A Conversation with Kevin de León and Ernest Moniz

Filed under Elemental

Emerson Collective sat down with the former California State Senator, and the former U.S. Secretary of Energy and current Emerson Collective Distinguished Fellow on why meaningful environmental changes are technically and politically feasible.

Ernie Moniz and Kevin de León spoke with Emerson Collective in advance of an appearance at Stanford University, where Moniz presented a new report titled Optionality, Flexibility, & Innovation: Pathways for Deep Decarbonization in California. Their message was one of hope—that meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are within our reach. “We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work,” Moniz says.

Emerson Collective: We can see with bills like Senator de León’s SB 100, there has been some progress on climate reform happening at the state and local levels. How can we ensure that this kind of transformation has meaningful large-scale and national implications?

Kevin de León: I think what's exciting is that this is happening state by state. You have three states (Hawaii, California, New Mexico) that are statutorily bound to 100 percent clean energy by the year 2045. This is critical because the world is watching very closely what we do in the United States, and especially in California. What's exciting about today is that Secretary Moniz's paper validates what we actually believe: That it is technically feasible to get 100 percent renewable, clean energy by the year 2045. Ultimately, we would like to see a national framework that's not feasible under the current political circumstances. I think sub-nationals will demonstrate to Washington that they will lead with or without their support.

Ernest Moniz: Of course when President Trump announced the withdrawal from Paris in 2017, it was disappointing in many ways, but what was then very encouraging was that within days you had an outpouring of statements from mayors, governors, and business, all saying thank you very much but we are staying the course on a low-carbon transition. That suggests that there can be the kind of viral spread of the commitment to low carbon that we are seeing the beginning of with all these various state leaders.

Within a 2030 timeframe, we're not going to bet on the outcomes of breakthrough innovations with brand-new technologies. So we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of pursuing all of the pathways to meet those aggressive intermediate goals in 2030. The good news in our report is that if you maintain as much flexibility as you can, if you focus on all the tools at your disposal, you can meet those 2030 goals, which are essential to then set up the foundation for the 2050 goals.

Now, the states that have come forward with the very strong commitments that Kevin mentioned, they’re very different. That’s another thing that we emphasize: We are going to need state and regional approaches to low carbon that are going to be, if you like, fit to purpose.

de León: Not a one-size-fits-all.

Moniz: Exactly. And California has many advantages that a lot of other states don't have. Everything from a pretty moderate climate where most of the people are, the investment climate in Silicon Valley, a huge manufacturing base, and of course, tremendous research universities.

Solutions that are technically innovative in the end, but also that reflect the social equity issues, are absolutely essential.

ERNEST MONIZ, FORMER U.S. ENERGY SECRETARY

The state or regional flexibility that you’re talking about….can you describe how you envision that?

Moniz: The idea is that we succeed in our goals as fast as we can by putting together the political coalitions we need, built upon realistic solutions. That’s Number 1. And Number 2: Solutions that are technically innovative in the end, but also that reflect the social equity issues that are absolutely essential. It’s all about looking at low carbon at the same time that one is looking at the social equity issues. And that’s an ‘and,’ not an ‘or.’

You have to forcefully— with intentionality—democratize the benefits of climate change. Left to the market forces, we'll leave many folks behind who'll be mostly impacted due to climate.

KEVIN DE LEÓN, FORMER CALIFORNIA STATE SENATOR

How do you ensure that equity is the cornerstone of this? How do you make sure that disadvantaged communities are being included in this vision?

de León: It requires leadership. It requires the weight of the law. It has to be hardwired into every policy at the sub-national and national level to make sure that those communities that are disproportionally impacted by greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, sulfur, methane, the other six main greenhouse gases and other pollutants are in fact benefitting from technologies that will improve health outcomes. We have to allow them to access the latest, the greatest, the cleanest and most innovative and greenest technologies. We have to make sure that's hard-wired statutorily because if we don't, then this runs the risk of becoming a boutique-ish industry where the electric vehicles, storage, and energy-efficient homes will only be accessible to those with the highest educational attainment and the financial wherewithal. That’s why you have to forcefully— with intentionality—democratize the benefits of climate change. Left to the market forces, we'll leave many folks behind who'll be mostly impacted due to climate.

Moniz: Let me just add a couple of points to that. One is that keeping a strong connection with labor is another factor in seeing these equity issues addressed. Number 2, we need to keep this, as Kevin is saying, in the foreground of what policy is. So for example, suppose a major piece of the low-carbon trajectory is a significant price on carbon emissions. If that's the case, how those resources are used is a critical issue and if one keeps the social equity thoughts in the foreground, that will lead to progressive use of those funds. Because if you don't, it's very easily becoming a socially regressive tax. And as Kevin says, we can't afford that.