I’m listening to an interview with Bill Clinton on public radio. He just claimed that his administration had the best environmental record since the (Theodore) Roosevelt administration — citing, in particular, the Roadless Rule. He also said that he wanted to raise CAFE standards, but “Congress wouldn’t pass it,” even when the Democrats were in the majority.

What do you think?

Update [2005-6-3 20:44:39 by Dave Roberts]: In answer to a question about managing China’s transition to global powerhouse, Clinton said it’s crucial to (among other things) create a new generation of high-tech, high-wage jobs. What jobs? “Clean energy.”

Ira Flatow then responded that he had 8 years to advance smart energy policy, and he didn’t (though less bluntly put). Clinton had three responses:

  • Energy issues had low visibility back then, because other priorities were intruding and oil was cheap;
  • the Republican congress enjoyed the oil and coal economy, and still does;
  • and he did actually do some stuff, tax credits and such, not to mention Kyoto.

Update [2005-6-3 21:22:14 by Dave Roberts]: A caller just asked him about the hydrogen economy. His answer, paraphrased: Hydrogen is great, and eventually we’ll end up there. But it’s a ways out. It shouldn’t take money from more short-term achievable things like hybrids, compressed natural gas, solar, wind, etc. In general, we should spend far more on the emerging clean-energy economy.

The problem is that the old energy economy — oil and coal — is highly centralized, with access to influence, and very well-financed. The new energy economy is decentralized, entrepreneurial, under-financed, and lacking clear markets. The feds should help it along.

Flatow then asked him about nuclear, mentioning that “a lot of green people” are saying it’s the answer. His answer, paraphrased: We should “look seriously” at it, and it’s clear “we can run safe nuclear power plants.” However:

  • Will we get enough benefits in the short run given the enormous capital requirements, or would it make more sense to use that money building up renewable energy?
  • Should we build 40 new nuke plants before we know what to do with the waste (Yucca was chosen for political, not environmental reasons)?
  • Is nuclear more more cost effective than “letting 1000 flowers bloom” with small-scale wind, solar, biomass, etc. projects?

My overall impression of Clinton is basically what it always was: He’s a mesmerizing speaker. He talks about progressive issues in a way that seems almost calculated to piss off True Believers, but in the process sells progressive solutions to Middle America more effectively than anyone I’ve ever heard.