1 - Intro to Energy Journalism
Bret Kugelmass: How did you get started in journalism to begin with?
Amy Harder: Amy Harder has always wanted to be a journalist and received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Western Washington University. She grew up in Eastern Washington, where the Hanford Site is also located. Harder was driven to the field fundamentally by piecing together multiple layers and is able to do that at Axios. The energy, climate, and environment space is very multi-faceted. Amy Harder started out at the Bellingham Herald, moved to D.C. for an internship, and got a job at the National Journal. She got into energy shortly thereafter, first by starting online discussion boards at the Journal which led her to unveil different battles in geopolitical concerns, along with economics and environmental. Energy is important and undercovered in the media. The energy prices went through the roof in 2008, but now the prices are low and energy issues are currently not a top-tier concern for most Americans.
2 - Energy and the U.S. Economy
Bret Kugelmass: Is everything in the U.S. economy energy-related?
Amy Harder: Energy is tied into everything in the U.S. economy, but largely through indirect ways. Energy is a more pronounced concern when there is the idea of scarcity. A decade ago, the U.S. was building natural gas import terminals and now those terminals are being retrofitted to export natural gas. People track prices of oil every cent it moves because it has such an impact. There should be more attention paid to electricity prices, as the U.S. currently has the lowest electricity prices in a decade. Amy Harder was at the National Journal for six years when she got an offer to work for the Wall Street Journal. She likes to find the subtler shifts in politics, economics, and environmental issues that may not be getting top tier attention.
3 - How Changes in Administration Affect Energy Policy
Bret Kugelmass: During your time working on energy at the Wall Street Journal, what things changed throughout the world at that time?
Amy Harder: Amy Harder worked for the Wall Street Journal from 2014 to 2017. During this time, President Obama shifted left in his policies on the natural environment. In his first few years as President, he talked about the natural gas boom, eventually getting rid of that rhetoric and shifted to more aggressive regulations. President Trump and the scandal that the former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt created has brought more attention to the issues. Since Amy Harder transitioned to Axios from the Wall Street Journal, including a new President and views on climate change. While at the Journal, Harder’s job was to cover the incredibly aggressive regulatory agenda of Obama’s EPA. This has caused Republicans to feel like they must swing the pendulum back to the right. The Clean Power Plan was Obama’s regulation cutting carbon emissions from power plants. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the regulation in February 2016, which was an unprecedented move, but there were significant legal questions about the regulation. Amy Harder first reported on nuclear during her time at the National Journal, but she did have one nuclear story at the Wall Street Journal that struck a chord. Her story was about environmentalists softening opposition to existing nuclear power plants and received the most backlash of any story she wrote while at the Journal. Nuclear power is the most controversial energy source, just ahead of fracking. After attending the U.N. Climate Change conference in Germany last year, Harder wrote a column about the left’s nuclear problems. She spoke with five Democratic Senators individually while at the conference, who all showed varying levels of support with caveats. A lot of Democratic politicians are very vague have a hard time saying outright what their position is, whether that is in support or opposition. The same goes for politicians on the right who support nuclear power, but say they don’t care about climate change.
4 - Controversy and Divisiveness of Nuclear Power
Bret Kugelmass: Is there a way to shift the conversation of nuclear to allow some environmentalists with the potential of nuclear technology?
Amy Harder: There is a cultural feeling that runs through a generation of people who grew up in the 1960’s who have a fear of nuclear power. After Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima, people had real fear. Germany stopped all nuclear power after Fukushima. Some people want to stand behind the problems as a reason not to support nuclear or see its potential. Concern about climate change is genuine, but there is a cognitive dissonance going on. James Hansen, a very well known climate scientist, and Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, a heavily influential activist and environmental group, have had tension about McKibben’s position on nuclear power. McKibben’s official position now is that he doesn’t have an official position on nuclear power. Across the political spectrum, the more controversial and divisive a topic is, the less likely an official position will be taken by the groups that matter most.