Christy Goldfuss
Senior Vice President for Energy and Environment Policy, Center for American Progress

President-elect Joe Biden is poised to implement an ambitious climate change agenda across the federal government, encompassing domestic to foreign policy.

A team of former high-level Obama administration officials and experts recently released a 300-page blueprint called the Climate 21 Project, which is intended to lay out a path for the incoming Biden administration to deliver a whole-of-government approach to climate change and a climate policy response starting on Inauguration Day. 

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff is joined by Christy Goldfuss, co-chair of the Climate 21 Project along with Duke University’s Tim Profeta, to talk about the findings of the project as well as what Biden’s climate agenda will look like more broadly, what would be possible with a presumably divided congress, her career across public lands, the environmental movement, and climate change, and what she’s doing now at the Center for American Progress. 

Christy Goldfuss is the Senior Vice President for Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress. She previously served as managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) during the Obama administration. 

Prior to her work at CEQ, Christy was the deputy director of the National Park Service. She also worked on the legislative staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and previously worked as a television news reporter. She obtained her undergraduate degree in political science from Brown University. 



Jason Bordoff:  Hello and welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. I'm Jason Bordoff. President-elect Joe Biden is poised to implement an ambitious climate change agenda across the federal government, from domestic to his foreign policy agenda. Question is, how do you do that. And a team of former high level Obama administration officials and experts, myself included, recently released a 300-page blueprint called, The Climate 21 Project, which is intended to lay out a path for the incoming administration, to deliver a whole of government approach, to climate change and to a climate policy response, starting on Inauguration Day. 

I wanted to talk a little bit about what we did and the findings with my friend Christy Goldfuss, who helped to co-chair that effort with Tim Perfetta at Duke University, as well as talk with her more broadly about Biden's climate agenda, what it'll look like, what's going to be possible with a presumably divided Congress, we will see if that ends up being the case and talk with her about her really fascinating career across work in public lands, the environmental movement and in climate change, and what she's doing now at the Center for American Progress. Christy is the Senior Vice President for Energy and Environmental Policy at CAP. 

She previously served as the Head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration. Prior to her work at CEQ, she was the Deputy Director of the National Park Service. She also worked on the legislative staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and previously worked as a television news reporter early in her career. She like myself, obtained her undergraduate degree in Political Science from Brown University. Christy, thank you so much for joining us today on Columbia Energy Exchange.

Christy Goldfuss:  So happy to be here. Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason Bordoff:  We always have fascinating conversations. So I'm sure this will be another one. We'll let lots of other people listen to it as well. I was interested in preparing for this, to learn actually a bit more about you. Because we know each other well, but I didn't fully appreciate how you came to this work and the environmental and climate movement. So I just wonder if you could talk a little bit about that. 

You and I share some things in common, studying at Brown University, working in journalism earlier in our careers before coming to this work. So talk about how you came to work in environment and climate change, and which I think was through public lands, correct?

Christy Goldfuss:  Absolutely. I never thought that I would have the career that I've had so far when I started out. As you mentioned, I really had a deep love for journalism. So started out in television news, running around carrying my own camera. And I was in small markets, really small markets where you have to carry your own camera in Redding, California, Chico, California, and then Reno, Nevada, which was my first real exposure to the west, and especially firefighting. 

I had never seen wildland fires before. And certainly in Nevada, you, as a reporter, travel with gear and are always prepared to go run and cover forest fires. And I really had no idea that there were states where 80% of the land was owned by the federal government until I lived in Nevada. So it really was an eye opening experience. Similar to you, I had a love of politics from the very beginning. And thought I wanted to do it from the side of journalism and studying and putting out both sides of the argument, really distilling complicated things into something that people could care about. 

But over time, I just became more and more passionate about particular issues and wanted to have a voice and wanted to push for progress. And really, the truth of the matter is, the only reason I ended up in the environmental space was, no one would hire me in Washington DC coming out of this career in television news, except for US PIRG, the US Public Interest Research Group. And I was a progressive for hire at that point and the job they had open was a forest preservation advocate. And so I started working on the Roadless Rule and getting co-sponsors for that bill and if anything knows--

Jason Bordoff:  Just tell everyone listening what that is as all may not know.

Christy Goldfuss:  The Roadless Rule is still one of the most historic conservation measures we've had in this country. It was signed into law during the Clinton administration, the very end of the Clinton administration. And at that point it had more public comments than any other environmental rule ever. And really, the purpose was to freeze the footprint of the roads across the United States through our forests. So all untouched forests that didn't have logging roads or forest fighting roads, were protected from new road building efforts. 

So massive amount of acres across the country that were put into a status of protection that they weren't previously. And a great policy to cut your teeth on learning about public policy and why it matters and what the impact is. And so it all started with that and really, if anybody knows anything about the perks, it's the greatest grad school crash course you can get in policy making and politics that there is. 

Jason Bordoff:  And you worked in the House and then help run the National Park Service, correct? 

Christy Goldfuss:  That's right. I moved over to the House Natural Resources Committee and got a chance to see from the inside, how the Forest Service policies were made, I work to do some lands, land swaps for different national forests and had a great time on the committee. It was a really exciting period because, the Democrats were in the majority and we were trying to make progress on things. 

But then, moved from there over to CAP, where I am now the Center for American Progress and started the Public Lands Program that we still have at CAP today. But I was there for a short period of time and became the Deputy Director of the National Park Service to help plan the 100th birthday, the Centennial, of the National Park Service.

Jason Bordoff:  So, do you have a favorite national park? Or is that like asking you to choose a favorite child?

Christy Goldfuss:  No, every National Park Service employee has their favorite. I would say, I have a, you have a few, but Acadia, I got to travel to so many when you're in a job like that. And Acadia just.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, it must be fun part of the job. 

Christy Goldfuss:  There's arguably very few other jobs in the federal government that are as good as that. But Acadia was amazing. I was just a little surprised that being from the East Coast, when I went to Acadia that was a stunning and gorgeous. You expect that from the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and Yellowstone. But Acadia is really just a remarkable gem. And then Great Falls. We spent a lot of time in Great Falls with our kids. And you really get to appreciate the parks when you use them regularly.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, I don't think, people may travel, to the Grand Canyon, or, we've taken the kids for about last eight years now to, few of the National Parks every summer. But still haven't seen obviously the vast majority of them. I don't know if people realize how expansive it is. What do you think is least well understood about our national park system?

Christy Goldfuss:  I think it's the historical sights, people think of the large landscapes, the big 10 that everybody goes to visit. But really, the 400 plus units of the National Park System, tell an incredibly rich story of our history, both the good parts and the bad parts. And as Deputy Director learning about that, and then working for President Obama, who made it central to the entire centennial celebration. We protected Stonewall National Monument in New York to celebrate the LGBTQ movement. 

We protected Pullman in South Chicago, where you really had one of the first middle class black communities in the United States, and really a hub for the Great Migration out of the South. So these are historic sites that people don't always think of as associated with the National Park System. But if you really become a parky and are into tracking your passport, it is a rich, rich path through our history. And it was just an exciting, an exciting time and an exciting place to work as we were preparing for the centennial.

Jason Bordoff:  I'm always struck here where I am in the New York area. I will occasionally go kayaking in Jamaica Bay by JFK airport or cycling up the Jersey Shore to the Lighthouse at Sandy Hook. And I'm most struck by the Department of Interior signs, you forget that it's the federal government and the park service that is managing these.

Christy Goldfuss:  And in Washington DC, the entire median in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue is operated by the National Park System. The Memorial Bridge that most people used to commute on when we commuted, is operated by the National Park System. So one of the things that was most fun, that really bridged my time from the Park Service into the White House, was this little program called, 'Every Kid In a Park', that actually even Donald Trump continued. It allows every fourth grader to go to a national park, free with their families. 

And they just announced that because of the pandemic, they're going to extend the program next year for fifth graders, which brought tears to my family because my son is in fourth grade and the idea that this program I created, finally one of my children is eligible and we weren't going to get to take advantage of it. But that means not this summer, but the following summer, we're going to be due for a big big Goldfuss family parks trip.

Jason Bordoff:  That'll be fun. Enjoy that. So I want to expand that to public lands more broadly. And we were involved together in this Climate 21 Project, which I'll ask you to explain in a moment, in addition to co-chairing the whole effort, you also took the lead on how to think about the Department of the Interior. So can you just talk about the role the Interior Department plays in the climate challenge and expanding clean energy?

Christy Goldfuss:  Absolutely. About a third of this country is owned and managed and operated by the Department of the Interior, that's Bureau of Land Management lands, it's the Park Service, it's Fish and Wildlife lands. So these are mostly in the West. But there are a lot of spots on the East Coast. These lands, many of them outside of the Park Service, were designated for multiple use. So that means oil and gas development, recreational opportunities, protection for water quality, multiple use, obviously, there's lots of uses for these lands. 

And a good percentage of our oil and gas development historically has come from these lands. About 40% of the coal, that is mined in the United States comes from our public lands, which is a pretty good percentage, even as we are shifting away from coal in this country. And then you think of offshore, all the oil and gas development, offshore fishing, recreational fishing, it's just a massive set of operations that really the Department of Interior is in charge of. And on one side of the ledger, you have the fossil fuel development that is contributing to climate change as we know it. 

And then on the other side, you have this huge renewable energy potential, offshore right away, but then also solar development on land. There were some really big efforts at the beginning of the Obama administration under Secretary Salazar, to really spur the renewable development on public lands. And I only expect to see more of that with President-elect Biden.

Jason Bordoff:  So yeah, I like the way you teed it up and you identified they are multiple use, they are required by statute to be used in many different ways, they're public lands, so belong to all of us, including the value of resources underground. Can you talk about how you think policymakers should-- how do you balance developing public lands for the value of the minerals in the ground with the need to protect the environment? 

President Trump is trying to rush to lease ANWR right now, the need to protect special places like the Arctic, they are public lands and special for a reason. And then at the same time, as you said, there are statutory mandates to try to develop resources there. How do you balance that?

Christy Goldfuss:  I think the balance and how you balance is changing and changing dramatically, even from where we were in the Obama administration, where we were really focused on climate change and 80% reductions by 2050, not the net-zero by 2050 goal that we're focused on now. At the end of the Obama administration, the withdrawal of 125 million acres of the Arctic Ocean is significant, especially the underpinnings of that decision. 

Because what President Obama said was part of the reason these acres should be off limit, is that by the time the oil would even be economically viable. So two decades into the future, we would need to be so transforming our energy system that we should never, ever even try to tap into those oil reserves.

Jason Bordoff:  And just so people know what he did, you're talking about section 12 A, which was, unprecedented use of authority to actually permanently put off limits, we'll see if courts agree that it's permanent. But that was the action he took in the Arctic, right, removing these areas, from consideration for leasing going forward. 

Christy Goldfuss:  Yes, and that he did it multiple times. That was just the one of the largest and most controversial, but given the justification, even Secretary Bernhardt backed away, they lost in court over their five year plan, backed away from undoing that. So that withdrawal under the 12 A, as you said, of offshore leasing, authorities still stands today because of the strong justification for that action at the time. And really the broad presidential authority. 

The courts have upheld that use of 12 A. So, but that concept, that understanding of how much time of our overall carbon budget, what role the federal government has in signaling to the markets where we're going, what we need to do, is going to be even more important, given the absolute wrecking ball that the Trump administration took to our public lands. They did not care how much money they were getting for the taxpayers when they put parcels up for lease, things have been sold extremely cheap. 

And it's just been this constant rush to get as many leases on the books for oil and gas companies as they possibly can. So I would expect that there will be an early assessment of where we are, how much is already leased? And what is the potential for those leases in the long term, and how much more conceivably given our priorities and where we need to go as a nation, should and could be leased to match those goals? Because, it's entirely inconsistent to lease at the rate we're leasing and meet any of the goals that Biden has laid out in his current plans.

Jason Bordoff:  So you're answering my question by talking about what meeting our climate goals looks like in terms of, oil and gas use going forward. And that would be as true for the Arctic as it would for the Gulf of Mexico, I presume there's an additional layer of consideration around the local environmental protection, that interior, should think about, too, is that correct?

Christy Goldfuss:  Yes, one of the most challenging roles for the Department of the Interior is the relationship with local communities and governors. And at its best, I always look back to Secretary Salazar, when he walked in the door, he went and met with every single governor in this country, to talk about their priorities around recreation, to discuss renewable energy and the concerns they have in their state. Now, obviously, it's very different state by state, New Mexico is a big oil and gas state, also has tons of outdoor recreation opportunities, the conversation you're going to have in Connecticut would be very different. So but it is important. 

The reason a lot of the protections that President Obama stayed, did stayed in place on public lands, was, there was strong community support. The reason, Secretary Jewell went forward with a huge amount of protection for the sage grouse, a particular species that was headed towards its extinction, was incredible cooperation with the governor of Wyoming, the governor of Montana, and Governor of Nevada, to make sure that what the local communities need, the amount of money that comes from our public lands, we do this thing called cost sharing. 

So when you make money off of the public lands, a good chunk of it can go to the communities, the states to pay for schools, to pay for police. So if we're not going to be developing fossil fuels, and if we're not cost sharing on renewables yet, how is the federal government going to continue to support these communities that have depended on those resources, or those financial resources for such a long time? We have to break that cycle. Otherwise, you're leaving particular communities at a total disadvantage, and that will never stand.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah. Which is not easy to do. These have been economically important for communities and helping people understand what the future looks like, in economies that look different moving forward. 

Christy Goldfuss:  Absolutely. 

Jason Bordoff:  It's something policymakers need to think harder about. Let me ask you about what is in the news today, which is the Trump administration trying to push quickly before it leaves office with leases in ANRW, what do you think will happen with that, and is that something Biden can, I presume, would want to, but can undo?

Christy Goldfuss:  It is my understanding based on the legal steps that are required, both by the provisions that Senator Murkowski put into the tax bill that ended up allowing for this drilling to take place or this lease sale to take place, there really isn't enough time to even legally go through the steps that you're supposed to take. If they went through all of those steps, met those marks, then the day before the inauguration, would be the first day they legally would be able to have a lease sale. 

And I would not put it past this administration at all, to rush to meet that date and hold the lease sale on that day. Now, one thing that is allowed, given the timeframe that we're in is the Department of Justice can review those leases right away, as soon as President-elect Biden comes in. And it’s our understanding that that review could and in DOJ rejecting the leases for any host of reasons. Now, if they do what the Trump administration appears to want to do, which is to jump a bunch of those steps and skip them, then President-elect Biden's and his DOJ is in an even better spot to reject those leases, because they'll be challenged for sure they can get thrown out in court and DOJ could just say, 'You didn't follow the process. We know how economically fragile this area and this region is. And you didn't answer the appropriate questions to hold the lease sale'. So it's going to be a challenge. It'll be a fight. But given the timing, the Trump administration didn't get to this quickly and there's a pretty good chance that we will get out of the Trump administration without leaseholders in the refuge, which would be extraordinary from the standpoint of any of us who care deeply about conservation and this place, that should just never be drilled. We do not need that oil and gas. And it would just be a real tragic ending to this legacy for the Trump administration if he was able to get away with this.

Jason Bordoff:  I want to come back to a couple of those things. But can you, I mentioned the Climate 21 Project before and I did want to have you talk about it, because we spent a lot of time on it. And you led the effort. As I said, you took a lead in writing the chapter on Interior, but the whole project overall, with our friend, Tim Perfetta, just tell everyone listening, what it was, what questions we were trying to answer, and what it tells us about how to put an administration together?

Christy Goldfuss:  I am super proud of the work that we got to do on this, Jason, it was really fun. It started two years ago as really an exercise in healing and keeping all of each other sane. Tim Perfetta and Jeremy Simons, who were my partners in crime on this, it was really their brainchild. And they came to me and said, 'You know, there's a chance that maybe President Trump won't win re-election. And what a shame it would be, if we weren't prepared to hit the ground running to address climate change. 

And the federal government wasn't in a position to use all of its authority'. But I will say that even now sounds like more clarity than we had at that point. So at that point, we were just like, we should do something about climate. There's all these really amazing people, really smart people who care about the government, who are in federal service before, who have ideas, and who would love to do this. And so you, Jason, and that many of our other former colleagues, and even Jason Grumet, who didn't work in the federal government, but has local government, state government experience. 

Jason Grumet from the Bipartisan Policy Center, joined the Steering Committee. And I think we spent, if I look back, Jason, about six months, trying to figure out what we were going to do together. Like we all knew, we enjoyed getting on the phone, we all knew we had thoughts and ideas about what should happen next. But it really took us a while to crystallize that we were going to look at existing authority, what you can do from day one, what a Secretary, Administrator, all the way down through, Assistant Secretaries and Bureau Directors, should be thinking about from day one. 

And God, I am so thankful that we chose that charge. Because there was a really terrible narrative that was coming out about climate when President-elect Biden, was first it was clear he was going to win, that he didn't have any ability to really address climate change, and that this was not a climate election. And thank goodness.

Jason Bordoff:  I mean, what we ended up trying to focus on was not, there would be a lot of efforts to develop big policy proposals, blue sky ideas, things an administration to do all of which are hugely important. We spent a lot of our time at the Center of Global Energy Policy doing that. That was the point, a lot of us are doing that in our day jobs. So, let's think tactically about how an administration can hit the ground running quickly, and how to organize itself to do that. 

And also, notably, to say, this requires a whole of government approach. When people think of climate change, they think of EPA, maybe they think of Interior or Energy. But please talk about that, like it's the Treasury Department. It's the Commerce Department. It's the State Department. It's a lot of different things. 

Christy Goldfuss:  Right. And that's exactly right. We are in Center for American Progress as well does ton of blue sky thinking. But this is the minutiae of government. It is the less press worthy, pretty boring, mundane, but critical to being effective, questions around how you govern. And yes, it's well beyond, everybody thinks of EPA, when they think of climate. Not so much DOI. The Department of Interior did not have a full climate agenda during the Obama administration, did some individual actions, but it was not comprehensive. 

USDA has some really exciting tools that I didn't know about, before we got into this, where you could actually set up a carbon bank without any more legislative authority. Of course, NOAA, people always understand the authorities there. But the Treasury Department, I really think, Joe Aldy and Tim Perfetta did a great job in where we're going to see a whole new focus that we again, didn't have in the Obama administration, on what are the ways to deliver on climate financial regulatory policy, that helps show where we need to be headed. 

And in a way the banks and many corporations are headed on their own already. So how do we bring the federal government into this which, I think those set of actions are going to be particularly important, when we think about Glasgow and how we can demonstrate or how the President-elect Biden can demonstrate seriousness on climate action.

Jason Bordoff:  And we didn't even go deeply, we did to some extent with State, but into the international realm, with the Pentagon and USAID and a range of other tools that I think will be important. And the selection of Secretary Kerry signals the importance that the administration is placing on international realm.

Christy Goldfuss:  And then, what became just really fun sport for all of us who have had the privilege to work in the White House before, was the discussion around the Executive Office of the President, CEQ yeah.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, that was my next question for you. So talk to people about, there is this idea that's still out there of a National Climate Council, we'll see. But how do you think the, what did we find in that project about, what needs to happen within the White House in order to be ambitious with climate change? And then I want to come back and talk specifically for people about the role, CEQ plays, because you know that as well.

Christy Goldfuss:  Well, just a peek behind the curtain for folks who've never had the privilege and joy to sit around the Roosevelt Room table, and work on policy together. The White House, it's not entirely transparent to folks how it's set up and why it operates the way it does. But what was so unique about the Steering Committee, is many of us were in the Obama administration during different stages, and saw different organizing models, and what was accomplished as a result. 

And I was there for the final two years, you were there earlier. And the final two years, I came in, when John Podesta was just finishing his time as Counselor. And really he set up an organization that all of his years in government had really informed, as to why it was what needed to happen, if you were going to do this whole of government approach to climate. And that included this top position, the top job on climate. And then he used the domestic policy councils, our friend, Dan Utec, who was there at the time, big chunk of NSC, which was really breaking glass, that you would have your climate advisor actually engage in the foreign policy debate as clearly as he did, especially with China. 

And then CEQ, I mean, CEQ is part of the White House, but has the ability, because it was created by statute, has a different set of rules. So you can have more staff there. So it became the troops that were able to help bring in detail ease from all the agencies. So what we found is, you need to have a focus in the White House. And that focus needs to be supported not just by one person, who by sheer force, the personality, gets things done, but has a structure beneath them that reaches into all the different agencies. 

As you know, it has to be connected to the President. If that person and that structure is really driven by an understanding of what the President wants to accomplish, that signaling in the federal government is so important, because that then goes out to the cabinet secretaries and the administrators, and then they're able to put their appropriate authorities pointed in that direction. And the outcome is just really remarkable in terms of the impact you can have.

Jason Bordoff:  And it sounds like that, just from the public reporting seems like the model that the Biden administration has signaled, it will follow to have a senior domestic climate coordinator with a team around them, drawing on the other White House offices. And then obviously, you have Secretary Kerry, as the climate envoy, internationally. Is that right?

Christy Goldfuss:  I believe so. And I sure hope so. In recent history, we have an example where it works so darn well. So there's no reason to recreate the wheel here. And it does seem very likely, Ron Klain has already said that there will be a top domestic climate advisor that they will announce soon. So I do think we expect to see that. And then there's been quite a bit of discussion around a White House climate office. So the titles, the names, that doesn't matter, the structure matters, the direction from the President. 

The fact that President-elect Biden has put climate so front and center in this transition, it's just really promising and exciting for what can get accomplished over the next four years.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, it's pretty striking to look at the transition website and see a button called Priorities, with a drop down menu that only has four things in it. And climate change is one of those. And deeply connected to the others. If you look at the list, if you click on the climate change and see what the agenda looks like, it's very much tied to an economic recovery and jobs agenda. 

It's tied to an equity and racial justice agenda. That comes to CEQ because, that and its portfolio, well tell everyone what CEQ is, created by statute, so different than some of the other White House offices, a half century ago. And has, in addition to playing a role in the whole mix you just talked about, has certain authorities, particularly over environmental reviews and NEPA.

Christy Goldfuss:  Right. So the Council on Environmental Quality was created by the National Environmental Policy Act, 50 years ago, along with a slew of environmental laws that we think of is really the bedrock environmental laws. So Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, NEPA, these are the real environmental policies that created a dramatic shift in our clean air and clean water and what we really, a lot of people take for granted these days. 

But they were the driving force behind that. CEQ was created by statute, why that's different is, first of all, it can't go away with one president, who wants it to go away. Surprisingly, both Democratic and Republican Presidents have tried to get rid of CEQ at various points. But you can't do that, because it was created by the National Environmental Policy Act. And the whole purpose is to really be the, well, you have a regulatory responsibility to carry out the regs associated with NEPA. But then, as a result, you have this stakeholder engagement, responsibility. 

And one of those stakeholders, very important one, is Congress and you have a responsibility to Congress that is a little different than the other components of the White House. Because the chair is Senate confirmed, can't say no to testifying, you have a very limited ability to use the presidential power protections, you're subject to the Freedom of Information Act, all of that makes it slightly different than, say, the National Economic Council or the National Security Council, that can, use the presidential privilege protections a lot. 

But then CEQ, is designed to internally, inside the federal government, resolve disputes. It should surprise no one, that USDA and EPA sometimes don't agree, especially around things like pesticides, and bees, and/or that the Department of Transportation and EPA or the Department of Energy at EPA, poor EPA, or the Department of Interior and USDA, there is lots of disagreement in the large federal government and CEQ is really a mediator. But then the biggest part of the portfolio is engagement with communities, which is why the environmental justice focus, has really come to CEQ and that we will see environmental justice, play such a key role, much bigger than it has in the past. 

The Interagency Environmental Justice Council has existed forever. But this will be elevated to a level as Biden has said in his plan, that will be much higher and CEQ is going to have to, from the very beginning, articulate a process for engaging environmental justice communities across this country. And it's not going to be easy, because by design, the environmental justice movement is distributed. Like they don't have a centralized leader, because it's about the communities and each community has suffered a different type of exposure to toxic pollution, a different type of health impact. 

I mean, what you're seeing in the Navajo Nation right now, is very different than what you're seeing in Mossville, Louisiana. Navajo Nation and certain other tribal communities don't even have running water. Mossville is about to be entirely surrounded by 12 petrochemical plants. So these challenges, and no one purports to speak for the entire movement. So CEQ is set up to do this environmental justice engagement, it will have a huge responsibility, though, and must deliver early on that engagement and a process that demonstrates President-elect Biden's commitment to EJ, because otherwise, that's going to be a big problem going forward. 

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, some of the examples you just gave of, ways in which environmental justice historically has come up with local air pollution, with water quality. I do think what we've seen just recently, which is the coming together of the climate change movement with the racial justice movement, is incredibly consequential and historic. And talk about how you think it changes the way one thinks about the design of climate policy.

Christy Goldfuss:  Losing on climate policy over the last several decades, time and time again, was hugely consequential for the future but also deeply painful and caused smart people to step back and say, 'What's going on, why aren't these people policies that we're pushing forward, sticking, what's the reason that we don't have constituents, we don't have people who are not only demanding the action, but then feel as if they win once that policy is put into place'? And in searching for that answer, we really look to the States. 

And what was happening was this movement of demonstrating that addressing climate action for the future, can also improve people's lives today, by focusing on cleaning up air pollution at local power plants, you can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So the policies may not change dramatically, but the emphasis of what you get at the end of the day of that policy, has to some extent. But it also meant that a switch as Jason, I feel like one of our first interactions, we argued vehemently over carbon tax, and the very artful economic solution to climate which is so compelling. 

And every time I look at the data, it just seems like, such the right answer that at some point, we are going to have to make. these polluters pay for what they've caused. So at some point, a carbon tax will be part of the solution. But before we get there, we have to demonstrate that addressing climate is going to be good for people's homes, their families now. So that's shifted to investments and communities. 

How are we going to invest in the renewables industry, even more than we have today, to see the explosion that we need, how are we going to invest in cleaning up some of the historical pollution and recognize that it might not have the exact same carbon pollution reductions that we would get out of a carbon tax, but you will have people who will see their communities improve, therefore recognize the success of those policies and demand more. So you have to create a sense that this is not just about elitist people, who can care just about the future and don't have to think about what their day to day lives look like, when it comes to impacts of climate change. 

We can address and must addressed the issues that we're seeing right now through our climate policy. This became even more obvious with the breakout of the pandemic and the Coronavirus, and really who's suffering the most and the connection between air quality, asthma and some of the other comorbidities associated with the pandemic.

Jason Bordoff:  I think our conversation about a carbon tax was on stage. So it's online, we won't revisit it now. I responded that the questions about what impact carbon tax would have from the standpoint of equity and distributional justice, really depends on what you do with the revenue you raise from it. So but we'll come back to that another time. I wanted to ask you about NEPA. The idea of NEPA reform, it is often seen understandably as efforts to weaken environmental reviews and protections. 

I wrote a piece in, The New York Times, over the summer about, the fact that, while that is all true, there do need to be efforts to figure out how to make sure that environmental reviews which are necessary, do not become barriers to building quickly the infrastructure we need for decarbonisation. Do you agree with that? And if so, what do you think needs to be done to make NEPA work better?

Christy Goldfuss:  Absolutely. I agree 100%. The Trump administration may have done President- elect Biden a favor here where they totally broke me, but they rewrote the regulations in a way that is messy and really confusing for industry. So coming in the door, however, in order to fix this problem, as you've just articulated, the build back better agenda requires the building part. And like a lot of building. And the truth of the matter around permitting is this is pretty much about good governance. 

There is a lot that can be accomplished, by simply understanding how to make the government move. So from day one, they need to come in and put out a build back better executive order, whatever they're going to call it, that says what they're going to do on NEPA, they should freeze any of the, what they're called is, implementing instructions that the agencies have to do to match the new regulations, freeze, whichever of those are going forward. 

They need to make clear that they're going to rewrite the regulations, which I think there will be a ton of pressure to do. And for agencies that didn't get their implementing instructions done, they need to operate on the old ones, which the courts have said they're allowed to do. And then there needs to be an influx of focus, attention and a small amount of cash to the permitting council. There is this Federal Permitting Council and a Federal Permitting Office, that works with CEQ, and NAC and they need the right executive director, who knows how to work with the agencies. 

They need to be able to communicate with project proponents, so that's companies, renewable companies, oil and gas to a certain extent, whatever the case is going to be, they need to be able to have that relationship outside but inside is most important. And then I recommend that they really train up a set of people out of CEQ, that will then be deployed into the agencies that have the same understanding of how to move permitting quickly. 

And what tools they have. And that's, this just has to be an early focus and non-stop. They cannot take their foot off the pedal on getting this right and moving projects quickly.

Jason Bordoff:  And what do you think, I'm burying the lead to speaking to the way we both started our careers, but there's so much interest and focus on this incredibly ambitious climate agenda and net-zero electricity 2035, economy 2050, $2 trillion. And then reality hits you in the face, and we seem more likely than not to have Republican Senate. It's not definite, a narrower majority in the House. 

And a lot of competing priorities like a pandemic and an economy that's in a deep hole, although there's some connection potential with the climate agenda. What do you think will be the area of focus out of the box? And what do you think is possible for the Biden administration to get done?

Christy Goldfuss:  I'm so heartened with the appointments that they're making. Our former colleague and friend, Brian Deese, at the National Economic Council, could not be a stronger signal that they are going to put climate really at the part, at the center of this recovery. Now, obviously, there are many, many industries, whether it's a service industry, tourism, broadly speaking, that are going to need assistance, small business that will need assistance and families that are going to be struggling. 

And I know that that will be job number one coming in. This longer term recovery and how we bounce back and have a sustained recovery over the next, three, five, ten years, to get back to where we are, hopefully there will be a bounce after the vaccine. And we'll see some quick gains. But that's where the opportunity is on the climate side, to really have some high profile projects and opportunities to show, that addressing climate change is bringing jobs to communities, there has to be, if you're not going to be able to have the full systemic change right away, you need to be able to demonstrate what it means. 

So I think that you will see some real, especially, let's start with offshore wind. We never saw the Trump administration like environmental review. In fact, they tried to get it at every turn, except with offshore wind, it still is so crazy to me. So there's a whole unnecessary environmental review process that is going on around several offshore wind projects that can be wrapped up, notice of intent can be put out quickly. And that needs to happen wherever possible, to demonstrate that building back better, means building a clean energy future. And that puts people to work. 

So it will take time. Addressing climate change is not something that's going to be done in one administration. But the beauty of focusing on investment, and jobs and projects, is those are a lot harder to rollback than some of the other administrative authorities that they have. So that's going to be the balance, like how do you get the regulations right and the projects right.

Jason Bordoff:  And in terms of what, a lot of those things happen without Congress like offshore leasing, in terms of with Congress, what do you think the focus of stimulus spending should be? What would you prioritize in putting federal dollars to work?

Christy Goldfuss:  I would prioritize right now just knowing how this matches up with the regulatory agenda, whatever can be done to invest, support, stimulate the renewable industry. Obviously, it's been doing well over the past decade, but we are going to need so much more. So everything that can be done in that area to really subsidize the build out of renewables, is going to be incredibly important. So that's job number one, especially with the ITC and PTC, in the state that they're in, these industries need certainty, the longer those tax credits could be extended. 

That's the top of my wish list, but that's teeny. So how this is going to go and maybe I'm being too optimistic right now. But we even had Mitch McConnell, talking about a package early next year with the new administration, as he said it. We should be thinking big about that new package, what is needed first, which is not just the power sector, that will be, we will also need to focus on transit and clean cars, and industrial and R&D. And that first package can and should include a lot of those pieces. 

And then what gets teased out over time is, where do you have bipartisan support? Where can you move out together on pieces that will pass on must pass vehicles? We do have this driving, we have a couple driving forces, one; the debt ceiling vote over the summer, somewhere in July, there will need to be some legislation that passes. And then we have Glasgow, at the end of next year, that I really think that the congressional drumbeat is going to be pushing, to make sure we can deliver as much as we need to, for that moment in time. 

Jason Bordoff:  I feel like I hear some version of this interesting debate that plays out among friends in the climate movement. And it goes like this. On the one side, there are those who say, a lot you can do with executive authority. But in the end, to really achieve transformational change, you need legislation, you need Congress. And in order for that to be durable, you need to work across the aisle. And on the other-- and the response to that would be, there's no time for that. The carbon budget is what it is. And there's not time to be gradual or incremental. And trying to find areas of common agreement is always going to be way too small relative to the scale of the challenge. How do you think about that? And what do you think is possible to work in Congress to try to get done in terms of legislation?

Christy Goldfuss:  I just think there is so much that can get done, given the hole we have to dig ourselves out of. Yes, I would be the first to say that a clean electricity standard would be my biggest hope that we could do. But that is not likely to happen. We're not likely to see a large climate policy. And as a result, moving sector by sector to accomplish what we can, that can have bipartisan agreement, I really do believe, decades of working in the Senate, that President-elect Biden is going to try his best to work with Mitch McConnell, and that there are Senators who want to get things done again. 

This has been a painful period of time for everybody. So this is where I may be too pollyannish. But I do think sector by sector and pretty much in every single one of them. We didn't even talk about the natural based solutions. But pretty much in every sector, there are opportunities where Republicans and Democrats agree. This is not where I was six months ago when I was thinking all about reconciliation strategies and how to get things done with 51. 

But that's not the reality. We're likely to see and we just, I deeply want the systemic changes that we need as well. But until we get to the point where the American people agree, and we have leadership across many different areas, and maybe even bipartisan leadership that agrees we need to make the progress that we can when we can.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, as you know, one of the areas we've been working on and my colleague like Varun Sivaram, on areas of energy innovation, which there is bipartisan agreement, especially when you look broadly at the full suite of technologies, we'll need renewables, batteries, but also carbon capture advanced nuclear. And just a bill, a bipartisan bill introduced in the last week on Advancing US Nuclear Leadership. 

We've seen some of the tensions and disagreements on the left bubble over particularly after the election around the questions you and I were just talking about, what the policy agenda should look like, where to focus about the kinds of appointments the President makes, where do you see the greatest fault lines, and how will they be resolved?

Christy Goldfuss:  Yeah, it's playing out in the press all over the place. We knew the coalition that President-elect Biden pulled together to win was a complex one. But it included many, especially on the climate side, our environmental justice colleagues, it included labor, and it included environmentalists. And these three groups don't always agree. And the fault lines are pretty clear. 

There's a lot of disagreement around carbon capture and storage. Some of that is just a deep distrust about what it means to sequester carbon, and what are the long term implications of that? And will some people suffer consequences that are not known right now. So that is, a conversation that our environmental justice colleagues had invited.

Jason Bordoff:  So just to be clear, it's the consequences of, I don't want to get hung up on just one example. But the consequences of the actual technology itself, and I presume also some skepticism about how much this technology will actually be deployed and whether it provides an excuse to continue just business as usual and assume it'll come along.

Christy Goldfuss:  Absolutely. It's all of those things, and which facilities just get to continue to pollute, even if they sequester carbon, or the other co-pollutants still allowed, so lots and lots of questions around that. And I've even heard Mr. Podesta talk extensively about whether or not we ever think it's going to be really economically viable to be a real solution that we deploy. So there's a lot of debate.

Jason Bordoff:  We'll do a podcast, we'll get Julio Friedman on, with you the next time to have that conversation.

Christy Goldfuss:  There will be no lack of passion in that conversation, I'm sure. But the nuclear is the other one. A lot of concern over nuclear waste, where it's going to get stored, communities that live downstream of current nuclear facilities.

Jason Bordoff:  Is that changing? There's been decades of environmental movement opposition to nuclear. But as we see the scale and magnitude of the challenge of what achieving net-zero looks like, not just in our current electricity system, but an electricity system that's got to get bigger because we're going to electrify stuff that's not electric today. Is that changing? Do you think more finding that we need to support nuclear as part of a solution?

Christy Goldfuss:  There's a distinction between the existing nuclear fleet and what happens if we lose that current, clean, 100% clean energy, and how much of that would be replaced by natural gas and then what it means to build new nuclear capacity. And whereas I saw over the past couple of years, there seemed to be some coalescing around understanding and the coalescing, where I'm talking here is around environmental justice, climate justice and climate advocates, that we needed to save the existing nuclear fleet, if we were going to have any chance of reaching any of our goals in 2030. 

That's been fracturing quite honestly, over the last year. And I don't have an understanding or clarity as to why, because I thought it was one of the places that we were making great progress. But it's, at the end of the day, when we started to talk to senators about nuclear, everybody hates the nuclear industry, they see them as corrupt and bribing public officials. And at the end of the day, they always seem to win because they make these claims. They cry poor all the time. 

So while there is support for clean energy, the nuclear industry has a lot to do to build allies that are going to be supportive about saving their facilities, and they haven't been doing it with a lot of the communities that we work with. And then, I'd say the real tension that we're going to see, and this is going to play out, not only domestically but internationally, is what is the nationally determined contribution that the administration puts forward, both the short term progress that we commit to making. President-elect Biden has already said that he embraces net-zero by 2050. 

I assume he will have to do that in a very public and real way soon and early on. But that NDC is going to be a big indicator to activists of, how serious the administration is and what they think they can deliver. We've already heard most people think anything less than 50% by 2030, is going to be rejected as insufficiently ambitious. I know from work that we've done at the Center for American Progress on our 100% clean future report, that's really difficult.

Jason Bordoff:  That's ambitious, given the tools we have and how far off track--

Christy Goldfuss:  But I'm the first to say that I have no idea what industry and innovation is going to come along in this time period. But 10 years is just not that long.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah. And I hope they will see elevated ambition, but also increased focus on implementation, technical and financial assistance, because, many countries are not on track to meet the Paris agreements from five years ago, nevertheless, raise their ambition. So we need to do both.

Christy Goldfuss:  And the tension in the government and we know many of our friends who will be in there having this discussion, is going to be what's realistic, and what's ambitious. And the thing about ambition that is so important in climate targets, is it communicates seriousness, to industry, to markets, to corporations, to activists, to the rest of the world. It can't be so out of line with what is possible, however, to not even be credible. So how you walk that fine line of being serious and credible, but ambitious, is the question that they're going to have to answer.

Jason Bordoff:  That's why there was enthusiasm about Xi's commitment for China to be carbon neutral by 2060. But clearly a lot of interest in seeing what the next five year plan would look like and whether it is meaningfully different. And that gives you some sense of whether the longer term targets are being taken seriously, today.

Christy Goldfuss:  And most of the noise right now is that mostly they're considering business as usual for the next decade. And that seems very hard to even figure out how you reach that 2060 target if there isn't change in the next 10 years.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, the 2030 target was changed a little bit, but not enough to give confidence about 2060, in my view. I want to close by giving a shout out to my colleague, Jully Merino who runs our Women and Energy Program here at the Center. And a lot of its members and our students listening this podcast. And I was wondering if you, we did it, because this is a sector in the industry, in the private sector, as well as in government, although looks like it may be different in the Biden administration. 

That hasn't been diverse from the standpoint of gender too often. What advice do you have, given your career for young women interested in entering the energy sector and men and women who want to make it a place that is more diverse going forward?

Christy Goldfuss:  Take a chance. Far too often, especially women, we try and talk ourselves out of things, not try and we do, we talk ourselves out. Before the job is even offered to us, we decide we don't have time, we decide we're not qualified. So we don't even try. And if my career told me anything, I never, ever expected to get to lead the Council on Environmental Quality and advise the president. 

But I jumped in on opportunities, or embraced struggles, where I didn't have the knowledge, and I had no idea what I was talking about, but became friends and learned from very smart people and studied. You have to take risks on yourself, and you have to be willing to fail. And that's true across the board for women. But it's particularly difficult in highly technical fields. This is true across the board with climate. It is easy for very smart people to be scared about sounding stupid, when they're talking about climate change. 

Because there's so many technical numbers and targets and different sectors. And my advice to women is to believe in yourself more than you are comfortable, take a risk and jump in on a job even if it's not exactly what you want. Know where you're headed, and get in the zone. And that is how you can make progress, on your career. Because that's how, you meet the right people, you get the right experience, and you put yourself in the position to make the long term gains, and really fulfill your dream, which I assume many of your listeners have a dream of having high impact. 

And so I'll end with my final plug, which is, if any of them are considering going into the federal government, one of the silver linings of the Trump administration will be that, there is going to be a massive repopulating of the federal government with people, who care about climate change, who want to solve this problem, who are smart and dedicated, and young. 

And new authorities that allow people coming out of and just finishing their academic stints to go into federal service, and now is the time to do it. We need you more than ever, and it's going to be exciting and thrilling and fun.

Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, that is certainly the case on Columbia's campus. And there are, often reasons is to see the glass is half empty rather than half full when we look at the, where we're headed in dealing with the climate crisis. But one of the things that gives you a lot of optimism is seeing the passion and that the young people that we teach every day have for being part of the solution. 

Christy, always fascinating to talk with you. Thanks for your public service, for your leadership in the environmental movement and for your friendship. I really enjoyed spending time with you. Thank you.

Christy Goldfuss:  You as well. And thank you to Columbia for its leadership on climate. It is just really incredible in your whole program, first of its kind. So thank you,

Jason Bordoff:  Christy, thanks so much again for being with us. And thanks to all of you our listeners for joining us on this episode of Columbia Energy Exchange. For more information about the podcast or the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at or follow us on social media @ColumbiaUEnergy. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you next time.