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A CNN report that hasn’t been published yet. Interview with Alex Epstein of Energy Talking Points

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A CNN reporter interviews me about my political work

A behind-the-scenes look at my work with candidates and elected officials

In mid-February, a CNN reporter who had been following Ron DeSantis’s primary campaign, and had heard the campaign refer positively to my work, reached out to me to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work I do with candidates and elected officials.

I thought readers of this newsletter would enjoy learning more about this work—which, as you will see, is non-partisan, non-exclusive, and principled: my team and I will advise any major politician or candidate who asks, and will only deliver messaging and policy ideas we believe are pro-freedom and pro-human.

(I am keeping the identity of the reporter anonymous, and I am further protecting the person by paraphrasing their questions in my own words so that no specific phrases are attributable to them. Note also that CNN has not yet published my comments.)


CNN Reporter

What kinds of opportunities do you think exist for a Republican president in terms of energy and environmental policy?

Alex Epstein

I do a lot of advising of people in politics, and it actually has no partisan affiliation. So I’ll advise anyone from any party and I never support any candidate. I’ve advised multiple of the presidential candidates and I would advise Biden if he asked me (he hasn’t asked me for any advice yet).

My interest is in pushing what I call energy freedom policies—which we could get into the details of—which I think would be very good for the country.

CNN Reporter

What are energy freedom policies, and how do you go about advising policymakers to put them into practice?

Alex Epstein

The basic idea of energy freedom is that the key to both energy abundance and everything that comes with it, including prosperity here and around the world—but also coming up with long term alternatives to fossil fuels—is ultimately to be free to produce and use every form of energy.

I believe there’s a near term imperative to have as much energy as possible. I don’t think we should be restricting fossil fuel use. But I also think there’s a lot of things we can do to get out of the way of alternative forms of energy. So I’m personally agnostic in terms of what form of energy wins; I just want the most cost-effective thing to win.

For example, in the realm of alternatives, what we really need are alternatives that can be globally cost-competitive, such that China, India, etc., will voluntarily adopt them, versus the current state of affairs where China has 300-plus new coal plants in the pipeline designed to last 40-plus years because that’s the cheapest thing.

So that’s the broad idea. I can send you some links on this, but I’ve broken it down into five key policy areas. And then there are a lot of detailed policies within that. But the broad frame—and again, I can send you documents—but “Liberate responsible domestic development” is one of them. And so, that basically means: allow America to build things quickly. Right now, China can build a subway station in nine hours. We can’t build a yoga studio in nine months. So basically, getting all of the anti-development stuff out of the way. And again, this is energy agnostic. It’s not just for fossil fuels, but a lot of the changes apply to fossil fuels.

Number two is: “End preferences for unreliable electricity.” I think there are a lot of bad policies that favor unreliable electricity, so solar and wind without really accompanying battery storage or other backup. And so I advocate a suite of policies that I think would allow all forms of energy to compete to provide reliable electricity.

The third one is: “Reforming environmental quality standards to incorporate cost-benefit analysis.” Most people don’t know this, but right now, EPA is literally not allowed to consider the cost of its policies. And I think that just violates basic rules, and it guarantees that we do things that are bad for our economy and for health, because wealth is health. And if you can’t consider the cost of your policies, and you can only consider the benefits, then you’re always going to tend toward more anti-industry stuff. So there’s a suite of reforms there.

Number four is: “Address CO2 emissions long term by liberating innovation not punishing America.” So I sort of indicated this before, but I don’t believe in short term restrictions on fossil fuels. I think basically anything we do to restrict ourselves just harms America, and doesn’t do anything to make low carbon alternatives cost-competitive. So I think all the action should be in things like liberating nuclear, liberating deep geothermal, and a lot of this is in the “Liberating responsible domestic development.” If you make that a lot easier, you make it easier to do these other things, these alternatives.

And then the fifth one is kind of a specification on the fourth, but it’s “Decriminalize nuclear,” because I think nuclear energy is the most persecuted form of energy. It has a really tragic history where it used to be cost-effective and now it’s not, because of irrational regulations that have made it 10 times more expensive and yet have added zero safety benefit. They’ve in fact harmed our safety in many ways by depriving us of clean, safe nuclear energy. And so I think there’s a whole suite of reforms necessary for that.

So those are the broad areas and then in each area, you know, my team and I are hard at work detailing, “Hey, what are the key reforms?” And one thing just to note is that I don’t hold any political office, I never will, I don’t lobby for anyone, I don’t endorse anyone, I set up everything so I’m quite independent.

So what I try to do is just say what I think is right, and then persuade people as much as possible. And fortunately a lot of people listen to me, but I have no power over anything officially—but that also allows me to just say what I think is right. So, I’m not under the illusion that everyone is going to do exactly what I think, but they do listen.

And then to your question about what’s happened: I’ve only been working with politicians since really 2020, and we’ve done it through a vehicle called Energy Talking Points—which, everyone can see the messaging at EnergyTalkingPoints.com—and we have only recently in the last 6 to 12 months started getting into policy advice.

We have some policy stuff in the works with a few different offices, and certainly we’ve advised multiple Presidential candidates on policy ideas, but I don’t think we’ve yet seen these energy freedom policies pursued, really put forward, to the extent we’ll see it in the next year or two. Whereas we have seen, I think, quite a bit of my messaging being used.

CNN Reporter

Why has the nuclear energy space become so toxic in recent years?

Alex Epstein

If you look at where nuclear was at its peak, it’s arguably in the late 60’s when you’re really getting cost-competitive with coal. But, you know, safer and cleaner than coal—and I’m a big advocate of coal. I mean, I’m a big advocate of anything that can produce additional cost-effective energy. But I think nuclear was in the realm of out-competing coal back then.

And it has a lot of inherent advantages. It’s very dense. The fuel supply is abundant, the fuel is cheap, safer to mine obviously, doesn’t emit anything harmful in the air. But it was demonized as a unique safety threat, whereas I think in reality—and I talked about this in my book Fossil Future and on EnergyTalkingPoints.com—I think it’s actually uniquely safe.

And we’re doing a lot of work on this in terms of our nuclear policies that we’re working on. But I think the green movement, which is very tied to the anti-fossil-fuel movement, really demonized it to the point where people equated nuclear power with nuclear bombs, thought of it as uniquely dangerous and then set up a whole regulatory infrastructure including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where the whole focus was on making nuclear infinitely safe beyond any fearmonger’s imagination, versus making it available.

And so they thought, in practice, the best way to make it safe was to make it non-existent. And that’s why since the NRC came into existence in 1975, we didn’t have one new nuclear plant go from conception to completion until last year. And those plants were many times over budget in Georgia.

So I think it’s a 50 year plus problem and when I talk to any politician, what I just tell them is, “You have to be willing to consider fundamental reforms of the NRC and perhaps replacing it with something else, because the status quo is so bad.” Often politicians just like saying that they like things, or kind of tinkering at the margins, saying, “Hey, we’ll give it some funding,” or you know, “We’ll invest in this research,” and I think you have to fundamentally stop treating nuclear as a uniquely dangerous form of energy.

There’s a whole bunch of things that need to be done, but I’m glad people are talking about it more positively. But the policy, we’re in a policy catastrophe with it. I don’t believe any significant progress will be made until we radically change the policy.

CNN Reporter

Have you spoken to DeSantis personally?

Alex Epstein

So, without going into much detail, since most of this stuff is confidential, I have spoken to him before, and I’ve spoken to his team before. And I would say that what you see publicly is reflected privately in the sense of: he and they are very detail-oriented, particularly in terms of implementation.

They’re very interested in: How do you actually get these things to work? And I think that’s something that is very good and it’s something that I try to become better at myself. I mean, there are plenty of things that I disagree with Ron DeSantis about, but I respect that detail-orientation, and I think it explains the ability to get things done in practice.

CNN Reporter

What candidates did you advise this cycle?

Alex Epstein

I won’t say specifically, but a lot of them I either talk to—I always tried to talk to the individual or the team, and that happened in many of the cases. I mean in general we, this project I call Energy Talking Points, we advise something like at this point over 200 major offices. Last year I probably advised 75-plus major politicians. So, I talk to a lot of people to various degrees, and again, I don’t do anything for them except offer them messaging and policy—but I think we do quite a good job with that and I think that’s why they listen. Or, sometimes they listen; definitely not always.

CNN Reporter

What have you learned since you’ve entered the space of politicians who shape policy?

Alex Epstein

From my perspective, as somebody who considers himself more pro-freedom than both major political parties, I’ve been surprised at how open people are to more radical ideas if those ideas are explained in detail and have accompanying persuasive arguments.

One thing I try to do when I advise people is give them solutions, not just vague advice. So if I’m giving policy, give very specific guidance, give guidance on how to talk about it. And this is also true about messaging.

For example, one thing you saw—this is not me revealing anything because it was public—both Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, I can send you an article I wrote about this, but they talked about, you know, the 98% decline in climate-related disaster deaths. So this was at least mentioned by DeSantis in his energy speech in Midland, and Vivek mentioned it many, many times, sometimes mentioning my name and my book, Fossil Future.

And I think this is a really important point for people to understand: that empirically, we’re safer than ever from climate disasters. And I think people should think about why that is and what the implications are for the future.

I was impressed that leading politicians are willing to talk about that. And my experience with people like that is they’ll ask for references. At least some of them. And I was happy to see that the media felt the need to respond.

So we saw—I’ll send you this article—but we saw Reuters responded to it, the New York Times responded to it, PolitiFact responded to it. And none of them could answer the basic fact—they tried to sort of explain their way around it—but none of them refuted the basic fact. And I just thought, okay, I like that people are willing to say and do more pro-freedom and more principled things if somebody really helps them with the details. That was my hope when I started getting into politics and I am seeing that bear out to a significant extent.

CNN Reporter

Have you changed your approach over the years as you’ve watched the public react to your talking points?

Alex Epstein

I’ve been working on these issues for 17 years, so a lot of this stuff, I test it out in different kinds of ways—which is not the same, I mean, I’m not running millions of dollars worth of polls and stuff. But I test it out in front of different audiences. I see how people respond on social media.

I think people are open to a lot, so my own interest is what’s right and do the best job you can of persuading people of it. And there’ll be plenty of people who try to compromise that and dampen it. I don’t need to be the one to do it. I just try to make sure for everything I say, I can make, I think, a case that would persuade a reasonable person who was inclined to disagree with me but wasn’t dead-set on disagreeing with me.

If I have trouble doing that and I think the thing is right, then I try to get better at arguing for it. I don’t just give up. And just as a personal policy, I don’t ever advocate anything I don’t agree with, and I will never help a politician with something I don’t agree with. So for example, as I said, I’m not partisan, but if Republicans want to pass an import carbon tax, I will definitely not help them with that and I’ll publicly argue against them.

CNN Reporter

I noticed Elon Musk receiving some pushback from surprised conservatives, when he posted that the best way to address climate change is with a carbon tax.

Alex Epstein

Well, that’s been his position for a long time. I don’t think it really makes any sense. But what’s interesting I think about him—and I don’t actually attribute this to him taking over Twitter—he has dramatically moderated his hostility toward fossil fuels and his belief in climate catastrophe.

So he has some hostility now, and to some extent, his very rosy claims about solar and batteries, although those have been moderated the least; maybe there are commercial reasons for that. But he’s kind of, you know, if you look at when the Powerwall came out, he’s just like—and this is almost a direct quote—“burning fossil fuels and putting stuff into the atmosphere is the worst idea ever” and “the planet is on fire.” That’s what it looks like.

And it’s just kind of—and then we have this Powerwall and a million things he said about the Powerwall that didn’t come remotely true and would obviously not come remotely true if one knew anything at the time. But now his position [on climate] is sort of, “Yeah, you know, it’s not going to be a problem for a while, but it may be a problem eventually.” And he loves to say, “If I could push a button and get rid of oil and gas, I wouldn’t push the button, and in fact, we need more oil and gas in the US, short-term.”

So he’s become more moderated.

But yeah, carbon tax, that’s a standard thing that a lot of people believe in, so anyone who’s surprised with that just hasn’t followed him at all. And he’s not actually—whatever one thinks of the change in his views—he’s not like a standard conservative. He never was a standard liberal or a standard conservative, I don’t think.

CNN Reporter

Thank you for your time.

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Economy

Canadians experiencing second-longest and third steepest decline in living standards in last 40 years

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From the Fraser Institute

From 2019 to 2023, Canadian living standards declined—and as of the end of 2023, the decline had not yet ended, finds a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“Despite claims to the contrary, living standards are declining in Canada,” said Grady Munro, policy analyst at the Fraser Institute and co-author of Changes in Per-Person GDP (Income): 1985 to 2023.

Specifically, from April 2019 to the end of 2023, inflation-adjusted per-person GDP, a broad measure of living standards, declined from $59,905 to $58,111 or by 3.0 per cent. This decline is exceeded only by the decline in 1989 to 1992 (-5.3 per cent) and 2008 to 2009 (-5.2 per cent). In other words, it’s the third-steepest decline in 40 years.

Moreover, the latest decline (which comprises 18 fiscal quarters) is already the second-longest in the last 40 years, surpassed only by the decline from 1989 to 1994 (which lasted 21 quarters). And if not stabilized in 2024, this decline could be the steepest and longest in four decades.

“The severity of the decline in living standards should be a wake-up call for policymakers across Canada to immediately enact fundamental policy reforms to help spur economic growth and productivity,” said Jason Clemens, study co-author and executive vice-president at the Fraser Institute.

  • Real GDP per person is a broad measure of incomes (and consequently living standards). This paper analyzes changes in quarterly per-person GDP, adjusted for inflation from 1985 through to the end of 2023, the most recent data available at the time of writing.
  • The study assesses the length (number of quarters) as well the percentage decline and the length of time required to recover the income lost during the decline.
  • Over the period covered (1985 to 2023), Canada experienced nine periods of decline and recovery in real GDP per person.
  • Of those nine periods, three (Q2 1989 to Q3 1994, Q3 2008 to Q4 2011, and Q2 2019 to Q2 2022) were most severe when comparing the length and depth of the declines along with number of quarters required for real GDP per person to recover.
  • The experience following Q2 2019 is unlike any decline and recovery since 1985 because, though per person GDP recovered for one quarter in Q2 2022, it immediately began declining again and by Q4 2023 remains below the level in Q2 2019.
  • This lack of meaningful recovery suggests that since mid-2019, Canada has experienced one of the longest and deepest declines in real GDP per person since 1985, exceeded only by the decline and recovery from Q2 1989 to Q3 1994.
  • If per-capita GDP does not recover in 2024, this period may be the longest and largest decline in per-person GDP over the last four decades.

Adobe PDF Read the Full Report

 

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Automotive

Biden’s Climate Agenda Is Running Headfirst Into A Wall Of His Own Making

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation

By WILL KESSLER

 

President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled tariffs this week aimed at boosting domestic production of green energy technology, but the move could end up hamstringing his larger climate goals.

The tariffs announced on Tuesday quadruple levies for Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) to 100% and raise rates for certain Chinese green energy and EV components like minerals and batteries. Biden has made the transition to green energy and EVs a key part of his climate agenda, but hiking tariffs on those products to help U.S. manufacturing could jack up prices on the already costly products, slowing adoption by struggling Americans, according to experts who spoke to the DCNF.

The risks posed by hiking levies on green technology expose the inherent tension between Biden’s climate agenda and his efforts to protect American industry, which often struggles to compete with cheap foreign labor. Items on his climate agenda typically raise costs, and requiring companies to comply could make them uncompetitive on the world stage.

“These tariffs are a classic example of the Biden administration’s left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing,” E.J. Antoni, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget, told the DCNF. “The inability to import Chinese-made EVs due to prohibitively high costs will necessitate importing raw materials and parts for EVs from China. Since automakers can’t afford to build and assemble the vehicles here, prices will have to rise. In other words, American consumers will pay the cost of this tariff, not the Chinese.”

The White House, in its fact sheet, pointed to China artificially lowering its prices and dumping goods on the global market as the justification for the new tariffs in an effort to help protect American businesses. China has pumped huge subsidies into its own EV industry and supply lines over the past few years, spawning a European Union investigation into vehicles from the country.

“Tariffs on Chinese EVs won’t just make Chinese EVs more expensive, they will also make American EVs more expensive,” Ryan Young, senior economist at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the DCNF. “This is because domestic producers can now raise their prices without fear of being undercut by competitors. Good for them but bad for consumers — and for the Biden administration’s policy goal of increased EV adoption.”

Several American manufacturers are already struggling to sell EVs at a profit, with Ford losing $4.7 billion on its electric line in 2023 while selling over 72,000 of the vehicles. To ease price concerns and increase EV adoption, the Biden administration created an EV tax credit of $7,500 per vehicle, depending on where its parts are made.

The market share of EVs out of all vehicles fell in the first quarter of 2024 from 7.6% to 7.1% as consumers opted to buy cheaper traditional vehicles instead. Growth in EV sales increased by just 2.7% in the quarter, far slower than the 47% growth that the industry saw in all of 2023.

The Biden administration has also sought to use regulations to push automakers toward electrifying their offerings as consumers refuse to voluntarily adopt EVs, finalizing rules in March that effectively require around 67% of all light-duty vehicles sold after 2032 to be electric or hybrids.

“By raising the price — and thereby stunting the deployment — of EVs, the tariffs undermine the Biden administration’s stated goals of reducing carbon emissions (as many U.S. environmentalists and EV fans have recently lamented),” Clark Packard, research fellow in the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, wrote following the announcement. “The EV tariffs (and also-​announced solar tariffs) would continue the administration’s habit of choosing politics and protectionism over their environmental agenda.”

Despite the subsidies, the 25% tariff that is currently in place for Chinese EVs already prices the product out of the U.S. market, resulting in no Chinese-branded EVs being sold in the country, according to Barron’s. Only a handful of the more than 100 EV models being sold in China appeal to American consumers, and none of them can compete under current levies.

“Something like this happened just a few years ago when former president Donald Trump enacted 25% steel tariffs in 2018,” Young told the DCNF. “Domestic steel producers raised their prices by almost exactly the amount of the tariff, and America soon had the world’s highest steel prices. As a result, car prices went up by about $200 to $300 on average. Larger trucks with more steel content increased even more. Now Biden is going to do the same thing to EVs.”

In the year following the increase in steel tariffs under the Trump administration, U.S. Steel’s operating profit rose 38%, prices were hiked 5 to 10% and revenue was up 15% due to reduced competition, according to CNN.

Despite the massive tariff hike on EVs, Biden only raised the tariff rate on Chinese lithium-ion EV batteries and battery parts to 25%, according to the White House. The tariff rate on certain essential minerals, like natural graphite, was also hiked to just 25%.

“Despite rapid and recent progress in U.S. onshoring, China currently controls over 80% of certain segments of the EV battery supply chain, particularly upstream nodes such as critical minerals mining, processing, and refining,” the White House wrote in its fact sheet. “Concentration of critical minerals mining and refining capacity in China leaves our supply chains vulnerable and our national security and clean energy goals at risk.”

China has broad control over the majority of minerals necessary to construct EVs, possessing nearly 90% of the world’s mineral refining capacity. Sources of the required minerals often also have serious human rights concerns, such as the world’s supply of cobalt, which has widespread ties to child labor.

Biden attacked former President Donald Trump during the 2020 election for the broad tariffs that he put on Chinese goods, noting that “any freshman econ student” could point out that the costs of the tariffs would be passed on to American consumers.

EV makers have increasingly struggled over the past year to maintain profits amid stalling demand, with the largest American EV manufacturer, Tesla, reporting a 10% drop in year-over-year revenue in the first quarter of 2024. Tesla is one of several EV makers that have announced layoffs in recent months.

“Fortunately, the EV market is still small in the U.S. and Chinese EVs are an even smaller slice of that small pie,” Antoni told the DCNF. “Even if the EV market in the U.S. were large, these tariffs would not help the domestic EV industry. While consumer demand for EVs would shift to domestic models, an increase in domestic production would rely on very expensive inputs from China, cutting into profits.”

The White House did not respond to a request to comment from the DCNF.

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