Photo courtesy Debbie Dooley

Meet Debbie Dooley. Her candidate won the White House. Can she still win with clean energy?

One political activist with connections on both sides of the ideological environmental wall, and how she views the Trump era.

One political activist with connections on both sides of the ideological environmental wall, and how she views the Trump era.


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Debbie Dooley is high-energy and passionate about politics and Alabama Football. Louisiana-born, Dooley is one of the founders of the Tea Party movement. She's made waves and headlines throughout the Southeast for two seemingly dissonant passions—clean energy and Donald Trump's election.

In November, while stumping for Trump, she also played a role in defeating a solar ballot initiative backed by big utilities and criticized as a sneak attack on solar.

We chatted over lunch in suburban Atlanta on Dec 8 in the midst of a week where President-elect Trump met with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio on climate change, but nominated climate denier Scott Pruitt to lead EPA. Whatever your party or ideology, Debbie Dooley had something to say that you'd probably agree with – and something else to say that just might make your head explode.

She offers a unique perspective on this most unusual of times for climate and energy issues, for all of America, and for the world.

The interview has been edited for brevity.

PD: On Monday last week, President-elect Trump and his daughter Ivanka met with Al Gore to discuss climate change. Then on Tuesday, Mr. Trump interviewed ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as a candidate for Secretary of State. Put those two things together and what do you make of it?

DD: I consider [Gore] a friend, even though we disagree on a lot. We both like solar, we both like energy freedom, and we don't like monopolies.

In my line of work, you have to look outside of your comfort zone and find allies where you can. You may have different reasons for advocating for the same issue, but it's very important. I've always said the real battle is on the state level.

In my perfect world, we would end all energy subsidies, both direct and indirect, remove the barriers, allow solar and all energy to compete on a level playing field and let the consumer and market decide what energy is best. I've always believed that energy forms that cause damage to our environment and to the health of citizens should be responsible to fully pay for any cleanup or any health related damage.

PD: Do you see yourself aligned with Al Gore on climate change?

DD: I'm not aligned with Mr. Gore on that. I'm just uncertain. I fully believe our climate has been going through cycles since the Earth was formed.

But I fully believe that Man is causing damage to the environment. I would challenge anyone out there that Man is not damaging the environment to move their families and live next to a coal-fired plant for several years.

I've always believed that energy forms that cause damage to our environment and to the health of citizens should be responsible to fully pay for any cleanup or any health related damage.

I believe Mr. Trump does believe Man is damaging the environment. But he's called climate change a hoax. I disagree with that because I don't believe all the facts are in about climate change.

PD: Is the Clean Power Plan something you see as an obstacle?

DD: I do. I do not support a regulatory approach.

PD: It's pretty clear that those who advocate for wind and solar consider you an ally. How would you characterize your relationship with those involved with fossil fuels?

DD: I'm not anti- any energy form but I happen to prefer clean energy when needed, like to make things carbon-neutral. We'll need for coal to be around, we'll need natural gas but that doesn't mean we shouldn't search around for alternatives. I supported the Keystone Pipeline. I supported drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). But you need to pull out all the stops to protect the environment.

I'm originally from Louisiana. All these oil companies drilling offshore have caused major damage in the marshland there. When a hurricane comes in, a lot of times they're slowed down by the wetlands, but with the erosion of the marshlands, that puts people in danger of losing their houses and resources. The taxpayers should not have to pay for this.

I fully believe that our power grid is a national security risk because it's so centralized that a terrorist would have to take down, according to FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), nine key substations and it would cause a blackout from coast to coast. We need to move to a more decentralized, distributed generation power structure to power our homes.

PD: You have someone in a key role in the Trump Administration like General Flynn, who says he doesn't buy the climate-security angle his bosses are pushing.

DD: High-ranking officers say it is a risk. I would encourage the General to talk to George Shultz, who was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, who fully believes climate change is a security issue.

PD: You have friends and partners in the Sierra Club whose heads explode if you mention Donald Trump, and you have friends and partners in the Tea Party whose heads explode if you tell them you're friends with Al Gore. What do you say to both groups?

DD: I'm not getting the pushback you might think I would get. I don't worry if I'm being attacked. If you're not being effective, they're not going to attack you. I try to stress to my friends on the environmental side that you guys need to change your message and you're gonna find that solar will flourish under a Trump administration.

PD: Can you be specific on what their message should be?

DD: I grew up a preacher's kid. One thing they always told me is that you've got to get them in the church to get them to hear the message. If you mention “climate change" to a conservative or a Republican, they're gonna tune you out, but not if you talk about energy choice and energy freedom and individual liberty, the power to generate your own electricity.

Talk about national security implications, and then you say, “this is clean energy, we owe it to the future generations of Americans to leave them a clean environment, clean air, and clean water. That's a message that I've found resonates across political boundaries. You need to focus on the message that unites us rather than a message that divides us.

PD: And on the Tea Party side?

If you mention “climate change" to a conservative or a Republican, they're gonna tune you out, but not if you talk about energy choice and energy freedom and individual liberty, the power to generate your own electricity.

When Al Gore called me his friend, they said “you made the Left say something nice about a Tea Party person." I praised Mr. Trump when he met with Al Gore.

I wanted DC blown up. I want to see the swamp drained. I'm tired of seeing big corporations running this country. I will be the biggest voice in opposition if Mr. Trump tries to go after solar, but the biggest fight is on the state-by-state level.

PD: You mentioned Trump and solar. There's certainly a precedent for Trump going after wind power. Does that worry you?

DD: Koch-funded groups like ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) are going to go after solar and other clean energy more than ever in the states. What can they do on the federal level? I don't believe Mr. Trump would single out the solar and wind tax credit. To me, if you're gonna go after solar and wind, you better go after all forms of energy or you leave it alone. If you go after solar and wind, you'll have a fight on your hands.

PD: Is there an event or series of things that got you involved in energy work?

DD: It was a fight over Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle. I was appalled when I found out Georgia Power was making a profit off of failure. It was a predatory fight where the government created a monopoly. I was angry about cost overruns, but they can force their customers to pay in advance for big projects. They want to keep building these big nuclear plants because they make a big profit off the construction costs. Clean energy is a job creator. If Mr. Trump wants to create jobs, this is a way to create jobs.

PD: Republicans like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and John McCain once supported climate action. What made them back off?

DD: It was simple. All the money being poured into setting the narrative, just like with Big Tobacco. But I think that is changing, and they'll embrace energy freedom. Ronald Reagan said being good stewards of the environment is not a partisan issue. When people gave Reagan the facts on damage to the ozone layer, he helped create the Montreal Protocol. But groups like Heartland, Americans for Prosperity, and ALEC get money from electric monopolies and fossil fuel companies.

That's why I feel my voice is so important. I help provide cover for conservatives on conservation.

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