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Q&A: In New Hampshire, Nikki Haley Touts Her Role as UN Ambassador in Pulling the US Out of the Paris Climate Accord

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From our collaborating partner “Living on Earth,” public radio’s environmental news magazine, an interview by Producer Paloma Beltran and Managing Producer Jenni Doering with Phil McKenna of Inside Climate News. 

PALOMA BELTRAN: With the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15 and the New Hampshire presidential primary on Jan. 23, we’re kicking off our 2024 political coverage and we’re starting with Nikki Haley. You hear her name a lot. She’s a former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations and she’s pushing hard for the Republican nomination.

JENNI DOERING: So let’s bring in Phil McKenna, he’s a journalist with our media partner, Inside Climate News, who went to New Hampshire to get a closer look.

So Phil, what did you see?

PHIL McKENNA: So, Nikki Haley is set apart from many of her fellow Republicans by acknowledging that climate change is real and caused by human activity. But her proposals to reduce emissions would actually do little to address the climate crisis.

DOERING: Oh? In what ways?

McKENNA: Well, she supports carbon capture and sequestration and planting trees, but doesn’t want the U.S. to curb the use of fossil fuels. And climate experts say that’s really key if we’re going to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

BELTRAN: So Phil, you attended one of Nikki Haley’s recent town halls. What happened there?

McKENNA: This was at the Saddle Up Saloon in Kingston, New Hampshire, and it was packed, standing room only. When she spoke to the crowd, she focused on her tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration.

At one point, when listing her accomplishments in that role, she boasted about pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement: 

HALEY: “When I got to the U.N., I wanted countries to know what America was for and what America was against. I didn’t care if they didn’t like me, but I wanted them to respect America. And we got to work. We pulled ourselves out of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

McKENNA: In fact, many of her remarks on climate and energy revolved around foreign policy: 

HALEY: “And there were two things, when I was at the United Nations, that Russia, China, and Iran never wanted us to have. They never wanted us to have a strong military, and they never wanted us to be energy independent. We won’t be energy independent, we will be energy dominant. We will get the EPA out of the way. Right now they care more about sagebrush lizards than they do whether we can afford our utility bill. We will speed up the permitting process, we’ll get our pipelines going, we’ll do the Keystone pipeline, we’ll export as much liquefied natural gas as we can. And we will make sure that we don’t just have enough energy to survive. We’ll make sure we turn our energy sector into an economic powerhouse. Let’s export it out!” 

BELTRAN: Sounds a lot like a “drill, baby drill!” kind of message.

McKENNA: Exactly. And overall, Republican voters in attendance seemed pretty enthusiastic about what Haley had to say. But I wanted to hear directly from them.

DOERING: What was their reaction?

McKENNA: Well, in contrast with Haley’s speech, lots of folks I spoke to expressed concern about climate and the environment. Here’s Lester Reed, a 77-year-old independent voter from nearby Plaistow after the event:

REED: “Climate? They got to do something about that and they got to do it now instead of pushing it off for tomorrow. I remember back in my day, this time of year, we had two, three feet of snow. You see any snow around here? There’s something wrong. Way wrong.” 

BELTRAN: And what were people saying regarding Haley’s stance on the environment?

McKENNA: Many of those I spoke with said that they believed Haley would be a more environmentally friendly candidate than the other Republican candidates.

But registered Republican Michael Bailey from nearby Derry said that despite his belief in climate change, he feels it’s too late to move forward on any sort of climate action:

BAILEY: “I think she probably is a very conscious climate person. Which is fine, and I admire that, too. I think, though, that the climate change is too big to tame at this time. Any bit helps, sure, but it’s just way too late.” 

McKENNA: Michael Bailey then explained that he intends to cast his vote for Donald Trump.

DOERING: So, it sounds like some climate “doomers”, as they’re sometimes called, aren’t swayed by Haley’s stance on climate change.

McKENNA: And that’s the case even though Nikki Haley’s climate platform rejects many of the Democratic party’s environmental moves. In a speech on “economic freedom” that she gave in September, she called for rolling back President Biden’s clean energy incentives, which she claimed would subsidize battery manufacturing abroad.

HALEY: “We should also eliminate Joe Biden’s $500 billion in green energy subsidies. No more cash windfalls for China.” 

McKENNA: Although Haley is correct about the scale of the investment in green energy, most of the funding and tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act are targeted toward domestic manufacturing and research and development.

BELTRAN: Now, Phil, what about Nikki Haley’s record on climate as governor of South Carolina?

McKENNA: She blasted the federal Clean Power Plan, which would have curbed greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants. She also voiced her support for drilling for oil and gas off the coast of South Carolina.

BELTRAN: What did that look like?

McKENNA: Well, for example, in 2013 Haley and her fellow Republican governors from Virginia and North Carolina wrote a letter to Sally Jewell, who had just been nominated as President Barack Obama’s interior secretary. The letter asked Jewell to open up the waters off their states to offshore drilling, though that never happened.

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DOERING: And what about developing renewable energy resources like solar and wind in her state?

McKENNA: As governor, Nikki Haley signed legislation that paved the way for the ongoing build-out of solar power in South Carolina. But she put little of her own political capital behind the bill, a compromise hashed out between electric utilities and solar power advocates.

BELTRAN: Overall, Phil, how prominent do you think the climate emergency is in this Republican primary season?

McKENNA: Well, climate change is definitely not the main issue in the Republican primary this year. But it’s being discussed more than in the past. And as you heard, it’s certainly getting harder and harder to ignore.

DOERING: Thanks, Phil! Phil McKenna is a reporter with Inside Climate News.

We’ll catch up with you soon, later down the campaign trail.

McKENNA: Sure thing, thanks Jenni, thanks Paloma.

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