FULL EPISODE: 8/1/21 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on historic flooding in Michigan, Infrastructure deal and climate change

Published: Jul. 31, 2021 at 9:58 PM EDT
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) and Dr. Michael Mann, a climate scientist and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, about weather disasters, climate change, and infrastructure legislation for “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, August 1, 2021. The episode will also feature a discussion with meteorologist Ben Terry of KPLC 7 News in Lake Charles, a city in southwest Louisiana that was decimated by Hurricane Laura one year ago.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose state has seen record flooding in the past year, tied the problem to both climate change and infrastructure needs. “Our infrastructure was built 100 years ago not anticipating climate change, which is, I think, contributing to … all of these historic events happening in such rapid succession,” said Whitmer. “And that’s why rebuilding resilient infrastructure and combating climate change, we’ve got to do both.”

“Infrastructure is not unique to Michigan,” continued Whitmer. “And that’s why we’ve got to take it seriously. It’s about our homeland security. It’s about our economy. And it’s most fundamentally, daily, about our safety.”

When asked whether the process of getting presidential disaster declarations in the wake of Michigan’s recent floods has varied depending on the administration in charge, Whitmer answered: “You know what? That’s not been my experience that there have been politics involved. When the Midland flood happened, I was able to get on the phone with President Trump .... So, I’ve not experienced that, and that’s how it should be.”

Climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann also stressed the need for infrastructure funding in light of climate change, saying: “One of the things that we need to do is invest in infrastructure that makes us more resilient, that deals with the impacts of climate change that are already baked in.”

“But beyond that, we can’t adapt,” continued Mann. “We will exceed our adaptive capacity if we don’t act on the climate crisis, if we don’t reduce carbon emissions and get off the burning of fossil fuels. So another very important component of this infrastructure package has to be assistance, has to be support, has to be funding to help us transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.”

Whitmer and Mann interview excerpts are below.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Highlights

Greta Van Susteren

Is there something that you’re watching from Michigan that you really want in that infrastructure bill?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

Well, I think that there are frankly a lot of pieces, but I do think that as we talk about infrastructure, it has to include broadband. We know that infrastructure isn’t just roads and bridges, but it is dams, it is broadband. And we’ve all come to appreciate how crucial that is in our lives after the last year and a half, where we try to do everything remotely and online. It just is not even available for a lot of Americans. And that’s why I really hopeful that we can get the whole country connected through this infrastructure package on top of all the other obvious things. But water infrastructure is really important too.

On recent flooding in Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

We’re still getting our arms around how much flooding we have seen. We had an instance on June 25th where we had six inches of rain in the span of a few hours. Usually, in June, we get three inches for the whole month. A few weeks later, we got another big, big amount of water precipitation that has flooded again. So, I’m grateful that the Biden administration moved quickly to give us the declaration, but we’re still putting our arms around precisely how many homes have been impacted because we’ve had so many events in a row.

Greta Van Susteren

Now, the disaster declaration by the Biden administration, that was directed towards the damage done in June. And I think the expiration date applies about September 13th, but does that declaration also include the most recent damage that you’ve had? Or do you have to go back for another one?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

Well, that’s one of the things that we are trying to understand, if we can amend our request or if we need to put in a new request. And that’s why we’re working very closely with our municipalities in order to document the extent of the damage so that we can, whether it’s amending or seeking another declaration, we can do it so that we get people the relief that they need.

Greta Van Susteren

So, FEMA gives you some money to assist people or some members of the state, but there are also these small business administration loans that people can have for their businesses, or for rent, or for home damage, the extent that their insurance doesn’t cover. Do you know if those loans, do they also carry an interest with them, an interest payment by the people who take advantage of them?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

I don’t believe that they do, Greta. I know that this is a way to fill the gap between what insurance will cover and what FEMA is able to assist. And so, we are working as a state at the municipal and at the federal level to make sure that where there are additional opportunities through different departments of the federal government, that we are utilizing each to help these small businesses. Because as you can imagine, it’s just a devastating scene. I spoke with a woman the other day who cleaned up her basement, set it all back up, and then, it was flooded again. It’s happened three times, and just the desperation in some of these business owners and homeowners, it’s real, and it’s hard. And that’s why we’re working so hard to make sure that they get every ounce of support that we can get to them.

On presidential disaster declarations

Greta Van Susteren

Different states have different extreme weather problems that create disasters, whether it’s wildfires in the west or whatever it is. Is there any politics involved in getting that [presidential disaster] declaration?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

You know what? That’s not been my experience that there have been politics involved. When the Midland flood happened, I was able to get on the phone with President Trump. When the flooding that just happened in Southeast Michigan happened, we were able to get on right [on] with the Biden administration. So, I’ve not experienced that, and that’s how it should be. Frankly, when one state is suffering from an extreme event like this, we should all be chipping in to help. And that’s why when California called last year for help with the wildfires, we sent aid. That’s what we do. It’s how we should operate, and it shouldn’t be political.

On climate change and infrastructure

Greta Van Susteren

I think of Michigan like Wisconsin, full of blizzards. I don’t often think of flooding ... Is this something new to Michigan or has Michigan been hit by flooding for a long time?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

Well, it’s relatively new, and it’s historic. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, Midland, Michigan flooded. We had a couple of dams breach. We had to evacuate 10,000 people in the middle of the night during the middle of a global pandemic. This is not a regular occurrence, historically. Our infrastructure was built 100 years ago not anticipating climate change, which is, I think, contributing to this, all of these historic events happening in such rapid succession. And that’s why rebuilding resilient infrastructure and combating climate change, we’ve got to do both.

Greta Van Susteren

All right. You’ve got these bridges that have infrastructure problems that have broken that you just mentioned. I imagine, I’m just guessing that you have some other bridges that are in trouble. And is there any funding available to head it off at the pass before it creates all this additional damage? Are there federal funds or state funds to protect the citizens?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

Well, Greta, I ran on fixing the damn roads, and I came out of the blocks with a solution to rebuilding infrastructure across Michigan. My legislature didn’t embrace it. Not only did they not act on it, they didn’t offer a counter. So, I went forward and bonded, and that gives me the ability to rebuild state trunk lines and state-owned bridges. But ultimately, we are going to need federal partnership, which is why I’m hopeful this infrastructure package can get done, and also, a state solution so that we can address the local roads. This has got to be all hands on deck. Infrastructure is not unique to Michigan. It is not only old in Michigan. This is true across the country. And that’s why we’ve got to take it seriously. It’s about our homeland security. It’s about our economy. And it’s most fundamentally, daily, about our safety.

Greta Van Susteren

What can you do about climate change? I understand what you can do about infrastructure. You can build your dams better, and build your roads better, and sewer systems, but what about climate change in Michigan?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.)

Well, we can’t address climate change on a state-by-state basis. We’re trying. We’re going to make sure that Michigan is a leader when it comes to our standards, when it comes to eliminating our carbon footprint. We’re working with our business community, everyone from General Motors to Ford, to our energy companies have a seat at the table because we’re not going to be successful if we’re not all working toward the same goal. But we really need additional work to be done at the federal level and the international level because we’re all contributing, and we’re all paying a price for the climate that is rapidly changing and making our lives more difficult and less safe. And we’re seeing it play out across the globe.

Dr. Michael Mann Highlights

On the causes of climate change

Greta Van Susteren

What is the relationship between climate change and extreme weather? I mean, when we see extreme weather, whether that’s flooding in Michigan or hurricanes down in Louisiana or wildfires out west, what’s the relationship?

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

So some of these connections are pretty basic: You warm up the planet, you’re going to have more frequent and intense heat waves. That’s perhaps pretty obvious, but you also put more moisture in the atmosphere. So when it does rain, you get more of it. So we see more of these intense rainfall events, these flooding events.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

At the same time, you heat the earth, you heat the surface, you dry it out. And so you get worse droughts. And when you combine heat and drought, you get these massive wildfires.

On infrastructure needs in light of climate change

Greta Van Susteren

In Washington right now, there’s a lot of talk about infrastructure, and I’m curious whether or not these weather systems, extreme weather systems can have an impact on what we do in terms of infrastructure, whether it’s the roads we build or the bridges, whether they’re really designed to meet sort of the changes that we’re getting from extreme weather?

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

Absolutely. One of the things that we need to do is invest in infrastructure that makes us more resilient, that deals with the impacts of climate change that are already baked in, that we’re already contending with, whether it’s building coastal defenses against sea level rise and increasingly ferocious hurricanes, or changing how we go about using water in regions where water resources are disappearing, looking at desalination and other ways of meeting growing water demand in areas that are becoming drier.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

And so there are all these challenges where we do need infrastructure and that’s going to be an important part of this package, the bipartisan component in this potential additional reconciliation package.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

But beyond that, we can’t adapt. We will exceed our adaptive capacity if we don’t act on the climate crisis, if we don’t reduce carbon emissions and get off the burning of fossil fuels. So another very important component of this infrastructure package has to be assistance, has to be support, has to be funding to help us transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.

On subsidies and economic incentives

Greta Van Susteren

How do you convince someone to go out and buy an electric car which is probably going to cost a little more, although there’s the discussion about whether or not building it takes up more fossil fuels, but how do you tell a person that? Because people have real life issues to deal with in their homes.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

This is such an important point. It shouldn’t cost more to make a choice which is better for all of us, which is better for the planet. And that’s the problem right now. There are all these subsidies for fossil fuels and not adequate subsidies for renewable energy. So we’re actually providing additional incentives for people to use this form of energy that’s degrading our planet and that’s hurting us in so many ways.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

So we need to level the playing field so that it doesn’t cost more to you to engage in climate-friendly choices …

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

People should be led to make the right choices by economic incentives whether or not they actually care about the climate crisis in the first place.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

We need our policymakers to do that so that we do collectively move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.

On what can be done moving forward

Greta Van Susteren

If we harness the climate change problem, I assume we’ll still have some rough weather, but are you saying that it just won’t be as extreme or as frequent?

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

Yeah, so here’s the thing. The good news is that we can prevent it from getting worse. The science tells us that if we bring our carbon emissions down to zero, the planet stops warming up. So that’s really important. There’s a direct and immediate impact of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions. That’s the good news.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

The bad news is that even in that scenario, we’re sort of stuck where we are. We’re already at this level of a greatly elevated risk where we’re seeing these devastating extreme weather events.

Dr. Michael Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State

We need to provide resources in particular to frontline communities that are already bearing the brunt of climate change impacts. That’s an important part, for example, of the Biden climate plan and it needs to be embraced in this infrastructure package that’s being discussed.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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