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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN Town Hall: The Climate Crisis. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 23, 2021 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:55]

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to CNN's town hall on the climate crisis. I'm Dana Bash.

President Biden just announced a sweeping new plan to fight climate change. He's pledging to cut U.S. carbon emissions roughly in half in less than 10 years. Saving the world from global warming will mean remaking the U.S. economy as we know it.

With us tonight, the president's team leading this charge, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy. And, later, we will be joined by the energy secretary and head of the EPA in the first town hall since this historic announcement.

Now, our audience is here in Washington and around the country and ready to ask questions. Everyone here tonight is following COVID-19 safety protocols.

Welcome to you both.

Before we get started from the audience, just a couple of questions, starting with you, Secretary Kerry.

Slashing carbon emissions in half is quite ambitious. So, what must U.S. companies and Americans change in order to achieve this goal?

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE: Well, U.S. companies are already moving in this direction.

It's very exciting, what's happening. Just in the last few days, some of the most important financial institutions committed in the trillions of dollars over the next 10 years to invest in the technologies and processes that are going to help reduce this -- the emissions.

And other countries are doing this. Europe is cutting by 55 percent. U.K. is cutting by 78 percent. Why? Because the scientists have made it clear to us that this is critical if we want to hold the Earth's temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Centigrade. And if we don't do that, all of us reducing, it's not going to happen.

Now, the leadership President Biden showed today was to bring all nations to the table to raise ambition and get them all enlisted in this effort. Eighty-five percent of the emissions that create the problem come from other countries.

BASH: Right.

KERRY: So, we have to do this with other nations.

BASH: And, Administrator McCarthy, do you see the president's announcement as beginning -- or the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry?

GINA MCCARTHY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL CLIMATE ADVISER: I see this as the beginning of investing in America again. I see this as the beginning of creating millions of good-paying union jobs. I see this as America winning back the future.

This is all about recognizing that the clean energy economy and our race to it has already started. It's our way of making sure that people can have jobs again, moving away from one of the worst years that all of us have experienced to a moment of hope and opportunity.

This is all about investing in us again and about winning back the future. So, I don't see this as the beginning of the end. I see this as the beginning of our future.

BASH: OK, let's get to the audience.

Secretary Kerry, I want you to meet Dennis Chestnut, who is here in the studio, as you see.

KERRY: Hey, Dennis. How you doing?

BASH: He's a retired executive director at a nonprofit.

Dennis, what's your question?

DENNIS CHESTNUT, RETIRED NONPROFIT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Yes, good evening.

The climate crisis is similar in many ways to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is affecting the entire planet and impacting everyone. It requires everyone to participate for our mutual survival.

Most U.S. citizens are not looking at climate change as an imminent crisis. What will you do to elevate the climate crisis discussion and conversation for the average American citizen that this is a crisis and can not wait to be addressed?

KERRY: Well, Dennis, that's a great question. And thank you very much for it.

It is part of the challenge, obviously, is for everybody to kind of get behind these efforts. But the fact is that it's already happening that people are transitioning and realizing what's going on.

Farmers in the Midwest in our nation have seen their crops blown out by floods. You have had the fires in California. You have had the intensity of the storms. Look what happened in Texas the other day, because we don't have a sufficient grid system in America prepared for these crises.

[22:05:07]

So, the reality is Dennis, that we need to recognize that the evidence from Mother Earth is kind of screaming at us. And we see things happening that have never happened and were supposed to happen only once in 500 years, but they're happening once every few years at this point in time.

We see the ice melting in Greenland. Scientists will tell you that that may be gone. We may actually be in a course that we can't reverse it. And when Greenland melts, you're going to have feet...

BASH: So...

KERRY: ... literally of sea level increase.

So, it's a question of our talking the truth, factually, to people about exactly what is happening and exactly what we can do about it. That's what President Biden began today in earnest with the policy he's put forward, and the summit, really the hosting of this gathering of leaders from all around the world.

You had the prime minister of India. You had the president of China. You had the president of France and the chancellor of Germany and so forth. These folks aren't ridiculous. They're smart.

BASH: Secretary Kerry, we're going to get to those world leaders in a minute.

KERRY: Great.

BASH: But I just have to ask you what you're talking about.

Seventy-two percent of Democrats agree with you. They think the climate is in crisis. But only 10 percent of Republicans think so. So, what's your message to those Republicans who need to be convinced?

KERRY: Well, we need to talk to everybody, first of all.

And we want to talk to those Republicans who have questions about what is happening. What we're -- what President Biden is doing and what Gina is doing, what I'm doing is based on science. We -- it's about the -- two and two is four, still, but some people want us to debate whether or not two and two is five.

And, unfortunately, a lot of money has been spent to get people to have doubts about whether this is happening. And, very unfortunately, it has fallen somewhat into the partisan divide of our nation. We have to get over that.

We have to kind of achieve the baseline of facts and science on which we normally, as Americans, have made decisions. And when we decide to do things, what's exciting is, this is good for all Americans. This is going to be the greatest market, the greatest job creator since the Industrial Revolution. BASH: Well, that leads...

KERRY: And I think Republicans will see that.

Plenty of Republican CEOs who head major companies, Fortune 500 companies, are totally backing what President Biden is doing.

BASH: That leads to the next question from the audience.

Administrator McCarthy, this is from you.

One key component of the climate plan is to get more electric cars out on the streets to reduce emissions.

Stephen Bock from Apex, North Carolina, has a question about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN BOCK, NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: My wife and I were in the market to purchase a new car back in March. We were looking to purchase a new car. An electric vehicle was not considered due to the cost and convenience.

Although my wife and I try to make environmentally conscious choices, we just didn't find it feasible to make this leap.

What do you think you can do to make this a more economic and a logistic choice for the typical American consumer?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCARTHY: Well, Dana, the American Jobs Plan and the work that we're doing to address our greenhouse gas emissions are really going to speak to this very issue, because it's not about sacrifice.

It is about working with our manufacturing sector to revise it -- to revive it. It's about actually building batteries in the U.S., so the cost goes down. It's us taking back the supply chains that we have lost to other countries.

And it is about putting people back to work in good union jobs. There is a legitimate issue with electric vehicles that they're not accessible to everybody. That will change over time. One of the ways in...

BASH: When will that happen?

MCCARTHY: One of the ways in which we're looking at this is to work with the car manufacturers.

We didn't choose electric vehicles. They came to us and said, you know what? Electric vehicles are the future. But they're producing them in China, not here. And so we need to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector. We have two battery manufacturing sector -- companies that are starting up, one to serve GM and one to serve Ford, right in the United States. We are -- we are actually proposing to do a lot of consumer rebates.

We're suppose -- we're proposing to look at tax rebates, things to lower the cost, things to lower...

BASH: Because that's one of the questions, is, when are they going to be cheaper?

They're expensive.

MCCARTHY: Well, when they -- when more are sold, which there are more sold now than there have ever been before. And they're catching up.

But we do have to help consumers out by lowering that cost, either through a direct rebate or through a tax incentive. But we think that that is the future. The companies themselves are saying, we are likely to be spend -- actually producing 100 percent of our vehicles by 2035.

[22:10:07]

But we're not going to ask people to make abrupt changes. We are asking people to actually look at the technologies of today. We'll advance them. We'll deploy them. We'll start getting them cheaper by investing in manufacturing and getting those jobs back here in the United States.

And at some point, in time, those -- and it should be very soon because the sales are starting to go up, you will see the companies actually catering to all consumers and we'll be able to make this happen for everyone.

BASH: I want to stick with you --

MCCARTHY: Yeah.

BASH: -- because want to bring in another questioner from Paradise, California. You remember, it's a city devastated by wildfires in 2018.

MCCARTHY: I do, yeah.

BASH: Eighty-five people died there.

Suzanne Linebarger is a survivor, but she lost her home. She is a retired teacher, and she also is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against PG&E Corporation to recover damages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUZANNE LINEBARGER, LOST HER HOUSE IN PARADISE, CA FIRE: The town of Paradise burned down on November 8th, 2018 in the largest fire in the history of California. Years and years of drought, high winds, and a sparked power pole caused the fire. We were a tinderbox, as is much of California.

Californians had been told it is our fault that our state suffers from fires. We cannot be blamed for drought conditions and unprecedented high temperatures well into the fall. What is your response and how can you help?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCARTHY: Well, there's a number of things that we're doing, and we have to look at how we actually build our infrastructure, so it is resilient. You know, there wasn't enough investment in the transmission infrastructure to make sure that it would be safe and solid. There wasn't enough opportunity for us to take a look at how we could make sure that people had egress properly when this started.

There is no question, Dana, that it's going to be challenging under a changed climate. It already is. There's going to be more drought. There's going to be more floods. Part of our effort is to look at investing in infrastructure that doesn't just grow jobs, but actually protects the safety of communities.

Part of it is going to be investing in better forest management. So we're trying to look at where these droughts are occurring, predict them better. We have more and more technology available to us at the federal level to know where these dangers are so we can try to mitigate them.

But all in all, we have to recognize that the climate has changed, that droughts and fires and floods are actually going to be an ever- present issue, which is why we can't settle with inferior infrastructure. We can't settle with transmission grids that don't work across state lines, like what happened in Texas. We can't allow especially our environmental justice communities that are already feeling the punch to have homes that aren't efficient or unsafe or they can't get to work every day because the transit system is down.

There are so many ways in which the United States needs to invest in its own infrastructure and do it in a way where they're protecting communities, investing in the communities left behind.

BASH: I want to bring in another audience member.

Secretary Kerry, this is John Helveston, an engineering professor from George Washington University.

JOHN HELVESTON, ENGINEERING PROFESSOR, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Good evening.

Having left global climate agreements not once but, the U.S. is at risk of ceding climate leadership to other nations like China, if it hasn't already done. So, what will the Biden-Harris administration do to establish international confidence that the U.S. is serious about climate action and what actions can we take that won't simply be undone by the next administration if it's another one that's going to deny climate science?

JOHN KERRY, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR CLIMATE: Well, Dan, two great questions in one, and I urge you when you get home tonight, if you have time and you can or over the weekend, take a look at what happened at the White House today when President Biden hosted 40 heads of state, the 20 largest economies in the world, the major emitters, all were part of this summit today, which was for the purpose of raising ambition to get the job done.

And the leadership of President Biden is what made that happen. And he's not -- he has said, and I've said, Gina said, we're not going to become leaders because we say we're back or because we're asking to be the leaders. We're going to be leaders by doing things, by showing the way.

Day one, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement. Day two, he issued executive orders undoing much of what President Trump had done that made no sense, that was contrary to reasonable standards of progress.

[22:15:00]

And then he followed through on his promise to have the summit, which we just had today. And he and Gina, who's done an incredible job bringing everybody together around this new goal where labor unions, hardworking folks around the country support what we're doing, because they know this is going to be better for their standard of living. It's going to raise the quality of life.

So, I think we're going to earn our spurs. That's how you get credibility. And we're going to do it by working at this.

The second part of your question is how could you know this'll stick because someone else may come along? I'll tell you why this will stick, because trillions of dollars are going to be spent and invested all around the world. Every nation is represented in supporting the Paris Agreement, and now preparing to go to Glasgow where they're going to build the next step of raising ambition on a global basis.

So that money that is being invested, no politician could come along and undo what is going to happen in the transformation of our economies on a global basis. And I just see it happening in a remarkable way.

Let me comment on, Dan, who by the way, had his hand, I think, I think I'm riding on a very beautiful Mustang, probably a 1960s one, loved it, and the president of Ford Motor Company today will tell you, electric is a better car.

And you're going to have workers working to build a car, put the wheels on, do the upholstery, do the internal part of the car, put a battery in instead of an internal combustion engine. Yeah, there are a few fewer parts, but this is going to be a huge transition.

President Biden is going to put 500,000 charging stations out there in America so people have confidence you can have an electric car, get to work, go on your vacation, make sure you get charged.

BASH: I just want to follow up on something that you said both at the White House and here, which is that the President has executive orders, which is true, and understanding that, and also what you're saying about business putting some deep roots in this notion, you still have to change policy legislatively.

How are you going to work with Republicans in Congress to do that?

KERRY: Well, you have to -- yes, you have to change some things, but no, you can also do some things by executive order.

BASH: Yeah, but then it could easily be reversed.

KERRY: But the reason I say to you, Dana, I just don't believe that will happen. It's going to be too big and economic force and future that is taking place.

Even when Donald Trump pulled out of the climate agreement, 37 governors and the District of Columbia all stood up the next day and said, we're staying in. One thousand plus mayors all stayed in the "We're Still In" movement. And they continued, the biggest cities in America, everybody worked towards the Paris Agreement.

So, we actually cut emissions even while Donald Trump was president, and we wound up in a place where we are now able to meet the goal that Gina and her team have put together because we stayed at this despite Donald Trump pulling out.

MCCARTHY: Dana, can I just add, if you wouldn't mind?

BASH: Please?

MCCARTHY: You know, President Biden is clearly a person who has been able to make bipartisan decisions happen and work together. And if there's any area where I believe it will be successful, it is in the move to clean energy, because even in the last part of the Trump administration when we had a Republican-run Congress, they actually passed tax extensions and credits for clean energy at a year when solar and wind were the highest levels ever. That was 2018.

So, we are not talking about an inherently Democratic or Republican issue here. We are talking about a lot of the proposals that the president has put on the table in the American Jobs Plan are highly supported by the public. And the President Biden isn't speaking to Democrats or Republicans.

BASH: Yeah.

MCCARTHY: He's selling this to the public.

BASH: I like your optimism. The public doesn't always translate.

KERRY: No, but you know --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: We're just going to have to -- we're going to continue. We just have to sneak in a quick break. We'll be right back with more questions for the White House Climate Team.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [22:23:19]

BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Climate Crisis Town Hall. We are back and Administrator McCarthy, I want to start with you and go to a question from Steve Gray from Gillette, Wyoming. He's a coal miner who was laid off.

STEVE GRAY, FORMER COAL MINER: How does the Biden Administration plan on retraining all the coal miners and all the other parties that are affiliated with the coal industry, that the Biden Administration are planning to put out of work when they shut the coal mines down?

MCCARTHY: Well, I -- I will start by saying that I understand that a lot of people have been caught in this transition and one of the most important things that I think President Biden did in this plan was to outright acknowledge that a transition has been happening. And when we cannot leave any of the workers or communities behind. So, we actually have a plan that's being released tomorrow that's looking at how we do start investing more in training but how we also invest right away which we've decided to do already to the tune of $240 million to look at how we match skill sets that those coal miners already have with already available jobs.

There are thousands of oil and -- and gas wells that have never been closed that are spewing methane gas. Right in the same communities where those coal miners have been laid off. They have the exact skill sets to go and close those and stop the emissions and actually make good pay again. We have coal mines similarly situated that have been abandoned. So, we're trying to identify and already have identify money to help support that.

[22:25:01]

But in the long term, it will take training. It will take opportunities for different education to be able to be provided and we're going to be looking for Congress to support that and we're going to already be investing in it in a budget.

BASH: So, you mentioned skill sets and pay, you know that many fossil fuel workers receive higher wages and benefits than workers in solar and wind. So, can you guarantee today's coal and gas workers that they won't get a pay cut if they switch?

MCCARTHY: Well President Biden is not just interested in getting folks a job, but he wants a good job. And he wants people to have access to unions. Because for far too long people have been taken advantage of and we know we have to build the middle class. We know people should have a right to have one job and be able to raise a family and put food on the table and have a home to live in and hopefully buy. So no, he's not going to be satisfied by trading off a really good job for one that doesn't pay. So, one of the reasons why we have established this in -- in the American jobs plan requirements for labor standards.

It's so that if you want Federal money to support what you're doing or your company or a product than -- than pay a fair wage. So, we have every intention of working with the unions so the unions that have lost jobs can get more jobs where they need it in their own communities and get trained again if they need it. But we -- we have no intention of supporting companies that won't pay their workers a fair wage.

BASH: Secretary Kerry, I want to ask you about a couple of the countries that participated in the Climate Summit. It was obviously a big deal that the leaders of Russia and China decided to join in, but can the U.S. really trust Vladimir Putin who interfered in U.S. elections. And President Biden calls a killer or Xi Jingping who -- who misled the world about the corona virus?

KERRY: Nothing that we are doing, nothing that President Biden wants us to do is based on trust or blind trust. We are going to require accountability, transparency and make certain that the people have to live up to the pledges that they make. And there are new systems now that we have which will help us achieve that kind of accountability. We have real time vision from space from satellite structure. We can measure literally a businesses footprint in one country in the world now. And so, I think that that's part of what we will work at as we go to Glasgow. Is how do we guarantee that this is not based on trust? It's based on don't trust but verify and how do we verify?

BASH: Glasgow, the upcoming summit in -- in November.

KERRY: Beg your pardon?

BASH: Glasgow being the upcoming --

KERRY: In Glasgow there is the next -- there's the follow on to Paris and that's the next negotiations.

BASH: And as part of that I want to go to your trip that you just had. You just got back from Shanghai. China says emissions won't start to decline until 2030. Why couldn't you convince them to --

KERRY: No, they said today and there's a headline in the New York Times based on it that President Xi said they're going to have strict regulation on their coal. And they also said that they're going to be green in it and we have to make this happen. They say it, doesn't make it happen. And we have to ascertain exactly what they mean and how are they going to do that and what will the verification be? But -- but -- but China agreed when I was there in a joint statement. They said that we have to take action in the 20s', to 2020 to 2030. If we don't do what we need to do in this decade, the decade of decision, we can't keep the Earth's temperature at 1.5 degrees.

We can't achieve even net zero by 2050. So, we have to ask China to do more. They're not doing enough. They have a massive coal dependency. We have to try to get them to move further and we have to also ask China not to be funding the building of new coal fire power plants in other parts of the world. We had a long conversation about that. So, the next six months, President Biden wants us to conduct the diplomacy that will build the support for broad transparency accountability as we go to Glasgow and -- and no pledges will mean anything. And we won't obviously earn the support of the American people if we don't have a sufficient level of accountability and transparency. BASH: Administrator McCarthy, I want to go to Katharina Tomisato. She

is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a graduate student at Tulane University.

KATHARINA TOMISATO, GRADUATE STUDENT, TULANE UNIVERSITY: Here in Louisiana, we are very familiar with the implications of climate change. We live (inaudible) erosion, flooding, hurricanes. Last year alone, the United States was hit by 12 named storms with five making landfall in Louisiana. Many have left because they could not rebuild, and this pattern is likely to continue.

[22:30:08]

My question is, what strategies are being considered to aid those forced to relocate because of climate change?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCARTHY: Well, President Biden has, in his American Jobs Plan, a significant commitment to adaptation and resilience.

One of it is to ensure that individuals in homes can be relocated in areas where they choose to move because they're afraid of these types of recurring storms.

You know, there is no question that we have areas where people live now that are becoming increasingly more challenging. But we also have communities that are still struggling to get drinking water provided, or sewage systems installed.

BASH: Yes.

MCCARTHY: We have some basic needs in this country, part of which is to rebuild our infrastructure. But part of it is to make sure that we have the infrastructure in the first place.

Tribal communities, in particular, have been hard-hit by COVID -- by COVID-19. And they're really challenged in terms of some of the areas in which they live and maintaining their home and their safety.

BASH: You mentioned relocation.

Are there parts of the U.S. that are becoming so dangerous that they should just be abandoned?

MCCARTHY: Well, I was just on the phone yesterday, actually, with a tribe from Alaska, where that is exactly the case.

They want resources to be relocated, because they know that they can no longer live on the island where they are. And they also know that their food source is being impacted, because the ice is melting. So, there is no question that we have to face some of these extreme challenges.

But I think, for the most part, we are talking about a country where we have a president that understands that climate change isn't a planetary problem; it's a people problem. And everywhere that people are suffering is where we want to be able to take a look and see if there are opportunities to keep them safe and healthier, and to rebuild some of the communities that have been disinvested in for far too long.

And that's what the American Jobs Plan is. It's really not talking to people about climate. It's talking to people about things that are real and are important, and important to them right now. And that's jobs, good homes, a place to eat, keeping their kids safe, giving them a good future.

BASH: And let's expand the discussion, Secretary Kerry, to the world.

Two hurricanes and drought hit Central America recently. Thousands fled. So, should these migrants fleeing climate change be given refugee protection? That's what your successor in the Senate, Ed Markey, has proposed.

KERRY: I think that the first line of prevention to -- for this crisis of people who are migrating already is to do what we did a number of years ago in the Obama/Biden administration, when we had migration coming from Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras.

We got involved with the presidents of those countries, and we helped to deal with the underlying causes in those countries. And I think that's the first line of what we ought to do. We did that years ago in Latin America, writ large.

So, President Biden very much thinks that -- but you want to deal with the root causes of these things moving. Now, if they can no longer grow food, or there is no ability to live, then you're very much a refugee.

And what we what we face today, Dana, is to -- not just in Latin America or in Central America, but globally. I mean, it was 130 degrees last summer in Pakistan. It was 130 degrees in parts of the Middle East, 130 degrees in California, hottest day in human history measured last year, hottest week, hottest month, hottest year, hottest decade.

And so, all of us have got to recognize we're going to have tens of millions of refugees in some parts of the world if we don't start to do what Gina was just talking about in terms of resilience, adaptation, which are a central part of dealing with the climate crisis, not just mitigation, not just lowering the emissions, but building people's capacity to be where they are, to not have to move.

And I think there's a lot we can do before we start tying it into an already very complicated issue, which is immigration.

BASH: Secretary Kerry, Administrator McCarthy, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

We are going to be back with more questions for the White House climate team. The head of the EPA and energy secretary are coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:38:35]

BASH: Welcome back to CNN's town hall on the climate crisis.

Joining us now, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Thank you so much to both of you for coming in.

Administrator Regan, I'm going to start with you and a question from Sarah Jones, a graduate student at the University of Maryland Center For Environmental Science.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH JONES, GRADUATE STUDENT: The Trump administration left many individuals indifferent, including myself, about the EPA's agenda after a vast amount of environmental regulations were halted and disposed up.

How does the EPA plan to regain trust in the future through tackling of the climate crisis?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL REGAN, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: Well, that's just such an excellent question.

And we start by rebuilding trust with transparency, transparency. We are the people's place. People should understand and know exactly what we're doing.

We started to rebuild trust by investing in and reestablishing our climate change Web site to educate the public, transparency, reinvigorating scientific integrity. There are lots of things that we're doing through education and outreach.

But the bottom line is, as a public agency, engaging with our communities directly to let them know that we are working with and partnering with our communities to protect them, to give them clean air, clean water, clean land.

BASH: And, Secretary Granholm, we have a question now from Hilton Kelley from Port Arthur, Texas. He created his own nonprofit deal with the industrial pollution in -- to deal with the industrial rather -- to deal with the industrial pollution rather in his hometown.

[22:40:12]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILTON KELLEY, CREATED A NONPROFIT TO COMBAT INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION: Black Americans were forced to live in low-lying polluted areas across America. After 1863 signing of the Emancipation and due to systemic racism within our federal and state governments, many of us still live in those deplorable, polluted conditions today.

How will our federal government support and/or assist people of color with sustainable existence in low-lying areas or relocation out of said areas as waters continued to rise after hurricanes?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, ENERGY SECRETARY: So, it's a really great question. A super important question because there are so many communities that have been disproportionately affected in a negative way by climate pollution. He's in one and there's a whole slew of others across the country.

So, the president has put forth this American Jobs Plan. And the great thing about it is that 40 percent of the benefits of this $2.3 trillion plan are going to be directed to communities that have been left behind or unseen or have been disproportionately affected.

And that means that we will be able to direct federal resources to help those communities in what we call place-based decision making. So to help them lift them up so that they're not forgotten and to combat the systemic racism and the systemic and structural issues that those communities have felt, this American Jobs Plan will realize that. And that's true for coal communities as well.

BASH: And, Administrator Regan, I want to stay on environmental justice. A study this week shows more than 40 percent of Americans are living in areas with unhealthy air quality and a majority of those are people of color. They're the most negatively affected.

So, on that topic, I want to bring in Neelu Tummala. She is a surgeon and professor at the George Washington University.

Doctor?

DR. NEELU TUMMALA, SURGEON AT THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The purpose of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment, which is something I strongly identify with as a physician. Studies show that communities of color and those of a low socioeconomic status endure higher levels of air pollution which negatively impacts their respiratory and cardiac health.

What can we tell these patients that the EPA is doing to improve their air quality and protect their health?

REGAN: Thank you for that question. The studies aren't wrong. The facts are the facts.

For far too long, disproportionately impacted communities have not only borne the burden from a health impacts perspective, but also economically as well.

Environmental justice in this administration is exactly where it should be is at the center of every conversation. The president has created Environmental Justice Interagency Council that all of our agencies are coordinating with. At EPA, we have an Environmental Justice Advisory Council where we're listening directly to the communities.

What people should know is at EPA, I've directed every office in our agency to give a full accounting of how environmental justice and equity fits within all the work that we do. Environmental justice and equity will be part of EPA's DNA, whether that be our regulations, our policies, our procurement, our contracting.

So yes, we have some time to make up for, but people should be optimistic that their voices are going to be heard.

BASH: Administrator Regan, you are the first black man, the only second person of color to lead the EPA. How does your life experience inform how you're doing your job?

REGAN: It informs it greatly. The previous guest's question actually strikes a chord with me. I'm one of those children who grew up using an inhaler. I understand what it's like when you can't get that breath. How it distracts from you paying attention in class.

And I grew up hunting and fishing with my father and grandfather. On a high ozone action day or when there was a lot of pollution outdoors, I could not participate in those activities that I enjoyed the most. So, it definitely impacts the way that I look at approaching my job.

But I've also spent a lot of time engaging with these communities and there are some really horrific instances where we have failed many communities, not just from air quality, but water quality as well. And so, the president's vision with the American Jobs Plan really takes a hard run at this looking at how we invest in our communities all across this country, not just to mitigate pollution that causes climate change impacts, but those same pollutants also cause air quality benefits. Climate change impacts our water infrastructure, which impacts our water quality.

[22:45:01]

So, the president is very wise and thinking about combating climate change while also creating jobs and investing in our infrastructure.

BASH: Secretary of Granholm, I want to bring in Daniel Read. He's an environmental research scientist at the University of Maryland.

DANIEL READ, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: Hey, thanks for being here to take my question.

My question is that during one of the 2020 presidential debates, President Biden said that he does not support a ban on fracking. However, there are numerous studies that show fracking emits significant greenhouse gases and contributes to significant local environmental harms. And I know the president put a temporary hold on new fracking leases on federal land, but I'm wondering what regulations the administration is considering going forward and why a ban is not on the table.

GRANHOLM: Yeah. First of all, as you did note, he does -- he has put a hold on fracking on all federal land. There is a recognition by this administration that fracking emits methane, and methane is obviously a terribly concentrated greenhouse gas.

What the president wants to do, and what he has done in the investment in the American Jobs Plan, is to reduce CO2, is to invest in the technology and in the research and development and deployment of the technology that will manage carbon and reduce methane emissions.

So, he has been very focused on making sure we're not leaving communities behind, that we do have baseload power, but that if we have power from fossil fuel sources, which of course natural gas is, that we manage the carbon so that we don't have those greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, we had the whole world looking at the United States, and so many countries around the world use natural gas to power their nations, and we want to make sure that methane and greenhouse gases are eliminated. And so the technology that's being developed in the laboratories at the Department of Energy, we want to deploy that technology to make sure that we can eliminate methane emissions.

BASH: So, if it's that bad, why ban fracking only on federal land? Because most of it actually occurs on private land.

GRANHOLM: Yeah. No, it does, and that's why I'm saying is -- for example, Secretary Kerry, Climate Envoy Kerry, was mentioning something called hydrogen as a one solution that people are looking at. You can take the greenhouse gas emissions out of natural gas. You can use that -- those greenhouse gas emissions, that carbon pollution to actually create another form of energy, which is hydrogen. You can also create hydrogen from clean sources. It's called green hydrogen.

The bottom line is there's all sorts of technology solutions to be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all of which have to be put into play if we're going to get to these big goals and by the way, all of which create jobs. So the administration is reviewing all of this and it's not like -- you know, we've had the last word, because you and I have talked about the methane emissions and how we are going to -- because EPA is the regulator on this.

But the bottom line is we're looking at all of this and we want to make sure we're able to keep and create jobs while protecting the environment.

REGAN: And the secretary makes a very good point, and this is sort of -- this is the brilliance of President Biden's government-wide approach. As the secretary and I have been talking about technological advancements, the president has charged EPA to take a look at these oil and gas, these methane regulations.

And in September, EPA will come out with a very strong regulation focused specifically on methane. The good news is technology's evolving, the markets are requiring it, and even oil and gas companies and coal companies are asking for regulations on methane.

BASH: And --

(CROSSTALK) GRANHOLM: But they're also -- I'm sorry, Dana, but they're also, all those oil and gas companies, not all of them, but many of them, are creating their own goals because they see where the world is going and they're calling themselves now diversified energy companies rather than just oil and gas companies.

BASH: And we're going to stay -- no, we're going to stay on this topic, but I want to bring in another viewer. This is for you, Administrator Regan, and it's Kevin McKay, a school bus driver from Chico, California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MCKAY, CALIFORNIA SCHOOL BUS DRIVER: Today, a gallon of regular gas costs Californians $3.94, while Texas residents pay just $2.57, yet California is leading the way in environmentally green fuel policies, including requiring cleaner burning, environmentally conscious fuel. Can the federal government regulate oil companies' profits as they do in other monopolistic industries, so the consumer isn't solely paying for the cost of cleaner fuels?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REGAN: It's an excellent question. And that EPA, we're focused on clean vehicles on two fronts, we're charged with looking at tailpipe emission standards. We're having conversations with the automobile industry. We're having conversations with the unions.

The reality is, is that the conversations are moving at a neck- breaking pace where we can set regulations that are timed with the available technologies that will have the jobs needed and have the market prices come down so that they're very affordable.

[22:50:09]

So -- so it's a -- it's a great opportunity in terms of electric vehicles but in addition those very batteries that are in these electric vehicles are also perfect tools for the platform our new electric grid, our advanced grid to take advantage of that to also lower electricity prices as well.

BASH: So, you're working with them. Not everybody trusts these companies. New York City is suing Exxon, Shell, BP and the American Petroleum Institute for allegedly, systematically and intentionally deceiving New Yorkers to believe those companies are greener than they really are. Do you agree that these oil companies are misleading the American people?

REGAN: I -- I -- I think that Secretary Kerry had it best earlier when he said, you know, you verify but you don't necessarily trust. As the regulator, we have accounting systems in place, and we don't take too kindly to polluters or cheaters. We have ways that we can measure and verify. And so most of our regulations are done from a technology and performance standard perspective and we are taking a look at where these companies are and how quickly we need to drive them to meet these -- these climate goals. We're facing a climate crisis. I think we all agree that we're facing a climate crisis.

BASH: You know, there are a group of lawyers who want oil companies to include tobacco style health warnings in their ads. Is that a good idea?

REGAN: You know, I think education on every level is important. I think the public deserves a right to know --

BASH: Is that yes?

REGAN: -- who is contributing to pollution in this society? At EPA, you know, that's out of our lane but I think in terms of a -- of a good general practice, the public needs to understand and at EPA this is why we're putting our websites back up. We're publishing our science. We want people to know that in addition to what the government can do to regulate and control these emissions that we can empower them with information so that they can make decisions for themselves as well.

BASH: Stay right there. We're going to sneak in a quick break. We have much more for the White House Climate Team. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:55:58]

BASH: Welcome back to CNN's Town Hall on the Climate Crisis. Secretary Granholm I want to go straight to the audience to Matthew Gray who is an environmental science professor at the University of Maryland.

MATTHEW GRAY, ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Good evening. The U.S. has squandered time to transition its energy production away from coal and other non-renewable resources. Is the Biden Administration ready to move quickly towards using modern nuclear technology which is safer and can use nuclear waste as a fuel source for energy production in order to maintain a standard of living while avoiding a climate disaster?

GRANHOLM: It's a great question and the answer is yes. The Biden Administration actually in the American jobs plan has got funding to invest in these small modular reactors and there is concern about the reactors that are scheduled to come offline if we want to have clean base load power. Obviously nuclear is one and I want people to understand that nuclear, because of the very many understandable and -- and good regulation around it, that it is safe. The way the United States conducts it so it is an important part of our energy mix and we also want to include a whole bunch of other types of technologies which, by the way, create jobs in all pockets of the country. Nuclear creates a huge amount of jobs but so does solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower. There's so many forms of clean energy that this administration is supporting and hopefully with the American jobs plan we can invest in.

BASH: Administrator Regan, our next questioner is Nancy Caywood. She is from Casa Grande, Arizona and she is a third generation family farmer. They grow cotton and alfalfa. NANCY CAYWOOD, ARIZONA FARMER: Central Arizona needs new water. I live

in Pinal County, Arizona and it is predicted to become uninhabitable within 30 years. This is due to drought which may be caused by climate change. Local politician Dick Powell has presented a plan that would involve piping water from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River via the I-80 corridor. This could be a win-win situation for both central Arizona and the Mississippi flood plains, but it must be acted upon immediately in order to keep us from drying up. How could this be expedited?

REGAN: Yes. That's a great question and I -- I think we need to really pay attention to the requests from our farmers who grow our food, put the clothes on our backs. The reality is that this is a really good part of infrastructure. There are lots of infrastructure needs in this county both repairing antiquated infrastructure but thinking about new and creative ideas like the one she proposed. Obviously, we'd have to take a look at what that pipeline would entail and whether or not there would be environmental impacts. But the reality is that all of these ideas have to be on the table because we are facing a crisis. We are facing a drought and we need to be creative in thinking about how we serve the American people.

BASH: Secretary Granholm, I want to bring Megan Van de Mark from Portland, Oregon. She works for Portland Audubon.

MEGAN VAN DE MARK, PROGRAM MANAGER, PORTLAND AUDUBON: What is the Biden Administration's stance on the Line Prairie Pipeline? A proposed pipeline expansion that would move Tar Sands Oil from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The route passing through the Mississippi headwaters through wetlands and through the treaty territory of the Anishinaabe peoples?

GRANHOLM: Yes, the Biden Administration is really sensitive to indigenous peoples and their homelands and making sure that we are not uprooting communities that we have a moral obligation to partner with communities and nations. You know that pipeline I believe is under review, but I know that this administration would much rather see pipelines that are carrying clean energy like hydrogen or CO2 that it puts underground, or for replacing water pipes that are contaminated with lead.

[23:00:02]

If we're going to do pipes, let's do pipes that build the infrastructure of America in a way that is future-looking and not rely upon fuels, or transport fuels, even though our neighbors to the north want it, that are not going to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

BASH: It sounds like you do not support it?

GRANHOLM: Well, it's not in my department.

But I can tell you that I think there's great sensitivity to the indigenous peoples who will be affected by it.

BASH: Administrator Regan, our next questioner is Emily Fischer.

She is from Fort Collins. Colorado. She's an atmospherics science professor at Colorado State University, and she is the founding member of a nonprofit called Science Moms.

REGAN: Ah.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMILY FISCHER, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: I'm a scientist, and I study wildfires.

One of my life's most terrifying moments was when I took my daughters up to the mountains for a hike and ended up dangerously close to a wildfire.

My community in Colorado was impacted by smoke for months. I'm worried about our kids' future. And I'm increasingly frustrated by gridlock on the issue of climate change.

How will we meet the urgent timeline for a transition to clean energy, while also creating a more equitable world?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REGAN: That's an excellent question.

And the way we do it is, we engage more moms.

(LAUGHTER)

REGAN: We have to engage more of our mothers, our fathers, the everyday Americans who are facing the challenges that she just raised.

At EPA, we're more than just a regulatory arm. We also have education, outreach and engagement. And we're trying to mobilize not just mothers and fathers, but all the young people in this country who are demanding that we move expeditiously as we attack this climate crisis.

The president gets that. And so we're just going to continue to partner, be transparent, provide our general public with the information that they need, so that they can speak to their representatives, so that they can hold their elected officials accountable, so that they can get the job done.

GRANHOLM: Can I just say quickly, I mean, this is why the climate summit this week and why the urgent moment, I mean, the fear of whether it's wildfires or hurricanes, we -- last year, we had 22 weather events that cost us over a billion dollars because the -- it was so extreme.

We need to address this now. Our hair should be on fire as we look to the urgency of the moment. And that urgency of the moment will be good for the planet, it will be good for the economy, and it will be good for jobs once we address this. BASH: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, EPA Administrator Michael

Regan, thank you so much for joining us on this incredibly important, existential topic.

I want to thank John Kerry and Gina McCarthy, who were here also earlier, for taking the time to be here.

Thank you for watching.

The news continues next on CNN.