Senator Dianne Feinstein, Member, United States Senate (D-CA) in conversation with Greg Dalton, Founder of Climate One at The Commonwealth Club
In this Climate One conversation at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, in San Francisco, Senator Dianne Feinstein touches on some longtime pursuits – national security experience and protecting the California desert from development. She also pledges to investigate the safety of the U.S. nuclear fleet, protect children from toxins, and continue to shield California's coastline from oil drilling.
Feinstein is clear that clean energy is California's future. "Energy is the largest source of new jobs for this state," she says, citing an estimate placing the number at 100,000 additional jobs. Those new energy jobs – such as building large solar thermal power plants – should not be located, however, in the state's undeveloped desert. "There is plenty of land in the desert that is disturbed that can be used. I think all of these [solar] companies are essentially finding other places to build, where there is no real environmental challenge to things that are endangered like desert tortoises," says Feinstein.
A trickier problem, especially in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear complex, is how to ensure the safety of, and store spent fuel from, America's nuclear reactors. Insufficient attention has been paid to the full nuclear fuel cycle, Feinstein says. "I believe very strongly that we need either regional or centralized nuclear fuel storage. It's asking for trouble to keep hot rods in spent pools for decades and dry casks right along the side of nuclear reactors. I think they should be moved right away." She also pledges quick action on plant safety. "I'm going to try to push as far and as fast as I can push to see that we really take a good look, a real examination, of all the facilities," says Feinstein.
Feinstein warns against the danger posed by exposure to chemicals, especially for infants. Of particular concern is Bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, which, she says, is added to the inside of canned goods and baby bottles. "I become very interested in chemicals that are added that we know very little about," says Feinstein.
Though a proponent of greater energy efficiency (in the Q&A, Feinstein cites her decades-long quest to boost fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles as her proudest Senate achievement) Feinstein says now is not the time to raise the gas tax. "I'd go slowly on that. We have very long commutes for workers in this state," she says. "This is not the time, when gasoline is this high, with the nation trying to pull itself out of recession. We need to keep gasoline below the $4 mark right now," Feinstein says. She blamed speculators for the high prices: "Demand is down, and supply is even – so what can it be?" She reaffirms that oil companies should not look to California's coast for additional supply. "The people of California have spoken through initiative. They don't want oil drilling off the coast."
This program was recorded in front of a live audience at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on April 27, 2011.
Gregory Dalton is chief operating officer at the Commonwealth Club of California and Director of The Club's Climate 1 Initiative. He previously was international editor at The Industry Standard magazine, an editor for the Associated Press in New York, and a correspondent in China and Canada for the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper.
Proficient in both Mandarin and Cantonese, he is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Dianne Goldman Berman Feinstein is the senior U.S. Senator from California and a member of the Democratic Party. Feinstein was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, was re-elected in 1994, 2000 and in 2006 for a term ending in January 2013. She also served as 38th Mayor of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988.
Feinstein was the first female President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, San Francisco's first (and, so far, only) female mayor, the first woman to serve in the Senate from California, and the first woman to chair the Senate Rules Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein is also the first woman to have presided over a U.S. presidential inauguration.
Legislature of the U.S., separated structurally from the executive and judicial (seejudiciary) branches of government. Established by the Constitution of the United States, it succeeded the unicameral congress created by the Articles of Confederation (1781). It consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Representation in the Senate is fixed at two senators per state. Until passage of the 17th Amendment (1913), senators were appointed by the state legislatures; since then they have been elected directly. In the House, representation is proportional to each state's population; total membership is restricted (since 1912) to 435 members (the total rose temporarily to 437 following the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states in 1959). Congressional business is processed by committees: bills are debated in committees in both houses, and reconciliation of the two resulting versions takes place in a conference committee. A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in each house. Congress's constitutional powers include the setting and collecting of taxes, borrowing money on credit, regulating commerce, coining money, declaring war, raising and supporting armies, and making all laws necessary for the execution of its powers. All finance-related legislation must originate in the House; powers exclusive to the Senate include approval of presidential nominations, ratification of treaties, and adjudication of impeachments. See alsobicameral system.