Carol Browner
Former Director, White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy

Joe Biden is selecting a large, experienced and diversified team to carry out his ambitious program to address climate change. Among them are John Kerry, the former secretary of state; Gina McCarthy, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Jennifer Granholm, once the governor of Michigan; and Deb Haaland, a member of Congress who would be the first Native American named to a president’s Cabinet.

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Bill Loveless discusses the Biden administration’s climate change goals and his planned appointments with Carol Browner, who spearheaded climate policy for President Barack Obama following his inauguration in 2009.

With a long and distinguished career in environmental and energy policy and regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House, Carol brings unique insight to the challenges of implementing new policies and the wherewithal that’s needed to make it happen.

Carol now is a senior counselor in the sustainability practice at the Allbright Stonebridge Group, or ASG, where she advises clients on environmental impact, sustainable strategies, and partnerships. But her roles in government go back some 30 years.

From 2009 to 2011, she was an assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, where she oversaw the coordination of environmental, energy, climate, transport and related policy across the federal government. During that time, the White House secured the largest investment ever in clean energy and established a national car policy that included both new fuel efficiency standards and the first-ever greenhouse gas reductions.

From 1993 through 2001, she was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, where she adopted the most stringent air pollution standards in U.S. history and set for the first time a clean air standard for fine particulates. Her stint at EPA is the longest ever for an administrator at that agency.

She had state experience, as well, having served as secretary of environmental regulation in Florida from 1991 through 1993.

Among her other involvements, she’s the chair of the board of the League of Conservation Voters.

Among the topics that Carol and Bill cover are the challenges the Biden administration faces in fulfilling its sweeping plans to address climate change as well as the roles that his appointments of Kerry, McCarthy and others will play in that undertaking. They also talk about the outlook for congressional action on climate change at a time when Biden and lawmakers will also be consumed with addressing a pandemic and economic troubles, not to mention the repercussions of President Trump’s impeachment.

Transcript

[00:00:00]

Bill Loveless:  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University from Washington.  I’m Bill Loveless. Joe Biden is selecting a large, experienced and diversified team to carry out his ambitious program to address climate change. Among them are John Kerry, the Former Secretary of State; Gina McCarthy, the Former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Jennifer Granholm once the Governor of Michigan and Deb Haaland, a member of Congress who would be the first Native American name to a president's cabinet. To get a better understanding of how the structure might work, I reached out to someone with a similar experience in a previous administration, Carol Browner, she spearheaded climate policy for President Barack Obama following his inauguration in 2009. With a long and distinguished career in environmental and energy policy and regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House, Carol brings unique insight to the challenges of implementing new policies and the wherewithal that's needed to make it happen. Carol now is a senior counselor in the sustainability practice at Albright Stonebridge Group, or ASG, where she advises clients on environmental impact sustainable strategies and partnerships, but her roles in government go back some 30 years from 2009 to 2011, she was an assistant to President Obama and Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. There, she oversaw the coordination of environmental energy, climate transport and related Policy across the federal government. During that time, the White House secured the largest investment ever in clean energy and established a national car policy that included both new fuel efficiency standards and the first ever greenhouse gas reductions. From 1993 through 2001, she was Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, where she adopted the most stringent air pollution standards in US history, and set for the first time, a clean air standard for fine particulates. Her stented EPA is the longest ever for an administrator at that agency. She had state experience as well, having served as Secretary of Environmental Regulation in Florida from 1991 through 1993. Among her other involvements Carol's at the chair of the board of the League of Conservation Voters. In our conversation, Carol and I look at the challenges, the Biden administration faces in fulfilling its sweeping plans to address climate change, as well as the roles that his appointments of Kerry, McCarthy and others will play in the undertaking. We talked too about the outlook for congressional action on climate change, at a time when Biden and lawmakers will also be consumed with addressing a pandemic and economic troubles, not to mention the repercussions of political turmoil in Washington. Well, here's our conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Carol Browner, welcome to Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[0:03:03]

Carol Browner: Thank you. Nice to be here.

 

[0:03:04]

Bill Loveless:  Carol, President, like Biden has made addressing climate change a top priority with plans for sweeping actions across the government to reduce emissions. his commitment here seems even bigger than that of the Obama administration in which you served. How do these two approaches compare?

 

[0:03:26]

Carol Browner:  Well, I think it is, by far the most aggressive plan ever put forward by a candidate and now President-Elect. I think in part it reflects the change in the science we know much more the scientists, in the last 12 years have really changed their view of how quickly we need to act, the breadth of what we need to do. And I think President-Elect Biden has certainly captured that in his plan. I think for the times, what President Obama did was quite significant deciding to use the Clean Air Act pursuant to the Supreme Court decision to regulate greenhouse gases, even though they're not mentioned in the law was considered very aggressive, the work he did on energy efficiency. So I think each of them deserves a lot of credit for sort of stepping up and keeping pace with the times and what the science is telling us.

 

[0:04:16]

Bill Loveless:  Well, you were the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate change policy under President Obama from 2009 to 2011, a position in which you were dubbed the energy or climate czar. Now, Gina McCarthy, one of the two heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, under President Obama, of course, has a similar job. What was your responsibility under President Obama and how does it compare to what McCarthy will do for Biden?

 

[0:04:47]

Carol Browner:  So President Obama created a new office, it had never been done before and sort of put on equal footing with the NSC, the NEC, the DPC, all of the council's that exist inside the White House Climate Change and Energy. So that was that was a first. And it was an important first because what it allowed me to do as the head of that office as an assistant to the president is coordinate across the government sort of create an entity that was working with all of government, not just the traditional agencies that might have expressed an interest in climate change, but really all of government. And for example, the first thing we did was work across the EPA and the Department of Transportation to establish the most aggressive fuel efficiency and the first ever climate or greenhouse gas standards for automobiles and so having that presence in the White House allowed for that coordinating.

 

President-Elect Biden is following that model, he has, again, created this office, it will play a very important coordinating role, a leadership role. I think it's awesome that he's brought Gina in, Gina McCarthy, because one of the tools available to Mr. Biden is the regulatory agenda, right? He can go to Congress and try and get investments which he will do try and get new legislation, which he will do. But in the meantime, there are laws on the books that allow you to begin the process or follow on the process that Obama started. And Gina McCarthy, being a former regulator understands those and I think that's hugely important that he has looked to a former EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy to join or to lead this effort in the White House.

 

[0:06:24]

Bill Loveless:  Well, how difficult will it be to coordinate a policy across so many agencies? I was reading this morning, a story in the Washington Post, I believe that said, you know, there's some 20 agencies, for example, that have science funding in the government. You know, it seems that broad implementation is even more extensive than what you faced under President Obama.

 

[0:06:51]

Carol Browner:  Well, there would be agencies with jurisdiction have not changed. The agencies who have decided to make climate change a priority has probably grown. So the jurisdiction existed, but they weren't prioritizing it. I think that has changed. And I think that's good news. Look, it's not without its challenges. When you sit inside the White House, the authority you have is the White House, you don't have a law that granted you authority. When you're sitting over at EPA, where I was for eight years, I had laws, I had 13 different laws that told me what to do and how to do it. And you know when to do it.

 

In the White House, you have the bully pulpit, you have the president, that's not insignificant. And the trick, I would say, to using your authority in the White House, is how do you achieve more than just the sum of the parts. So for example, I'll use cars. It's an easy example, you had EPA had authority because of a Supreme Court decision. The Department of Transportation had authority because Congress had given them authority to regulate, I'm sorry to set fuel efficiency standards. Each of them could have followed their authority. And you would have had two sets of instructions to automobile manufacturers. And they probably would have conflicted in some ways. And the beauty of the office is you can take those two authorities and work with the expertise in those two agencies, and weave it together to get more than you would otherwise get.

 

And so I said to President Obama, when we were done doing the deal, we had the car companies involved with the state of California, we had the environmentalists, we had the unions, we had EPA, we had Department of Transportation all at the table. I said, you know, I quoted Mick Jagger, you can't always get what you want. But sometimes you get what you need. And what we were able to do through the auspices of the White House is make sure everybody got what they need it to achieve more fuel efficiency than had ever been done 54.5 miles per gallon. That means savings for the consumers at the pump, it means environmental gains, and it means for the industry certainty, so they would start to make the large scale investments that we're now seeing come to fore in terms of electric vehicles. And so that's the power of that office, which is to get more than just the sum of the parts.

 

[0:08:58]

Bill Loveless:  And the people assigned to these roles, of course, is important too. And I think one or I know one advantage of speaking to someone like you is you not only were in a similar position in the White House previously, but you know, probably most if not all of these people that the President-Elect Biden has selected, you mentioned Gina McCarthy, and why as a former regulator, she is probably an important pick for that position of a Domestic Energy and Climate Coordinator. What else is it about her that makes her suitable for that job?

 

[0:09:32]

Carol Browner:  One, I think it is her regulatory experience. I think it is her relationship with the president-elect that is extremely important. You know, all of the players on climate change, or virtually all of them, they know each other. And that's important because you got to hit the ground running. We don't have six months to build relationships, nine months to figure out what to do. You want to start on day one, and so you know, Gina has already started to put together her team. Ali Zaidi, as a deputy, he will be an awesome deputy. He understands the budget process. He was in the state of New York doing work. You've got Brian Deese over at the NEC, where, you know, historically, the NEC has not always been a friend to environmental regulation.

 

The National Economic Council, they sometimes subscribe to the belief that somehow their environmental regulations weren't good for the economy, not a belief I share. But when they held at times, Brian has a strong record and climate change. Brian was part of the team who really made Paris happen for President Obama. You have Susan Rice at the Domestic Policy Council, again, someone familiar with and knowledgeable on climate change. You have Jake Sullivan over at the NSC. So the list goes on and on. So the idea of an all, I feel like, I sort of had a lot, they have a lot on steroids in order to get the job done. And I think it's, it is, you know, going back in the 90s, when I was running the Environmental Protection Agency, and we did some things at the time that were cutting edge and very aggressively set the first ever find particle standard. You know, I frequently encountered folks inside the administration who were not supportive.

 

My hope for everybody working on climate change in the Biden administration is that the White House is a friend and is asking, Can we go further?, Can we do more? How do we really solve this? I mean, that's night and day, different for the environmental agencies.

 

[0:11:38]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah. And you mentioned, of course, Gina McCarthy, just if we can, I'd like to touch on some of the other big appointments and tell me why they are significant. Some of them are pretty obvious. John Kerry, of course, will be the leader on international issues. When it comes to climate change, it probably is probably pretty curious.

 

[0:11:58]

Carol Browner:  I mean, I've known John a long time I knew him as a senator, campaigned for him, then obviously, at the Secretary of State, I think that is, you know, the idea that you have a person whose job it is solely to focus on the international, I think and to do so from day one. It's not part of a broader portfolio, it is a very focused portfolio. The thing to remember is that Secretary Kerry needs an aggressive domestic agenda, right, but he takes to the rest of the world, when he goes to see them and talk about our commitment is what are we doing? You know, I participated in a lot of global conversations about climate change, starting in the 90s. And when I went with President Obama to Copenhagen, which is sort of the setup, you have to deal with Kyoto before you can get to Paris and Copenhagen is that setup. I realized we were being treated differently than America was being treated differently.

 

We had been everyone had doubted us before, even during Clinton, we had been doubted in terms of our commitments. And what was the difference? The difference was, when Obama went to Copenhagen, we were regulating cars and trucks, we had put, you know, sort of, you know, our reputation in the game. We were working in Congress, we he had created an office in the White House, all of those things legitimize President Obama in and in the in the US in those global conversations, and they were the tone was totally different. And that's how you get to Paris. So for Secretary Kerry as the envoy, you know, he needs an aggressive domestic agenda, the fact that he and Gina know each other have worked together, you know, Gina has to deliver that for him. And so I'm very, you know, optimistic that not just about who the individuals are, but how they have to interact, to create the kind of agenda that will give us legitimacy in the global conversations.

 

[0:13:52]

Bill Loveless:  And, of course, Biden has said, he will immediately put the US back in the Paris Climate Agreement is, that's important.

 

[0:14:04]

Carol Browner:  It's important, very important. I mean, it's, you know, we're not going to, I don't think they're going to send it to the Senate for ratification. But it is still a really important global commitment. And remember, I mean, the simplest way to think about Paris is each country develops an agenda develops their plans for how they're going to achieve measurable, sustainable reductions.

 

[0:14:26]

Bill Loveless:  Well, I'd like to touch on a couple of other people as well at the Department of Energy. His selection is the former Michigan Governor, Jennifer Granholm, what can you tell us about Jennifer Granholm?

 

[0:14:38]

Carol Browner:  Well, Governor Granholm has a long record on these issues. And during the Obama era when she was governor was very instrumental in leading the charge for a battery investment and certainly within certain sectors, we understand that having batteries in terms of storing renewable energy, having batteries for electric vehicles is hugely important. And, you know, one of the Department of Energy has a lot of different tools available. Obviously, it has some regulatory tools, for example, energy efficiency standards. But it has ARPA-E, which is probably one of the most important parts in my mind of the Department of Energy, because of the investments it can make in the next generation technologies. And, you know, we are going to have to bring to the forefront more and more technologies. And so her leadership on batteries, I take from that, you know, this is someone who is committed to next generation technology. So I think very exciting and hopefully, we will see ARPA-E funded in a way that they can make the sort of large scale investments that are really going to be key to meeting the timeframes that the scientists are giving us.

 

[0:15:52]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, there's been a lot of talk of that advanced research project agency, ARPA-E getting substantially more funding than it ever has. It's it's sort of gotten by a few 100 million a year since its inception, some 10 years ago or so a couple other names, Deb Haaland, Congresswoman Deb Haaland, she would from New Mexico, she would be the Secretary of the Interior and the first Native American to serve in a cabinet.

 

[0:16:20]

Carol Browner:  In some ways, it's just it. I mean, it's so inspiring, that we will finally have a Native American leading the Department of theInterior, when you think about all of the things that have happened to on Indian lands, for hundreds of years now. She has a big agenda. I know her, we served on a committee together, I feel like there couldn't have been a better pick. You know, one of the powers that exists in the federal government that is not been widely used, I used it when I was at EPA was to recognize tribal governments as a government to government relationship. So the federal government recognizes all 50 states as a government to government relationship. And so what that means that EPA is if a state demonstrates the capacity and the funding, EPA can actually transfer some authority to manage environmental issues on a day to day basis, for example, the permitting of power plants, pursuant to EPA guidelines, but nevertheless, the state's handle it and there's a lot of reasons that makes sense.

 

The same authority exists for tribal governments. It has not been widely used. When I was at EPA, we began to grant this authority, again, where they could demonstrate the technical capabilities, the funding capability, et cetera. And it's usually important, and I would certainly hope to see that kind of commitment to tribal governments to allow them to manage, water issues, environmental issues, on their lands on their historic lands.

 

[0:17:52]

Bill Loveless:  Well, last, but not least of those I would bring up here is Michael Regan, the new or the president-elect selection for EPA, your old agency, what can you tell us about him?

 

[0:18:06]

Carol Browner:  So you know, there's, there's a bit of a joke among all of us who have been at EPA that, you know, this is the model Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson, Gina McCarthy, we all came out of state government, we ran large state environmental agencies. And that's where you really learn how to be a regulator. I mean, a regulator is a little bit different. You have to make decisions. Sometimes at the state I was making permitting decisions, like, do you get that wetland permit? Do you not get that wetland permit? How do we structure it? And you know, every enforcement decisions? How do you enforce, who do you enforce against? when do you enforce? So you know, I think there's sort of no better training to run the EPA than state government. And, you know, North Carolina, under Michael, under the governor has been quite aggressive on climate change. And so I think he comes to the agency, he did actually work in the agency right out of college.

 

[0:18:58]

Bill Loveless:  Really?

 

[0:18:58]

Carol Browner:  So really, yes, yes. He, he worked, I think in the office of water. I think it was, yeah, right out of college, or shortly after college. And so he's been on the inside. You know, I think that and, you know, obviously I'm EPA is my favorite. I do think it is an agency that has been really, really impacted by this administration. I think that the worker for Scott Pruitt and then Andy Wheeler, not just the stuff that you saw that made it onto the front page of the New York Times The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, but what was going on day in and day out in terms of really dismantling how the agency does its job, so not just the decisions it makes or you know, not enforcing the law or not regulate a pollutant or weaken a regulation on a pollutant, but sort of how the science functions, how the agency does all of those big decisions. And I think there was a concerted effort to undermine the decision making capabilities of the agency, it can be rebuilt, and I think someone who's been on the inside is now, you know, as a young person and went and ran a state agency and is coming back couldn't be a better choice.

 

[0:20:06]

Bill Loveless:  Right? Well, you know, given…

 

[0:20:11]

Carol Browner:  I think you're left out. Can I suggest…

 

[0:20:13]

Bill Loveless:  [Laughter] absolutely.

 

[0:20:15]

Carol Browner:  I think Brenda Mallory at CEQ, very important. And then last week, they announced Cecilia Martinez to lead the environmental justice efforts. One of the things that I think is particularly noteworthy about President-Elect Biden and sort of how he evolved as a candidate is his recognition and commitment to addressing environmental justice. When I worked for President Clinton, when I was at EPA, we led the effort to draft and have signed the first ever executive order on environmental comprehensive order on environmental justice, President-Elect Biden has committed to strengthening that to really updating it, and I think, selecting someone with the specific job of Environmental Justice League, I apologize, I don't remember her title. And Cecilia, who comes out of the environmental justice movement, I think, is a hugely important statement and demonstrates an ongoing commitment from President-Elect Biden.

 

[0:21:20]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right. I just got a Washington post clip in front of me here. And it says, she is a prominent environmental justice advocate based in Minneapolis, who advised the transition team, the Biden transition team.

 

[0:21:32]

Carol Browner:  Yeah, so I think those I mean, that's, that's a serious team of leaders. You know, there are some other positions to come that will be important, obviously, the head of enforcement at the Department of Justice, EPA has the enforcement authority embedded in its laws, but it is really led by the Department of Justice, I think that will be hugely important. Because so much of what EPA does, and so much of how we think about climate, includes the public health consequences, you know, clearly working with public health experts across the government, I think the issues of resiliency and adaptation. So the Department of Transportation, for example, makes, you know, large scale investments in infrastructure, how you build that infrastructure, how you manage that infrastructure has resiliency and adaptation consequences. And so it really is an all of government effort. And I'm so excited that, you know, so many of the people in the cabinet have been leaders in spoken to the issue of climate change. They're not just coming to it, it's been part and parcel of how they thought about the future.

 

[0:22:42]

Bill Loveless:  That was one other place that's gotten beefed up quite a bit as the Office of Science and Technology Policy. I mean, there was, again, news in the past few days of a number of people that were appointed to that, including the Eric Lander, a mathematician and geneticist at MIT, as the director of that office, it will also be cabinet level. Now, I remember during the Clinton administration, when you were at EPA, and when I was in a reporter, an energy reporter in Washington. ostp was a big part of our beat, a lot of stuff happened to there, and as well as at the advisory councils associated with OSTP. And it looks like that will be coming back in strength again.

 

[0:23:27]

Carol Browner:  Yes, I'm very excited about the OSTP announcements. I agree with you. It is a very important agency. And science is sort of fundamental to how we go about making decisions. I used to be attacked by conservative members of Congress when I was at EPA saying, well, you're just free to do anything, Miss Browner. And I would always point out No, I'm not there's a law that I have to operate under. And then there's the science. And within that that's a box that I then make decisions within and I may have some latitude inside that box, but I don't have unlimited latitude. And I think that President-Elect Biden is reasserting the role of science, whether it be COVID, climate change, hugely, hugely important, you know, we have a lot of debates in this country about what governments should and shouldn't do. And they should be fact informed debates.

 

So for example, you know, science tells us that climate change is real. Now, you know, within that some scientists may argue 10 years, 12 years, whatever, but the gist of it is, it's real. And so let's have a debate about what we're going to do about it. But let's not have a debate about the site science, particularly, we're not scientists that's not our job, or that's not the job of the policymakers. The job of the policymakers is to say, Is there enough science, what is the weight of the evidence to then demand a policy action and then what is the appropriate policy action, and Congress may decide to limit the kinds of policy actions you can make to say it has to be pursuant to a cost benefit analysis, if the cost of reducing the pollution outweigh the benefits. I don't agree with this, but some would argue this. But we really need to allow the science to inform the policy. And let the scientists tell us when there is enough science to dictate a policy response.

 

[0:25:26]

Bill Loveless:  But when you arrived at the White House for President Obama, it was a time of tremendous turmoil, the great recession was underway, there was very real fears of economic collapse in the United States. And it made everybody's job in government at that time very, very difficult. We're sort of in a similar situation, or at least to the extent there's turmoil today, in Washington and in the country here, following the recent Riot at the Capitol and as well as the urgent need to come to grips with the pandemic and today's economic troubles. How clearly and forcefully can the new administration address something like climate change? And can it do so soon?

 

[0:26:14]

Carol Browner:  Well, I you know, I feel like we're constantly having to revisit an argument of you have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment. You know, President Clinton came to office in difficult economic times. And yet we had, at that point in time, the most aggressive agenda in terms of air pollution and water pollution in terms of enforcement, we collected the biggest fines that had ever been collected, you know, we demonstrate it, you don't have to choose and that in many ways, a healthy environment begets a healthy economy that the two are linked, then we return to the argument at the beginning of Obama, where we're in a recession. And again, people are going, Oh, you can't, quote afford to invest in the environment? Well, the Recovery Act and President-Elect Biden who I work closely with on this, it was the largest investment in the history of the United States in Clean Energy.

 

We proved that you can build a clean energy economy, we invested in wind and solar, we fix the tax credit program so that those industries that were still nascent, could survive. And today, what do we see, we see, I live in Vermont part time I have a utility baseload is, you know, increasingly, solar there. And so you know, the idea that we're going to have that argument again, that's another we have to choose, it's like, when do we learn, I have no doubt that President Elect Biden will make significant infrastructure investments that will include what I would call, you know, sort of green jobs, investments, they will be different than the ones that President Obama made, because today, the wind and solar industry is a healthier industry. But there's still lots of other things to do and in terms of creating jobs. And so, you know, at some point, I guess, we will put this behind us this old argument, but we seem to face it every, I don't know, 812 years. And here we are, again.

 

[0:28:13]

Bill Loveless:  Do you think then the stimulus bill, the 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and as I recall, I was what $90 billion and funding for clean energy and climate related programs? I mean, is that a model for President Biden this time?

 

[0:28:26]

Carol Browner:  I hope so. You know, I certainly hope so again, I don't think you would necessarily make the exact same investments because the industry has moved, but Wall Street funds and doesn't fund has changed. I mean, one of the issues we confronted at the beginning of Obama is that the tax credits that wind and solar would get, and they would be able to monetize them, selling them to somebody with a tax liability, since they didn't have one that that market disappeared overnight, literally overnight. And so we had to figure out a way to monetize the tax credits through the Treasury Department. Right. That's not a compelling. You know, that's not the first issue today. So there will be different issues and different investments. For example, you know, I'm not in charge. But if I were I would make large scale investments in the grid, we have got to modernize our grid. It is sort of a crazy system.

 

President Obama used to joke and it's sort of true that if Thomas Edison were to reappear on the earth, he would recognize our electric system. It has changed so little since his time. I certainly think you know, that would so an investment in the grid. We did look at some investments in the grid during Obama, it's not easy to do. It is complicated because of the history of how the grid has evolved. But I think that would be an in there's also, you know, a fair number of jobs probably to be to be had. Certainly, there are other ways that the government can compel action. One of the things President-Elect Biden has talked about is the government procurement. Right?

 

The government buys a lot of things. And so you could require that we buy certain types of things in terms of their green characteristics, their clean energy characteristics. And when you do that you help, you know, stimulate investment in new technologies by the private sector who want to bring forth that the product that the government will use its procurement powers to buy. And so you have to sort of think about all the pieces of the puzzle, not just the government as regulator, not just the government as investor, but also the government as buyer. And when you look across that whole set of authorities, you know, you can start to have really, really dramatic impact.

 

[0:30:50]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah. And all of these authorities have been considered in the past, certainly, under Democratic administrations, what seems different now, is there'll be done with a lot more a lot more of a thrust than perhaps, was done previously.

 

[0:31:05]

Carol Browner:  Yeah, I again, I mean, the science changed. I mean, the scientist realized there were feedback loops, or, you know, science is constantly evolving. It's sort of a self correcting process. Right? It asks a question and sees the answer, it asks another question. And so what we've found is that the climate crisis is much more acute, than perhaps, you know, scientists had thought maybe 10 years ago. And so it has made the drive for action. And you I mean, though, I think we're talking about the government here, and we're talking about what President-Elect Biden can do, we should not discount what the private sector can do. And, you know, it's everything from an, you know, companies who have made very, very large scale commitments, not just to reducing their own footprint, but to investing in the next generation of technologies.

 

You know, if I build a lot of server farms, right, I'm in the business of building server farms, because that's my business, I get a lot of choices and how I build those server farms, I can invest in different cement technologies that are cleaner, I can invest in different kinds of materials that are cleaner, I can help to stimulate the demand, and thereby the private sector investment in those new technologies. And, you know, I think what's exciting is the idea that we do have these kind of private commitments, private sector, frequently public companies, but nevertheless, private sector commitments that can then work with what the government is doing. And so I would also see, a big focus of the Biden administration is sort of that kind of public private partnership, like what can you do? What can we do? You public sector, I mean, you private companies, you have a certain set of tools, we government have another set of tools? How do we put them together?

 

[0:32:56]

Bill Loveless:  You know, one of your initial tasks for President Obama was to orchestrate climate change legislation, and it succeeded to the extent that the House passed a cap and trade bill. But you know, the effort came to an end in 2010, when the senate failed to act on the measure what lessons from that experiment?

 

[0:33:16]

Carol Browner:  I would say came to an end, because the senate couldn't get its act together on health care, because we waited forever, for ______ [00:33:22] if Kennedy dies we wait for Grassley to come along. And guess what? We're out of time then. So who knows about it, you know, if we'd had a debate in the Senate, but you're right, we didn't get to a debate on, you know, hindsight is always much better than your current view of the world, in looking back at that effort, and I give Waxman and Markey and all of the members who work with them Pelosi who delivered the votes, a huge, huge amount of credit for making it happen. I think if I were doing it today, I would probably go on a sector by sector basis, because different sectors are used to being regulated in different ways. And so you could use different tools to get the best out of individual sectors. You know, one of the issues that the power sector has dealt with for a long time is cap and trade.

 

Now, I believe there are some real issues with cap and trade, I think, particularly for environmental justice communities, they don't always see the same benefits that other communities receive. But that might be a tool you would use in a particular sector, making sure that it didn't have the consequences, the negative consequences of environmental justice, but you might not want to use in the Ag sector, it might not make sense. You know, what we were looking at in Waxman-Markey was an economy wide program, and that's really hard to do. I give I'm Kathy Castor, who Chairs the Select Committee on climate in the house and Brian Schatz, who Chairs it in the Senate, a lot of credit for having really thought through what do you do sort of on an industry by industry sector by sector basis. And, you know, we'll see how Pelosi moves forward with what Chairwoman Castor has recommended. But I was just talking to her the other day, and it's quite a significant package recommendations.

 

[0:35:16]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah. Do you think that, you know, as a major energy or climate bill, along the lines of, I don't know, carbon tax or a clean energy standard out of the question right now?

 

[0:35:28]

Carol Browner:  Well, the two very different questions there. I think. I personally have some concerns about a carbon tax as it is frequently articulated; there is a version I think that works. But a lot of times the people talking about a carbon tax, they're talking about a set amount, and they're talking about abolishing EPA authority. The problem is a carbon tax doesn't guarantee a reduction, it may get you a reduction, but people may simply pay the cost of it. And you may get no reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. And so I would maintain EPA authority as a backstop, I would have some sort of escalation in a fee to make sure that you're achieving the reductions that the scientists tell you. And so when we talk about carbon tax, I think it's really important to talk about how it's structured, and will it actually achieve reductions? I think you asked me, you asked me…

 

[0:36:23]

Bill Loveless:  The standard..

 

[0:36:25]

Carol Browner:  Clean energy standard, I think something like 25 states have now adopted clean energy standards. And I think, you know, with great success. You know, I worry sometimes that Washington can lag behind where states have been. And so if you were to have some sort of National Clean Energy Standard, I think you'd want to be sure that you honor what states have already done. And if states have gone further, that you allow for that, that you don't preempt what they're doing. You know, I think that President-Elect Biden's commitment to 100%, clean energy, net zero no later than 2050 is an important a commitment, how you manifest that I think we need to see, but I certainly wouldn't want to undermine a state that is being more aggressive than perhaps what the United States Congress could agree to.

 

[0:37:20]

Bill Loveless:  Reducing transportation emissions will be a priority for the Biden administration. And, you know, likely through new regulations on tailpipe emissions and promotion of aggressive promotion of electric vehicles. I found fascinating back in that initial stimulus buried under Obama, the discussions that took place over transportation, and you were right in the thick of that those talks. It tell us a little bit about that. The deals that was struck and what resulted and what that might serve as a lesson for policymakers today?

 

[0:37:52]

Carol Browner:  Well, I do think there are some important lessons is, I think, just stepping back, we should note that there are many players with authority over cars and the transportation sector, so you have EPA, as you mentioned, tailpipe emissions and tailpipe emissions are a function of catalytic converters and the fuel you put in and how you tinker with the engine and things like that. You have the Department of Energy, who does the fuel efficiency standards, and you have the state of California, which, in the Clean Air Act, the Federal Clean Air Act was given authority to sort of set tougher car pollution standards, because of so much of their almost all of their pollution, historically, came from cars. And so what we realized in early on and actually, during the transition, and Obama in the election year was that we need to put all the parties at the table, and that if we could get all of those parties at the table, we could get the car companies to the table. And we could start to sort of sort through, as I said, How to, you know, get something so that everyone felt like they had gotten enough. And at the end of the day, by doing that, and having you know, everybody there, you know, in some ways, the winner was the American people, they got more efficient cars, a car that would go further on a tank of gas, and they got cleaner air, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And I think that's that that's certainly where this administration will be headed. Unfortunately, President Trump decided to undo significant portions of that and it's not to get into the weeds, but again, they were very clever about how they did some of that and so the new administration will have to go back in and sort of reassert California's authority that's in litigation now bring the car companies back to the table. But I think there's ample opportunity for them to craft something and actually, you know, it's sometimes I'll hear some of my friends say, Oh, we just need to get, we need to reinstate everything Obama did. And that would be good but not good enough. Times have changed. We need to go further. As proud as I am of what we did. And the ground we traveled for President Obama, it was good that it was great then it was more than people thought we could do. Not good enough now.

 

[0:40:05]

Bill Loveless:  Well, it's been a truly, been a timely conversation, Carol, and thanks for taking the time for joining us on Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[0:40:14]

Carol Browner:  Well, thank you and thank you all for what you do and helping to educate people. It's so important and it can sound very technical, but at the end of the day, it's really about how we as families, communities, live our lives, where we live our lives. It's about protecting our air, it's about protecting our water. It's about charting a clean and sustainable future and it is so doable.

 

[0:40:39]

Bill Loveless:  Agreed.

 

[0:40:40]

Carol Browner:  Thank you.

 

[0:40:41]

Bill Loveless:  For more on the Columbia Energy Exchange and the Center on Global Energy Policy. Find us on the web at energy policy.columbia.edu and on social media at Columbiauenergy. And if you haven't done so yet, please give us a rating on your favorite podcast platform that helps us grow even more for Columbia Energy Exchange. I'm Bill loveless. We'll be back again next week with another conversation.