“We have to do things that will be adopted everywhere, not just things that that make us feel better about ourselves here”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today joined Washington Post reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell to discuss U.S. investments in clean energy innovation, the need to focus on global climate solutions, prospects for bipartisan cooperation, and his efforts to address Utah’s unique climate challenges like saving the Great Salt Lake.
Highlights of their conversation can be found below, and a full video can be found here.
Leigh Ann Caldwell: …You wrote an essay warning that Americans were dismissing the “potentially cataclysmic threat posed by climate change.” How does our country change that and especially moving into a divided Congress this next year?
Senator Romney: …the American people need to understand that we recognize this is a global concern. China, for instance, puts out more CO2 than the US, Europe, and Japan combined. So when we deal with this issue, we can’t just say, “oh, how can we make things better in the U.S.?” The question is what things will have an impact on a global basis? We also have to consider how do we get the private sector to do the innovation that’s necessary? I think for my part, and the part of many of my colleagues on the Republican side in particular, we’re concerned that we often spend vast amounts of money to do things that make us feel good and make the public think we’re really solving a problem when in fact, we’re not. Because the problem is global, when we do things like, “oh, we’re going to reduce the water in our washing machines, or we’re going to make our toasters use less energy or whatever,” which is all that’s all fine, well, and good. But to spend billions of dollars to do things that won’t affect global CO2 and methane emissions is, in our opinion, not wise money spent. Instead we should be focusing on those things that will be adopted globally and will help bring down emissions on a global basis.
Romney: …we’ve got to be honest with people, because my colleagues correctly point out that a lot of what we’re doing sounds good but won’t make a difference. I mean, one of my favorite stories that comes to mind is Mike Leavitt, former Secretary of the EPA, coming down and leaving the office. And there were three bins there for garbage. One for bottles, one for paper, and one for other trash. And he saw a custodian taking all three and dumping them into the same container. And we do some of that. We do things that are politically attractive. We’re going to spend a lot of money insulating our buildings in the U.S. We’re going to get people to buy electric cars here in the U.S. Isn’t that wonderful! Look, if every car in America stopped running, CO2 emissions keep going up in the world. So we have to do things that will be adopted everywhere, not just things that that make us feel better about ourselves here. Those things—nice to do—they’re not harmful to do necessarily, but when we spend a lot of money to do them and divert from the real answers, then I think they could be counterproductive.
Caldwell: I want to turn locally to your state of Utah, the Great Salt Lake. It’s beautiful. I have spent a lot of time in Utah growing up. Let’s bring up some images right now of how this lake has changed over the years. So this is 1987 and then 2021, it’s shrinking. There was a bill passed earlier, I think just a week ago to help study this—money, to help study what’s happening. What do you think the problems are? What do you think the government needs to do?
Romney: Well, we’re going to have to dramatically reduce our usage of water, because the water flowing into the Great Salt Lake is insufficient to keep it filled. And the consequence, not just for Utah, but for other states downwind, is pretty significant because the Great Salt Lake and that area was covered with water for, I don’t know, hundreds of thousands of years and deposits have gone into the base of that lake. And it includes not just salt, but also arsenic and other heavy metals. And as the lake disappears, you’re getting more and more dust. If it disappears entirely, the dust will be extraordinary, not just in Utah, but across the country with poisons in the air. So there’s a great priority to make sure that we don’t let that lake continue to disappear. And that means we’re going to have to find ways to use less water. It means conservation. 70% of the water that goes into the lake is used by agriculture. So we’re going to have to have technologies that are available to dramatically reduce the amount of water that goes into raising crops in our state and in surrounding states as well
Romney: …[it’s] probably going to require the government to say, “you know, what are we going to do collectively?” That’s going to be a state issue. But it’s also possible that we’re going to need federal involvement. I mean, if it turns out that we’re going to have to bring in water from the ocean to help fill the Great Salt Lake or pipelines that balance the new dynamic of water flow in our country, pipelines in other places…
Caldwell: Is that a possibility?
Romney: It hasn’t been studied really thoroughly. There have been some studies in the past that have looked at that, taking water from areas where there are floods and bringing it to places where there’s a need for water. The cost is very substantial, but it’s being looked at now because a conservation can only get you so far. But I think with conservation measures, we can save the Great Salt Lake. But if our climate keeps getting warmer and warmer, and if we don’t see a change in some of these rain flow figures, why that could be a challenge for us.