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Special Report: Revolt at Trump’s Pro-Coal, Pro-Nuclear & Pro-Gas Panel Rocks U.N. Climate Summit

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Democracy Now! was there when activists and Democratic lawmakers at the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany, staged a full-fledged revolt Monday when the Trump administration made its official debut at this year’s conference with a forum pushing coal, gas and nuclear power. The presentation was entitled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” The panel was the only official appearance by the U.S. delegation during this year’s U.N. climate summit. Of the four corporate representatives pushing nuclear, gas and coal, Lenka Kollar of NuScale Power and Amos Hochstein of Tellurian told Amy Goodman that they disagreed with Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the climate agreement.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from the U.N. climate summit here in Bonn, Germany. Close to 200 countries are gathered. The U.S. says that it is pulling out of the climate accord. Well, on Monday night, activists and Democratic lawmakers staged a full-fledged revolt as the Trump administration made its official debut at this year’s COP at a forum pushing coal, gas and nuclear power. The presentation was entitled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” It included speakers from coal company Peabody Energy, the nuclear engineering firm NuScale Power and a gas exporter. The panel was the only official appearance by the U.S. delegation during this year’s U.N. climate summit.

Well, Democracy Now! was there Monday night as the U.S. delegation made its official debut. It didn’t go too well. At least, it didn’t begin well, with a White House consultant telling Democracy Now! we could not film him.

AMY GOODMAN: Hi.

WHITE HOUSE CONSULTANT: I don’t know what you’re doing, but please don’t take any photos of me.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Governor Kate Brown from Oregon and Governor Jay Inslee from Washington.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: This is a sideshow. It is a blip. The world is not paying any attention to it, because the world is not going to listen to someone who says that climate change is a hoax. You can report this news from Bonn. While Donald Trump is trying to sell old technology to an unforgiving world and an unforgiving science, the third-largest economy in the world is moving forward with clean energy jobs, and that’s the United States Climate Alliance. And I’m proud to be leading it. Kate Brown of Oregon.

GOV. KATE BROWN: Thank you so much. Thank you, Governor Inslee. We’re delighted to be here. It is absolutely clear that President Trump is rejecting the economy of the future. Three states, working together—California, Washington and Oregon—with British Columbia, we represent one-fifth of the world’s economy. That’s an extraordinary resource. We’re all pulling together. We’re rolling in the same direction. And we’re going to move this economy forward. And we’re doing it by investing in renewable energy and energy conservation.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, everybody.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Thank you. Good luck. Viel Glück. Viel Glück.

GOV. KATE BROWN: Thank you. Thank you.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Viel Glück.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re about to see the only U.S. Embassy press conference or public event here at the COP. And it is filled with corporate executives from the nuclear industry, from coal—Peabody Coal, to be exact—and natural gas. The room is packed, because, well, it’s the only event that they’ve held in this two-week COP so far.

FRANCIS BROOKE: With that, I’d like to introduce to you Dave Banks, who’s President Trump’s special assistant for international energy and environment.

DAVID BANKS: The United States is blessed with an abundance of all types of energy. The president wants to use our country’s vast resources to create jobs at home and create a competitive advantage that helps revitalize U.S. manufacturing. The president also wants to use our energy resources to benefit our allies and partners, to provide them greater energy security and prosperity.

BARRY WORTHINGTON: The chart—

PROTESTERS: [singing] So you claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It’s killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground.
The people of the world unite
And we are here to say

You claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It’s killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground.
The people of the world unite
And we are here to say

You claim to be an American
But we see right through your greed.
It’s killing all across the world
For that coal money.
And we proudly stand up until you
Keep it in the ground.
The people of the world unite
And we are here to say…

ISABELLA ZIZI: So, my name is Isabella Zizi. I come from Richmond, California. I’m 23 years old. I’m part of the Indigenous Environmental Network delegation here, but I’m also a member of the Idle No More SF Bay in San Francisco, Bay Area, in California. And today there was a huge walkout rally from the U.S. press conference that was happening in the room right behind us. Who they were really promoting, the so-called clean energy of using coal, nuclear plants and also liquefied natural gas. And so, that was their way of saying, you know, like, “Yeah, you know, this is good energy.” But we, from the United States, we’re saying, no, this is a false solution.

THANU YAKUPITIYAGE: My name is Thanu Yakupitiyage. I’m with 350.org. And I am the coordinator of the U.S. People’s Delegation, which includes a lot of the groups that were here on stage speaking after the White House panel. I was inside. And it was just a really beautiful collective moment of resistance, where over—close to a hundred people who entered the White House panel, we listened to basically a crony for President Trump speak about clean coal and clean nuclear and give his reasoning for why this is super important, even though nobody else at the COP is saying it, and then we collectively rose up, together, in unison, singing a song of resistance. And we turned and faced the press. And we held the space for over 10 minutes.

And then we marched out to link with the front-line communities, who—including It Takes Roots coalition, who’s also part of the People’s Delegation, who are holding the space here. And together, we really put forward the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis. And we really wanted to hold a space in contrast to this panel that was really propping fossil fuel billionaires and telling the lies of the Trump administration, and really contrast that with the truth from our communities.

VARSHINI PRAKASH: Hi. My name is Varshini Prakash. I am from Boston, Massachusetts, and I’m here with the SustainUS youth delegation and also Sunrise Movement. And I am here because, as a young person, I am scared about the threat of climate change right now and in the future, and I am angry that people like Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson are putting my life and the lives of billions of others at risk.

So we just sang inside a fossil fuel panel, basically, presentation, and about a hundred of us stood up together and sang our own version of “God Bless America” to really reclaim this identity that America should be about liberty and justice for all, that it should be about an actual American dream, not just a dream for the fossil fuel billionaires and the elite 1 percent in our country. So, we sang this song, and we walked out, all of us, and left them talking to each other and to almost nobody in the room itself, and came out and joined hundreds of other people who weren’t able to make it into the panel room itself.

JESÚS VÁZQUEZ: Hey. My name is Jesús Vázquez. I’m from Puerto Rico. It’s day number 56 since Hurricane Maria devastated our islands. And for us, it is very important to get our message out that we know climate change is real. We know the Caribbean waters and the Atlantic Ocean are warmer. We know—we experimented two big hurricanes in a short amount of time, you know? We have Hurricane Irma. Then, two weeks after, we got Hurricane Maria.

So, for us, it is very disrespectful to know that this is going to continue, knowing just that 56 days ago we got hit hard by a hurricane, and we’re still in a country that is militarized by the U.S., U.S. military presence. We have limited access to clean water, and we have almost no power, no electricity. So we know this thing is real. And to know that fossil fuels are going to be continuing, and also nuclear energy, it’s just guaranteeing that next year we’re going to be in the same situation, and the risk is going to continue.

FRANCIS BROOKE: Our final speaker today is Lenka Kollar. She’s the director of business strategy at NuScale Power.

LENKA KOLLAR: I really appreciate the young people that were in here earlier voicing their opinion. I think it’s important to do that. And I only wish they had stayed in the room. As Amos said earlier, we need to listen to each other—we don’t do that enough—even if we disagree with each other. Last week I spoke at a Women in Cleantech & Sustainability event at Google, and I talked about the tribalism that we often see in this field and how we pit ourselves against each other, and that doesn’t really get us to the goals that we mutually want to reach. … Nuclear energy needs to be a part of the conversation here at the climate talks in Bonn and at future climate talks and all of the forums that we host throughout the year in which we’re talking about large energy transitions.

FRANCIS BROOKE: I’m going to introduce Holly Krutka, the vice president of coal generation and emissions technologies at Peabody Energy.

HOLLY KRUTKA: Let me begin by saying that while some people clearly believe that there’s no common ground here and that there’s no path forward for fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world, we don’t believe that’s the case. There are technologies available today and others in the technology development pipeline that can dramatically reduce emissions from coal and other fossil fuels. And more to the point, these technologies are vital to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman from the Democracy Now! news hour.

FRANCIS BROOKE: All right, this is—this is our—this is our last question before we have to wrap up.

AMY GOODMAN: Quick question, just a simple yes or no from each of you: whether you support President Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord? If we could begin with Lenka?

LENKA KOLLAR: I’m here for a reason, and that’s to support climate change mitigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick, simple yes-or-no answer.

LENKA KOLLAR: The question was?

AMY GOODMAN: Whether you support President Trump pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord?

LENKA KOLLAR: No, I don’t support it.

AMY GOODMAN: Holly?

HOLLY KRUTKA: I know you want yes or no, but our company’s statement wasn’t a yes or no, so please just allow me to say what it is. We did not ever weigh in. There was reports, actually, that we weighed in in both directions. Our opinion was that it’s up to them. There’s a lot to decide. But whether or not the U.S. is in the Paris climate agreement, we will continue to work on low-emissions technologies for coal.

AMY GOODMAN: And you, personally, Holly?

HOLLY KRUTKA: Gosh, I’m not really a policy person. I’m sorry, that was a cop-out. You’re right. I, personally—I’m not here to represent myself, so come talk to me afterwards.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes or no, are you for or against?

HOLLY KRUTKA: I’m not going to answer for my personal opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: Amos?

AMOS HOCHSTEIN: I think I have the easiest task. I don’t think Dave or Francis expect me to say anything else. I worked for the Obama administration. I supported the Paris Agreement fully, thought it was a great achievement for the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Barry Worthington, yes or no?

BARRY WORTHINGTON: There’s actually two answers.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes or no!

BARRY WORTHINGTON: The U.S. Energy Association did not take a position before the president pulled out of Paris. As soon as he pulled out of Paris, we issued a statement saying that he should renegotiate Paris. From my own personal standpoint, the answer is yes, because of the reasons I laid out. We’re—

AMY GOODMAN: You support Trump pulling the United States out.

BARRY WORTHINGTON: We’re achieving the emissions reductions goals without having the regulatory burden. We’re doing it for other reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Francis Brooke?

FRANCIS BROOKE: Thanks, Barry. Now we’re going to go to closing from our speakers.

AMY GOODMAN: No, Francis, I’d like your response.

FRANCIS BROOKE: Can you—we are not here—

AMY GOODMAN: Just two more people, simple question, just yes or no.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Takes five seconds! Answer her! Answer it!

FRANCIS BROOKE: I mean, pretty clearly, we both work for the administration, so that’s who we’re here to represent, and it’s not going to change anything. So we’re going to go through closing now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Banks, your—final question.

FRANCIS BROOKE: So we’re going to start with Barry Worthington.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes or no?

FRANCIS BROOKE: He’s going to close for us.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: David, any answer?

DAVID BANKS: I work for the president of the United States.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: So is it a yes or a no?

AMY GOODMAN: And that was David Banks, White House special assistant for international energy and environment, the person we’ve been trying to get on the show who’s been standing next to our broadcast. Before that, Francis Brooke, policy aide in the Office of Vice President Mike Pence. Of the four corporate representatives pushing nuclear, gas and coal, two of them said they were—well, Lenka Kollar of NuScale energy and Amos Hochstein of Tellurian disagreed with Trump pulling the U.S. out of this climate agreement. Holly Krutka of Peabody wouldn’t say, and Barry Worthington of the U.S. Energy Association agreed with President Trump’s withdrawal. That was the final question at the Trump administration’s one and only panel here at the COP23.

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