Joe Biden

Interview with Stephanie Abrams of The Weather Channel in Arizona

August 09, 2023

Stephanie Abrams: You just announced measures to protect workers from dangerous heat. What do you say to states like Texas that just passed a law to strip the ability of local authorities to mandate water breaks for their workers?

The President: I think it's cruel. I think it's outrageous. I think it's consistent with what the governor down there is doing. You know, they have more cheaper electric -- excuse me, cheaper wind and solar energy than any other state. And he wants to cut it back so they could have more -- more oil. I don't get these guys.

Stephanie Abrams: It's not about extreme heat, right? It's not just that. We have wildfires. We have hurricanes. And major insurance companies are pulling out of these high-risk states that have all this extreme weather. If people can get coverage, for many, it is unaffordable. It is hard to pay the bills. So, what is the federal government's responsibility to fill the void for the families and the small businesses that can't afford the premiums?The President: Well, first of all, we're in a situation where the way in which we're dealing with many states that are dealing with the energy crisis is outrageous. Wind and solar are cheaper than -- than fossil fuels. We're in a situation -- when I became president, the first thing I did, I rejoined the Paris accord.

Stephanie Abrams: Mmm hmm.

The President: Second thing I did, I went to the first company, and I got over 100 countries to agree to get rid of methane over a period of time. We're moving in a direction where we're going to -- I had a -- I had all the automobile companies down to the South Lawn of the White House. They all agreed to go totally by 2050, totally electric, totally electric.

The President: I convinced -- I brought labor together. Labor has been always opposed to environmental changes because they didn't cost them jobs. It's their future. They're going to build 550,000 electric charging stations all across America. My mom used to say, "Out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough for it." There's an enormous opportunity.

The President: We're growing the economy. We're, in fact -- but then -- but there's not enough for us to do. We have to change the whole world's attitude. And right now, Russia and China are very, very difficult partners.

Stephanie Abrams: They are also an environmental justice issue because climate change is disproportionately hurting people of color and people below the poverty line. What is your administration doing to address environmental justice?

The President: Forty percent of all the funding is going to go to those people. Look, I was raised in a town called Claymont, Delaware.

Stephanie Abrams: OK.

The President: When you got up in the morning, my mother would drive us to a little Catholic school we went to, about three quarters of a mile up the Philadelphia Pike. The first day of frost, she turned on the windshield wiper, there'd be an oil slick. Higher cancer rates in almost anywhere in America. I understand what these frontline communities are going through.

The President: Route 9 in Delaware, the same thing. Look what's going on in Louisiana. So, we're focusing on those areas to get the help first, first, first. And 40 percent of it's going to go to them.

Stephanie Abrams: Let's talk Gen Z because they're going to play a big role in the next presidential election. And many of them are angry about the 7,000 oil and gas permits you approved since you've been in office. You promised no new drilling on federal land or offshore. Can you tell Gen Z that you haven't broken your promise?

The President: Yes, because the courts overrule me. The courts said I couldn't do it.

Stephanie Abrams: Mmm hmm.

The President: I want to stop all drilling on the East Coast and the West Coast and in the Gulf. But I got -- I lost in court. But we're still pushing. We're still pushing really very hard. Look, the alternative is you get -- everything is better as we -- we have -- the private sector is coming off the sidelines. They've invested $250 billion in alternative energy.

The President: They're building solar facilities. They're building -- you know, there's electrolyzers to take hydrogen and turn it -- I mean, there's so much going on. Finally, finally, no one can any longer deny that we don't have a problem with climate change.

Stephanie Abrams: Climate scientists say that we have five years to avert global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and yet the United States is one of the top emitters. Does this make the United States look hypocritical on the world stage?

The President: No, no, no. Let's get it straight.

Stephanie Abrams: OK.

The President: The United States was the top emitter, along with China, for a long time because we -- we -- emit more than any other country. And that was before the climate change, anything began. It's one of the reasons why we have a problem. And so, what we're doing is, notwithstanding -- not a single solitary person in the other party voted for my $368 billion climate change.

The President: Not one of them. They're all kind of taking credit now. I kind of find it interesting. But my point is that we're making significant progress. For example, every vehicle in America by 2050 is going to be electric vehicle. By 2030, 50 percent are electric vehicles, saving billions of gallons of not only not burning the oil, but also the environment is going to be saved.

The President: Look, the other thing we're doing, we have over 66,000 farms. We're now paying farmers to -- to plant crops that absorb carbon from the air.

Stephanie Abrams: Mmm hmm.

The President: And we pay them to do it. And it's millions of acres. So, we are -- we're making significant progress, but it's a constant fight.

Stephanie Abrams: So, let's talk a little bit more about clean energy and the power grid. Power outages go on for days after hurricanes, ice storms, and floods. Right now, heat is actually impacting the output of oil refineries. And we haven't even had a landfalling hurricane yet.

The President: That's right.

Stephanie Abrams: How can you make the power grid more resilient?

The President: Three ways. Number one, the power grid is what people say, "Not my neighborhood." These big high-tension wires that carry the electricity long distances. For example, we're now transmitting over those lines on the East Coast. We're transmitting solar -- I mean, wind power coming off the shores, OK? But the power grid, those -- the -- the electricity is going through these lines.

Stephanie Abrams: Mmm hmm.

The President: When storms come and knock them down, the forest gets fires. There's three things we have to do. Number one, strengthen the power grid. When you build these things back up, build them much more sturdy than they are now. But secondly, spend the money to go underground. When you go underground, put them in pipes.

The President: It costs more, but it's fundamentally safer. And the third thing is to make sure that while we're doing this, we are cleaning the floor of the -- of the forest. A lot of it -- if you ride up here, you'll see a lot of places. You'll see, you know, dead timber lying around. Well, lightning starts storms, too.

The President: So, the biggest thing we're doing is making sure that you have greater resiliency in these -- in these facilities --

Stephanie Abrams: Mmm hmm.

The President: So you don't have as many fires. And we're beginning to make some progress in that. It's very expensive.

Stephanie Abrams: Let's move on to solar panels because they aren't cheap. Fewer than 5 percent of American homes have them, and it's still cheaper, easier just to get your energy from the grid. How do you convince Americans that the hard thing to do might be the right thing to do for the environment?

The President: We're getting them tax credits to do it. That's what we'll do. You can afford to do it. And you can afford to weatherize your home. We're paying people to go out and make their homes more solid in the sense that they're not -- they're not letting out heat, they're not letting out cooling. And they have -- and -- and we're paying them to put on their roofs solar panels.

The President: It's available to us. That's what the -- the so-called act, the $369 billion, that's part of what it's going for, and it's starting to catch on.

Stephanie Abrams: Just last year, the Government Accountability Office reported climate change threatens military and civilian infrastructure and can even affect migration patterns.

The President: Sure.

Stephanie Abrams: So, how is the US preparing the military?

The President: Well, we're preparing the military by trying to deal with the climate. So, for example, many of the bases that have flooded -- many of these massive floods, they've flooded out military bases in the Midwest and the South. That has a profound impact on readiness. And so, what we have to do is change the way in which we generate energy.

The President: And that's -- that's the whole of it. And the military is doing their part. Look, one of the things we have to do is be able to predict better. You're one of the best weather people in the country. Well, the federal government put up a lot of satellites up there, OK? It's very sophisticated to measure temperatures, to measure what's going on.

The President: And AI as well. You're much better positioned to predict what's going to happen tomorrow and the next day in terms of weather patterns.

Stephanie Abrams: Climate change knows no borders, right? Everyone is affected by this. Is it the responsibility of the US to protect migrants who might be fleeing extreme weather in their countries?

The President: Look, I think the United States should do everything it can to help people who are in desperate need and have no other means of help. And we've always done that. It is not our -- it is just who we are. We're the United States of America. And the idea to begrudge the ability to do it -- for example, one of the things we're doing is we're providing for changing the environment, the -- the physical structures in the countries which they come from.

The President: So, they don't have -- so they have better lighting, they have more secure -- for example, you have all -- so many lead pipes all across America and throughout the country. You have 440,000 schools. You turn on the water fountain, and you may have lead in the water. And -- and so -- and thousands of people -- we're replacing every single lead pipe in America.

The President: We're loaning people money to do that, and we're -- I'm going to be meeting with the president of Brazil. For example, Brazil and the Amazon is more of a carbon sink, taking carbon out of the air --

Stephanie Abrams: Mmm hmm.

The President: Than any place else in the world. It absorbs as much carbon in a day as -- as America emits in a day. So, it's overwhelming. I'm also -- we're also working together, and I've got the G7 nations agreeing that we're going to build infrastructure to provide for alternative energy sources in Africa and South America.

The President: All of us -- because it's in the interest of Europe, it's the interest of the North, it's the interest of the United States to see that happen. So, there's a lot of things we're doing, a lot of it requires international engagement as well.

Joseph R. Biden, Interview with Stephanie Abrams of The Weather Channel in Arizona Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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