The Kentucky state legislature recently held hearings to examine the oft-claimed “scientific consensus” on global warming. Rep. Jim Gooch (D-Providence) chaired the hearings.
James M. Taylor, a Heartland Institute senior fellow and managing editor of Environment & Climate News, recently spoke with Gooch about energy, global warming, and related issues.
Taylor: You have been serving the public in the Kentucky legislature for 13 years. What motivated you to enter public service?
Gooch: I have always wanted to have a positive influence in my community. I have been very active in the Jaycees, was elected to a city council position, and was elected mayor of my town. Serving the public is something I have always wanted to do, and serving the public now in the Kentucky state legislature is something I greatly enjoy doing.
Taylor: Energy issues have become prominent in the Kentucky legislature and in many other state legislatures in recent sessions. How important is it to you, as a state legislator, to ensure Kentucky has an adequate supply of affordable electricity?
Gooch: Our economy is built on affordable energy. In Kentucky we have some of the most affordable electricity in the nation. This is largely due to our abundance of affordable coal.
Our affordable energy has given us many economic advantages. We are major manufacturers of steel and automobiles, for example. These industries are here because of our cheap electricity rates.
This not only provides Kentucky citizens with desirable jobs but also enables our households to pay less in electricity bills and save more of our money for other goods and services important to our standard of living.
Taylor: Are there any technologies that you believe must or must not be a part of Kentucky’s future electricity mix?
Gooch: I believe we must keep all our energy options on the table. It would be foolish to rule out any particular forms of energy in knee-jerk fashion without thoroughly looking into how such energy sources can strengthen our energy mix.
With that in mind, I am not so sure that nuclear is right for Kentucky. I believe nuclear [power] is something the nation has to have, but given Kentucky’s abundance of coal and other energy sources, we have made the decision that we will go a different route.
Taylor: Some environmental activist groups assert that coal, which is the most affordable power source and produces half the nation’s electricity, must be taken out of the mix because of global warming fears. Have you seen evidence of scientific doubt regarding alarmist global warming fears?
Gooch: There is definitely scientific doubt.
One of the problems we have is that when you ask the question, “Do you believe in global warming?”–that is a very simplistic question. There are other questions that need to be asked, and more depth that needs to be investigated.
Are humans primarily responsible for recent warming? Will the effects of projected future warming be modest and manageable? Must we totally change our way of life, our economy, and the currently modest price we pay for energy, to address a problem many scientists believe will not be nearly as imposing as the news media would lead us to believe?
I firmly believe there ought to be a balance struck between the competing concerns of potential future global warming and the very real and very severe economic costs that some extremist groups are advocating we commit to right now. I am seeking to establish and nurture a dialogue on these issues so that we can find the most beneficial balance.
Taylor: Public discourse can often decline from noble, passionate debate into negative, destructive tactics. Do you worry that the global warming debate may be slipping, or may already have slipped, away from the noble pursuit of objective truth?
Gooch: I think so. What has happened is that we have some people out there who shouldn’t deserve credibility, such as the really radical environmentalist groups that oppose coal, oppose natural gas, oppose wind power because wind turbines kill birds, and oppose everything else as well. You can’t just take everything off the table if you have no feasible alternatives to take their place.
They can become very personal and negative when they don’t get their way, and the media leads people to believe that these are credible positions when in fact they are not. It shows a mindset that they don’t care about people’s jobs, don’t care about people’s need to make a living, and don’t care about people’s needs for affordable energy.
Society has unfortunately bought into their false myth that the scientific debate is over regarding global warming, which is certainly not true. People who spread such myths do not deserve credibility. Skeptical scientific experts exist, and they exist in large numbers. It is false and misleading to assert otherwise.
Taylor: What can state legislators do to ensure policymakers and the public have access to the best possible scientific and economic information when making important decisions regarding global warming and similar topics?
Gooch: This is a very difficult problem because of the pressures from the media and from extremist groups. Nevertheless, it is very important for the public to know that scientists are deeply split on the issue and no consensus has been reached.
That being the case, we need to keep the debate alive until a true consensus is actually reached. Otherwise, we run the risk of enabling or enacting some very damaging laws that will have a tremendous negative impact on people’s lives.
I have sponsored hearings on the topic of consensus and global warming because people are under the mistaken impression that the issue has been settled and the debate is over. This is far from the truth in the scientific community.
When Washington or state legislatures rush to enact “solutions” for a problem that may not exist, we make serious decisions without regard to costs, without regard to our economy, and without regard to people’s way of life.
The consequences that are likely to result from such misguided proposals will be tremendous.
Taylor: A new report from Charles Rivers Associates projects global warming-related provisions of energy bills currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress would eliminate 86,000 jobs in Kentucky, reduce the average household’s income in the state by $2,500 per year, and reduce Kentucky’s economic output by nearly 6 percent by the year 2030. How concerned are you about such negative economic impacts in your state?
Gooch: I am very concerned. Kentucky is in a unique position in that we are the third-largest coal producer in the nation, and coal is our largest industrial activity. Seventy percent of this coal is exported, and the other 30 percent provides us with some of the cheapest electricity in the nation. Inexpensive energy makes Kentucky an attractive place for business and industry to set up shop and provide jobs for our state citizens.
Energy production is an extremely important industry in our state. Our nation spends tremendous amounts of money buying oil from foreign nations. Yet we have a tremendous opportunity to take our inexpensive coal and turn it into synthetic oil to power our automobiles with American-produced energy.
Despite this opportunity, the extremists argue that we need to take coal completely off the table. This is foolish, especially for Kentuckians.
[Synthetic oil] can meet an important national security interest for the U.S. We can produce it relatively cheaply and in great quantities from our domestic coal reserves. It only makes sense to do this considering rising oil prices and dwindling supplies.
We also need to investigate ethanol and other sources of energy. We should not take any energy source off the table.
Taylor: Do you have any advice for legislators who may feel crushing pressure from activist groups to take one side or the other regarding global warming?
Gooch: I think we always have to strive for what we think is right. It is wrong to advocate something you don’t believe in, regardless of the possible political consequences.
We can’t get the policy right if we don’t get the science right. We should never say there is no more room for scientific investigation and discussion.
I have never said global warming does not exist. I instead believe we must get a better understanding of the causes, future extent, and likely consequences of global warming.
This issue is just like any other. We ought to be able to debate it in a civil manner. I am looking out for people’s jobs, people’s way of life, and our national security.
We should never say that we don’t have an interest in learning more about the science.