A Broad Ranging Conversation from Energy Policy to Social Injustice

As readers of this blog know, in our monthly podcast – “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program – produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, I chat about policy and practice with interesting people who are working at the interface of economics, energy, and the environment, whether from academia, NGOs, business, or government.  My guest in our most recent podcast fits that description to a tee.  Vicky Bailey has had over 30 years of experience in high-level, national and international, corporate executive, and government positions in the energy sector.  You can listen to my conversation with Vicky Bailey here.

I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of knowing and working with Vicky for more than 20 years, originally as part of a multi-year Harvard energy project directed by my colleague Professor Bill Hogan

Vicky has served as Commissioner of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, appointed by President Bill Clinton, and as President and CEO of PSI Energy, Inc., Indiana’s largest electric utility, now Duke Indiana.  Reflecting her bipartisanship, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the first Assistant Secretary of Energy for both International Affairs and Domestic Policy.  In the Obama administration, she was appointed by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, and in 2014, to the National Petroleum Council by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Vicky is the founder of Anderson Stratton International LLC, management advisory services.  She has served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards, including the Board of Directors of Resources for the Future, the Washington-based think tank, which has brought Vicky and me together again!

At the outset of our conversation, Vicky notes that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way people work and live, and thereby having profound effects on energy demand.  “Working from home will change energy demand. We can plan for some things, but this is something probably we hadn’t planned for, but we’re seeing energy demand come back.  Things are coming back, but it’s very slow and coming back in a different way.”

Reflecting upon what she thought might be the most significant change in the energy sector that she has witnessed, Vicky responds that discussions about energy, the environment, and climate change are much more politicized today than they were 20 years ago.  

“The words ‘climate change’ seem to now conjure up positions or sides. That wasn’t the way it was for me coming along.” She cited the important work of late Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, a moderate Republican who saw the threat of global warming through the lens of a farmer.  He was a strong supporter of climate because he recognized that the environment can cause stress on crops, which then has an issue as it relates to feeding, getting that produce, and getting that out to feed people.”  Validating how times have changed, we discuss the fact that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 passed in the House of Representatives with the support of approximately 97 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans.

Near the end of our conversation, I note that the brutal killing of George Floyd in May of this year – and brutality toward many other black men and women over the years – has greatly increased national consciousness about personal and systemic racism – both in the United States and globally.  In this regard, I ask Vicky if she can share her perceptions, given her truly diverse set of experiences in business and government. Her response is heart-felt and full, and so I want to share with you an extended, albeit edited, part of what Vicky Bailey has to say:

“Yes. It has been a hard time. The murder of George Floyd that we all witnessed, or those of us who did see this video and see it on TV and other areas, you can’t unsee that.  And you have to say, why? Why is that happening? Why did it turn into that? And even if you thought, Well, okay, he did something bad, he did something criminal, doesn’t he at least get to make it to the jailhouse?   Can we make it to the jailhouse? Others seem to be able to do that, even though they commit horrendous crimes. They seem to be able to make it to the jailhouse, and our men and women don’t.  And so we’re weary of that.”

“And people are angry about that. They see other segments of society treated differently and given latitudes and benefits of the doubt, that other segments are not.  So, I don’t agree with violence and those of you who know me, I’m not a sharp elbow. I’m not a loud and boisterous kind of individual.  But there are those who feel that you don’t hear them. You don’t hear their cries.  You don’t feel their pain. Unless we come out and speak loudly, this behavior is just going to continue.  It just seems to continue. And for me, it’s a time for reflection. It’s a time for conversation. It’s a time to lend your voice. Don’t be afraid to do so.”

“But I am optimistic. I believe in America. I have said that through my own public service. And I believe we always aspire to do better, but we need our leaders. We need our leadership:  leadership and character, what we teach our children from kindergarten on.  We are a great country, but we continue to strive to do better.  And that’s what I want to appeal to. I want to appeal to that. That better side of us.”

All of this and more is found in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” Listen to this latest discussion here.  You can find a complete transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

My conversation with Vicky Bailey is the fourteenth episode in the Environmental Insights series.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.


Opportunities and Risks for Green Economic Recovery

In our most recent (August 19th) webinar in the series of Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA), I had the pleasure of hosting Rachel Kyte, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  This webinar series features leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government.  In this case, my guest has had her feet planted firmly in more than one of those realms.  Previously Dean Kyte served as a Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, and before that was Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank.  A video recording and transcript of the webinar are available here.

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Due to the global COVID pandemic, the webinar was executed remotely.  The consequent economic downturns have made many countries think about the design of their respective economic recovery packages, including the possibility of greening recovery policies and instruments.  This was the topic of Rachel Kyte’s presentation, “Using the Pandemic Recovery to Spur the Clean Transition – Opportunities and Potential Pitfalls.”

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Citing the fact that 180 nations are in severe recessions, with some possibly teetering on the brink of depression, Dean Kyte describes the current moment as an opportunity to “pivot to a trajectory that would get us closer to being on track for the kind of economic pathway forward that we would need to reach zero net emissions by mid-century … in order to combat the worst impacts of climate change.”  Leveraging that opportunity, however, will be complicated, Kyte explained, noting that the severe economic stress caused by the pandemic is “testing the boundaries of international solidarity.”

“We are about to see over the fall, I think, some of the cumulative impacts of the economic crisis on our financial systems. And we can see that the traditional mechanisms and multinational cooperation which we rely upon in order to attack issues of global public good are straining. They are straining with COVID and they are straining with the impacts of climate change,” she says.

It is imperative, she argues, for citizens, institutions, and governments to recognize the severity of the situation, and muster the political will to address the severe economic pains caused both by the pandemic and unmitigated climate change.

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“We will really be putting pressure on the systems that are normally in place to support that – the IMF, the multinational development banks, the role of central banks,” she points out. “In these economic crises, it is the least well off, the most vulnerable, and the most vulnerable to climate change, who are impacted the most. And what we’re looking at is wiping out the advances that have been made in poverty alleviation over the last few years. That has huge impacts for the way we think about vulnerability to climate change going forward.”

Over the short-term, however, Rachel Kyte acknowledges that economic contractions have reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as global energy demand is expected to fall by about six percent in 2020, compared with 2019. But demand will pick back up when economies rebound, she notes, unless there are systematic efforts to change it. Those efforts, she remarks, can be strategically incorporated into economic relief packages that will continue to emerge.

“There are, I think, a number of think tank groups, [and other] regional bodies now suggesting that there are clear policy priorities in order to be able to hit that sweet spot of short-term recovery, but also a cleaner and faster pathway down the energy transition,” she remarks. She specifically cites the need for green “shovel-ready” projects aligned with rescue plans for distressed industries that adhere to a pathway of deep decarbonization and increased energy efficiency. Rachel also discusses the need for smart private finance and investment in green technologies, and sufficient international cooperation necessary to spare developing countries crushing debt loads that would cripple their climate change mitigation efforts.

Referring to the nature of such a green energy pivot, she remarks that, “We’re at a moment where we need both scaffolding and scholarship or new design. The scaffolding is that we have an international system that helps us respond to pandemics, that helps us respond to economic crises, and that should help us to respond to climate change. And that system is really underperforming, at risk, and under strain.  So, we have to in this immediate phase put scaffolding around it and help it limp forward and help us all limp forward together.”

During the webinar, after concluding her presentation, Dean Kyte fields questions from the audience, including the risks of economic rescue packages that worsen the effects of climate change, the potential for reductions in Overseas Development Assistance budgets to the developing world, the challenges of green aid in Africa, obstacles facing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in making substantive progress, Mexico’s mixed record on climate change policy, and potential incentives to encourage developing countries to adopt green recovery trajectories. 

All of this and more can be heard and seen at this website.  I hope you will check it out.

Previous webinar in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – have featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets, and Jake Werksman’s assessment of the European Union’s Green New Deal

The next HPCA Conversation on Climate Change and Energy Policy is scheduled for September 8th with guest Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University.  Click here to register in advance for that webinar.


Global Climate Change and the Future of the Oil & Gas Industry

I recognize that some followers of this blog may consider the oil and gas industry to be the moral equivalent of the tobacco companies – out to maximize profit without considering the broader, social implications of the use of their products.  And some may paint the oil industry with a rather broad brush, maintaining that the major oil and gas multinationals do not differ in significant ways from one another.

David Hone, my guest in the latest episode of our podcast, “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” exemplifies a somewhat different reality, which makes it particularly interesting to engage with him in a wide-ranging conversation about the past, present, and future of the oil industry at a time of increasing concern about global climate change, linked with the combustion of fossil fuels.

David has been working in the oil industry for some 40 years, where for the past 20 years, he’s been focused exclusively on addressing global climate change.  Indeed, his title at Shell International is “Chief Climate Change Adviser.”  In addition, he is a board member – and former chairman of the board –of the International Emissions Trading Association, and a member of the board of directors of C2ES – the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

In our conversation, Hone describes investments by oil and gas companies to diversify beyond exclusive reliance on fossil fuels.  “I think what’s apparent today is that the industry is starting a pathway of transition. That’s been building momentum over the last few years, as companies have started to look at their portfolio, think about the longer term, look at the opportunities that are out there, look at the future energy mix,” Hone states. “But I think where people perhaps have problems with all of this is that they imagine a very fast transition, and they forget about the immense scale that this industry rests on.  It’s providing not just Shell, but all these companies a hundred million barrels of oil per day into the global economy.  And that’s not just going to vanish in any short period of time.”

I ask Hone about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the oil and gas industry.  He acknowledges that the pandemic has caused some real hardships for the industry, but notes that the industry’s flexibility has allowed it to respond fairly effectively, at least over the short term.

“[The] immediate problem has been largely addressed, but there’s still a period I think ahead of weak demand, which the industry is going to have to deal with,” he states.  “And that will probably modify the rate at which the various companies, not just the companies like Shell, but the international oil companies, the rate at which they invest.  So, it will take a while for the whole system to correct to this, but it will correct.”

Shifting the discussion to international climate change policy, Hone speaks highly of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), crediting its simple design for getting the continent closer toward net-zero emissions.

“It’s focused very much on large emitters that are quite price responsive, and it has a declining cap that will eventually go to zero. The rate at which that goes is under discussion at the moment, but nevertheless, it will go to zero. And it has consistently delivered,” he says.  “We’ve seen high prices and very low prices over the last 15 years, but it just keeps ticking on and delivering. And I think that’s cause for optimism around its future.”

All of this and more is found in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” Listen to this latest discussion here.  You can find a complete transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

My conversation with David Hone is the thirteenth episode in the Environmental Insights series.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.