesia. I support that Indonesia is the third biggest carbon emitter in the country - - in the world after China and the U.S. If you get a world to pact on this, I would support it.

BAIER: I'm asking politics questions. But can he fire up the base enough and not make moderates in the Democratic Party mad enough to skate by in the midterms, enough?

STODDARD: That's really a good question, because they think coal is already leased too cheaply. They think Keystone pipeline should be blocked.  They think that more lands and water should be protected by the federal government. They want more fuel efficiency. The list is so long, he has so disappointed environmentalists, that I don't know how he makes them happy by November, the first week of November, and turns them out at the polls.

BAIER: Because saying no to Keystone, if that makes them happy, it makes Mary Landrieu in Louisiana very sad --

(CROSSTALK)

BAIER: -- and it makes Mark Begich in Alaska very sad.

HAYES: It splits the left no matter what. Remember, as a senator, John Kerry voted against Keystone. He's argued about it -- this argument he made the other day is not a new argument for him. One of the interesting questions when you mentioned the Gallup poll -- and this isn't an issue that seems to resonate very broadly, anyway -- is why Democrats would do it. Is it just a distraction, is it just to get out the base? There's another, I think, argument here, and that is moderate women, independent women voter, suburban moms that everybody talked about in 2012, are also more likely to be persuaded by arguments about the environment, something that Republican pollsters have talked about for a long time. So it may be that they're seeing this is a way to rally some of our base and also to get those moderate Republican or independent women.

KRAUTHAMMER: Killing coal is not going to help Democrats in Kentucky. So this is a losing proposition for the country and Democrats.

BAIER: Next up, the five-year anniversary of the president's stimulus.      

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