by David Mark
Carole King’s songs are tightly woven into the tapestry of American music. Flip on the radio and, before long, at least one of the singer-songwriter’s familiar tunes is likely to ring out. Starting with The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” in 1960, King wrote a series of classic songs. Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” which James Taylor turned into a smash hit, are just a couple of examples.
But King has also struck a major note as an environmental activist. She moved from her native New York to Idaho in 1977 and quickly involved herself in local environmental causes. She is also a familiar presence on Capitol Hill, lobbying for wildlife protection, climate change legislation and environmental causes in general. POLITICO Senior Editor David Mark recently spoke to King about the political calculus for passing environmental legislation, President Barack Obama’s green initiatives and a host of other topics.
Did you make a conscious decision at some point to transition from music to environmental activism?
It wasn’t a change of career. It was an additional career. It was a series of things. You could say it started with growing up back East, spending time on a mountaintop in Connecticut, getting a love of nature. And my mom had a victory garden.
Moving to Idaho, I grew to see what destruction can do. When I first moved here, I saw destruction from mine tailing. Then I started seeing all the roads going into what ought to be wilderness. It just didn’t seem right. I started getting involved. … I believe there should be areas protected as wilderness. I thought we should at least ask for protection of the roadless areas. It sort of wasn’t working that way – the conservation groups were asking for about a third of them.
And then I heard about these people in Missoula, Montana: the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. The short version of what they were doing was to come up with a proposal that transcended state law. Each state would designate the federal wilderness in its own territory. When I saw this proposal, it was based on science. It was based on the grizzly bear range. Biologists regard grizzly bears as an umbrella species: If they’re in trouble, everyone’s in trouble. What they needed was a biological corridor.
It made so much sense to build overlapping roadless areas in five states [Idaho and Montana, plus eastern Washington and Oregon and western Wyoming].
At that point, I was a local resident, and I had a name that would open doors. The people working on this bill asked me to come with them to D.C. to open doors. We actually got a little bit of support when we started. We got a little bit of support – four co-sponsors – but everybody else laughed at us: “How are you going to pass a bill that involves five states?”
As I kept doing it, I really enjoyed it. Because I came from New York, I straddled both worlds. I understood why this was so important to people in New York City. They were killing a tourism source, in addition to something that was intrinsically valuable in its own right.
I became the face of it, because the men and women working on this issue don’t have the funding to go to D.C. I did and, as a volunteer activist, went around and talked to people. I am now pretty much a legitimate expert.
Over the years, I’ve made so many friends on the Hill. I’ve seen how sausage was made, and it’s not pretty. We out here in America have been pretty disillusioned by what goes on in Washington. I have met so many people there who are there for the right reasons. There really are a lot of really good people in Washington, trying to do the right thing.
What do you think of the cap-and-trade climate bill that recently passed the House?
I do know how Congress works and what the obstacles are. It was not an easy effort in the House. I have not personally read everything in the bill, so I can’t say with any sense of knowledge the specifics. But I am aware of what it generally wants to do. I believe it’s part of President Obama’s vision.
Are you confident that the Senate will pass a version of the bill that Obama can sign?
Nobody can know or say. When you count the numbers by party, it doesn’t look good. [Editor’s note: King later added that the addition of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to the Senate would help the measure’s chances.] But there are some Republicans who are open to listening to reason.
Rather than present it to Americans as a tough sell, we need to keep reminding people that this is about people’s leadership in the field of energy. When we get people focused on the possibilities of what this bill can do, rather than just cap and trade, we can get this bill passed in the Senate. If we want to bring that deficit down, creating new jobs and industry is how to do it.
I live in central Idaho. We have wind; we have sun. Why not have wind farms here? That’s where I have to be a voice to say, “We can make rural Idaho an economically self-sufficient community.” This energy and climate change bill is going to be good for everybody.