There will be many bumps along the road as America transitions to a clean power system. That’s the pragmatic assessment offered by Lori Bennear, the Juli Plant Grainger Associate Professor of Energy Economics and Policy and Executive Vice Dean at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Our complete conversation is here.
As you probably know, in these podcasts, I converse with leading experts from academia, government, industry, and NGOs, who are working at the intersection of economics and environmental policy. Professor Lori Bennear belongs in this group.
Bennear, whose academic research focuses on evaluating environmental policies and improving methods and techniques for conducting these evaluations, has devoted recent years to studying issues relating to environmental justice and just tranistion, particularly surrounding the “winners” and “losers” who will emerge from the clean energy transition.
“We are in the process of [a] … once in many, many generations transition in our energy system, the likes of which we can’t … really imagine. But it’s going to involve significant land use changes, and changes to the way electricity is generated,” she says. “A lot of that is exciting from an environmental standpoint because they’re lower carbon. We have this opportunity to do this in a way that extends those benefits more evenly across the population than the fossil fuel-based energy system did, and potentially doesn’t centralize the costs of that energy system in particular communities in the same way that the fossil fuel energy system did. But we have to do that consciously from the beginning.”
Bennear admits that some areas of the country that are economically dependent on fossil fuels, including her home state of Wyoming, will suffer in the near term and accommodations must be made to reduce the negative impacts on those communities. She also remarks that there may be other downsides associated with some of the new energy sources which must be taken into account.
“While they’re good for carbon, they’re not perfectly great along every environmental dimension,” she states. “There’s waste associated with them. There’s mining associated with them. We need to take that in holistically from the beginning.”
Discussing the role of regulation in high-risk industries such as offshore oil exploration, Bennear emphasizes that government can only do so much.
“We need a series of both safety systems and safety processes that are tied to a safety culture, only some of which regulation can actually really dictate. That’s a hard pill to swallow, because on the one hand … we’re still dependent on these industries in many ways,” she remarks. “There have to be processes in place that reward people for valuing safety. That’s a harder thing. There’s a huge role for industry in that, which also gets some folks in the environmental community, gets their backs up because they feel like industry has too much say over what these regulatory processes should be. But they also have the expertise and the experience to actually make them happen.”
For this and much more, I hope you will listen to my compete conversation with Lori Bennear, which is the 36th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. You can find a transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Previous episodes have featured conversations with:
- Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change
- Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition
- Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Jos Delbeke, professor at the European University Institute in Florence and at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and formerly Director-General of the European Commission’s DG Climate Action
- David Keith, professor at Harvard and a leading authority on geoengineering
- Joe Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, with considerable experience working on climate change policy issues in the U.S. government
- Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, and an authority on infectious disease policy
- Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, and founding co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School.
- Sue Biniaz, who was the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator for the United States from 1989 until early 2017.
- Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kelley Kizier, Associate Vice President for International Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
- David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell International.
- Vicky Bailey, 30 years of experience in corporate and government positions in the energy sector.
- David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.
- Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk at the The New York Times.
- Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times from Washington.
- Spencer Dale, BP Group Chief Economist.
- Richard Revesz, professor at the NYU School of Law.
- Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environment and Law at Yale University.
- William Hogan, Raymond Plank Research Professor of Global Energy Policy at Harvard.
- Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
- John Graham, Dean Emeritus, Paul O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University.
- Gernot Wagner, Clinical Associate Professor at New York University.
- John Holdren, Research Professor, Harvard Kennedy School.
- Larry Goulder, Shuzo Nishihara Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Stanford University.
- Suzi Kerr, Chief Economist, Environmental Defense Fund.
- Sheila Olmstead, Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin.
- Robert Pindyck, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Professor of Economics and Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management.
- Gilbert Metcalf, Professor of Economics, Tufts University.
- Navroz Dubash, Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
- Paul Joskow, Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics emeritus, MIT.
- Maureen Cropper, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland.
- Orley Ashenfelter, the Joseph Douglas Green 1895 Professor of Economics, Princeton University.
- Jonathan Wiener, the William and Thomas Perkins Professor of Law, Duke Law School.
“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.