AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Senate votes today on the Green New Deal proposed by Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But it's seen as a bit of political theater. The Republican majority wants to force Democrats in the Senate, especially presidential candidates, to declare whether they support the controversial measure, to which one Democrat, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, says this.
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CHRIS MURPHY: If they don't like the Green New Deal, fine. Put up your own idea. But it really just - it smells so disingenuous, especially to young voters.
CORNISH: Well, one Republican senator is putting up his own idea to tackle climate change.
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LAMAR ALEXANDER: I believe climate change is real. I believe humans are a major part of causing it. And we ought to do something about it.
CORNISH: That's Tennessee's Lamar Alexander. The senator wants the government to fund a five-year project to spur development of green technologies. He's calling it a new Manhattan Project for clean energy.
ALEXANDER: We need to start building advanced nuclear reactors. We need to show other countries how to find natural gas the way we have. The United States leads the world in reducing carbon emissions. We need to find a commercially viable way to deal with carbon capture. So what we need is money for research and government leadership, which is what I'm proposing.
CORNISH: You started this conversation by saying you believe in climate change. You believe that humans have contributed to it. And that is not always how members of your party have spoken at all. Do you see Republicans as ready to start a real conversation about climate change?
ALEXANDER: Yes, I do. And I think we should.
ALEXANDER: And I actually think...
CORNISH: What gives you that sense?
ALEXANDER: Well, it's becoming more urgent, more of a problem. And there's a better understanding of it. I actually think the Green New Deal is a bizarre proposal and so far out that it gives us a chance to step up and say, this is a problem, but that's not the way to do it. I think most of...
CORNISH: Well, just to jump in there, it is a resolution.
CORNISH: Right? It's not actually - it's a start of a conversation. It was a non-binding resolution. And some of the things you have in your plan - greener buildings, electric vehicles - are things that that plan references. What makes that one...
CORNISH: ...Bizarre and yours somehow more straight ahead?
ALEXANDER: Well, that one focuses on cows, combustion...
CORNISH: Cows are not mentioned in the resolution, Senator...
ALEXANDER: Well - but...
CORNISH: ...In the one that was filed.
ALEXANDER: Well - but the proposal was to deal with agriculture. And methane comes from cow burping.
CORNISH: So I'm looking at the proposal.
ALEXANDER: And that was a big part of the proposal.
CORNISH: And it says working collaboratively with farmers to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, supporting family...
ALEXANDER: Well, they've...
CORNISH: ...Farming. It doesn't...
CORNISH: ...Say anything about attacking cows.
ALEXANDER: They've cleaned it up a little bit.
ALEXANDER: But they also talk about - well, they talk about focusing on renewable energy, for example.
ALEXANDER: And right now solar power has increased for - in our country. But it's only 2 percent of our electricity. Wind is only 9 percent. We can't run the country on solar power and wind.
CORNISH: But could there be a smart grid?
ALEXANDER: And neither could...
CORNISH: Could some of the other ideas in there be areas of compromise for you?
ALEXANDER: Oh, sure. The areas that I mentioned I believe Democrats all could support - advanced nuclear, natural gas, carbon capture, better batteries, greener buildings, electric vehicles, cheaper solar, even fusion and even more money to do it.
CORNISH: It doesn't sound like you have that many areas of disagreement then. Why not consider the Green New Deal the start of a conversation not the end of one?
ALEXANDER: It's the start of a conversation but headed in the wrong direction because what they usually mean when they have this kind of conversation is, we're going to close the coal plants. That's not necessary. It really is a very radical proposal and provides a chance for Republicans like me or Democrats to take some of the things that we do agree with and focus on them. Let's get on with it. I'm chairman of the energy appropriations subcommittee. Let's focus on these 10 grand challenges.
CORNISH: At this point, would you say that you feel like there has been a shift in the way people talk about this? And is that, in part, because of the Green New Deal proposal?
ALEXANDER: I would answer that yes. I think it's such a radical proposal and has attracted so much derision and caused so many Democrats political problems that it's caused Republicans to jump into the fray and say, OK. We've got a better idea. So I think it's good to have the debate. I hope we keep having it over the next couple of years. And I think I'd like to see the new Manhattan Project for clean energy be solidly bipartisan. But you usually start out in a political environment with partisan proposals. There's nothing wrong with that at all.
CORNISH: That's Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
ALEXANDER: Thank you for your time.
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