Episode 100: Robert Verchick, Author, & Dr. Leslie Field, Stanford Professor
Guest Name(s): Robert Verchick & Dr. Leslie Field
Join Matt this week for an enlightening discussion about climate change with Robert Verchick and Dr. Leslie Field.
Rob is a Professor, Author and Climate law scholar who designed climate-resilience policies in the Obama administration. Through Rob’s work at the Center for Progressive Reform, he helps other scholars to help communities become more resilient and just. He has a podcast called “Connect the Dots” as well as a new book called The Octopus in the Parking Garage. Leslie is the Founder & CEO of the Bright Ice Initiative as well as a skilled inventor, scholar, and Professor. Her work’s main focus is on solving urgent challenges in climate.
Rob’s book, “The Octopus in the Parking Garage: A Call for Climate Resilience” >>
Episode Audio Links:
You’re listening to a climate change. This is Matt Matern, your host and I’ve got two great guests on the program. Robert ver check and Dr. Wesley field. Dr. Leslie field, a professor at Stanford and a multiple time guest on the program. Thanks for being here, Lesley. And, and then Robert, current chair of the environmental law, I guess Center at Loyola University in New Orleans, and author of a book octopus in the parking garage, about a why a octopus that washed up into a Miami parking garage and the story behind that. Roberts was the deputy associate Associate Administrator for policy at the EPA, under the Obama administration, so longtime environmental advocate, Robert, welcome to the program. I have a bit of a New Orleans connection to Tulane in New Orleans. I went to Tulane for undergrad and started law school at Loyola University before transferring out to Southwestern graduating out here.
So great to be on your show. Thanks a lot.
So tell us a little bit about the work that you’re doing at Loyola and with your book and and also if you can weave in some of your experiences in the Obama administration.
Well, so my area of expertise, I’m at the law school at Loyola University in New Orleans. And I look at policy issues related to climate and mainly climate resilience, and also disaster response and management. How did I get there, it’s because when I first moved to New Orleans, I was here nine months before Hurricane Katrina. And so that just changed everything my house, the along with all sorts of other people with their houses flooded my kids, you know, scattered to different schools in different parts of the country. And after that, I made two big decisions. One decision was I was going to stay in New Orleans, because I really love this city. And I think it needs it needs lots of hard working people. And the second decision that I made was that I was going to devote the rest of my career to looking at climate resilience issues within the space of of environmental law and environmental justice and other things.
So one of the things I love about the research I do is one is I think it’s really important and to its endlessly interesting, because in this last book, for instance, I’m writing about wildfires, I’m writing about storm drains and floods, I’m writing about Joshua Tree, yucca plants in Joshua Tree National Park and how to preserve those I go diving and learn about restoring coral reefs. And in Key West, I talked to indigenous peoples about their plans for relocating or or protecting places that they love on the coast or on the ice. And it’s just fascinating work. And I tell a lot of those stories in the book octopus in the parking garage, which we can talk about a little bit later.
Sure. Tell us a little bit about the work that you did while you’re working at the Obama for the Obama administration.
Well, that really got me started in in thinking very seriously about climate resilience. So I was a Deputy Associate Administrator, which what’s what’s called the policy office. And so what that meant is I was second in charge of reviewing essentially all of the regulations and rulemaking that were happening in the in the agency.
And the other thing that I was asked to do was to serve on President Obama’s Climate Adaptation Task Force, which was a taskforce of many different agencies across government to prepare for climate change. And we were basically coming up with plans that eventually became recommendations that became the executive order on climate change that President Obama issued and that President Biden has, has essentially either updated or reissued.
The important or the part that’s related to me in those executive orders is the part that essentially requires federal agencies to think about how climate impacts are affecting their missions. And then to develop plans for that. Some agencies like the Department of Interior just own lots and lots of land, right, almost a third of the country.
And so what they have to do is think about how climate change is affecting our national parks, affecting our forests and so on, and develop plans for that. In an agency like the Department of Transportation, you’re thinking about? Are your bridges going to be above water in 50 years? And are your roads going to be able to withstand hotter temperatures? And are your railroad lines going to buckle when it gets too hot? When you’re in a place like the Environmental Protection Agency, you’re thinking about?
Well, will people have access to clean air when the ozone season is longer? Because it gets warmer? Why are people going to have different kinds of allergies? And is that going to affect asthma? And as pollen redistributes itself in different ways, because of climate? What’s the effect of that? Is it going to be easier or harder to keep rivers clean? When there’s less water going into them? You know, because of water scarcity? Or conversely, when there’s too much water? Or is that flooding going to bring toxic water into people’s basements? You know, so those are the things that we think about and how to and how to plan for it. It’s obviously very complicated work. And it takes a lot of time and a lot of resources and smart people and community members to help.
Well, I’m always impressed by the amount of people, great people working on these problems, though, it’s just the challenge of doing it in the timing that we have available to us. It’s, I’m optimistic based upon the great folks that are working on it. And I’m a little bit more concern when I consider the window in which all this work has to be done. What’s your kind of sense, having been working in the Obama administration, you know, 10 plus years ago, probably, to where we’re at today, the progress that we’ve made? Are we moving fast enough for? Is there some kind of quantum leap that we need to have?
Well, first of all, I think that one thing that we have to do is understand that reducing carbon pollution, and becoming more resilient to climate impacts are two sides to the same coin. When we when we become more robust. When we become more resilient, what we are essentially doing is buying time, so that we can reduce more carbon pollution and and see the positive effects of that. We have a small window of time, I think, to work hard so that we can avoid the most catastrophic effects. But I think that the United States, the Biden administration, in particular, is definitely moving in the right direction. I mean, these two laws, the infrastructure law, and the inflation Reduction Act, are both moonshots and are going to be pouring hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years into both climate resilience and into green energy. And it is really changing already.
The way that some businesses are operating and the way that some states are beginning to plan even here in Louisiana. We are, you know, there are a lot of conversations about how we can build resilience and incorporate green energy and get federal money in order to do it. That’s what’s getting everybody’s attention is the availability of those of those funds. I was curious as to what kind of green energy Louisiana is looking at, because it’s a big fossil fuel producer, and historically has not been considered the hotbed of green energy.
Yeah, it’s true. So natural gas is the source of so much electricity. In Louisiana, actually, here in New Orleans where I am. We are one of the best cities in the nation in terms of green energy, or let me say it this way, carbon free energy, and that’s because in New Orleans, we use a lot of nuclear power. But the rest of the state is not like that. And what is even more unusual about the state of Louisiana is that 60% of our carbon footprint is heavy industry, which is refining and fertilizer manufacturing and these kinds of Thanks.
And so we have to decarbonize heavy industry, which is, which is more difficult from a technological point of view. But we are only the second state in the south to have a legal commitment or a commitment by executive order to go to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. I’m actually on the governor’s task force in charge of making recommendations to do that. And he is very serious about it. The governor, John Bel Edwards, so it can be done the prop. The thing is, these are these are collective action and political issues. At heart. We have the technology what we need is the commitment and the drive to do it.
Well, certainly very challenging issues and fascinating work that you’re doing down in Louisiana and around the country. We’re listening you’re listening to a climate change. I’ve got Robert Verchick, current chair of environmental law at Loyola University in New Orleans and Dr. Leslie Field. We’ll be back in just one minute to talk to both of them.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got Robert Verchick and Leslie Field on the program today.
Leslie, thanks for being on the show. Again. Pleasure to have you.
Very happy to be here. Thank you.
So Leslie, your work has been in the field of ice and prolonging the ice from melting so that more of it can bounce light back up into the atmosphere, which is a good thing as well as to keep the ice from melting, which is a secondary or a primary benefit as well. So tell us about your work that you’re doing and what’s the latest and greatest?
Okay, yeah, so you have this right, I’ve been looking at preserving ice for quite some time. Now. It’s one of the big levers on climate change so that as we lose the reflectivity, things accelerate, there’s positive feedback loops that make things get warmer and warmer, which then drives other tipping points, such as methane, natural gas emissions over time as well. What fascinated me about being invited to share this today with Rob was that when you’re very concerned about preserving ice, you’re also start thinking a lot about water.
And then living here in California, not only thinking about floods, but thinking about droughts, and wildfires, right, it all gets connected. And so there’s a lot of thought we’re doing, I have a nonprofit that’s now bulk price initiative that’s focused on preserving glacial ice, which is an interesting challenge, because you’ve got slopes you’ve got, but you’ve got a lot of problems that people are encountering now, so that we have the ability to work with communities that are or potential to work with communities that are already suffering from floods in such in the Himalayas, for instance. And so that’s, that’s really important and interesting work to do.
But we also, you know, I can’t help but think about what to do about floods what to do about floods and droughts together, right? In the Himalayas, for instance, you’re alternating between those, right? You can lose your water, you know, you can have a big flood and it can wipe out dams and things. And then later in the season, you can have a drought, you can’t be growing the crops that you need to so there’s really water management to me seems to me, something that’s very important to think about how to kind of actually not let the water escape in places that are deleterious, like adding to sea level rise, and how to keep it around in the right way so that you’re then going to be able to use it for your your agriculture.
So those are challenges that we’re just diving into the actual ice preservation we’ve been working on for quite a while what we do is, we use a surface albedo modification, albedo is brightness, reflectivity. And I like this approach of trying to find a safe reflective material to reflect sunlight, as you’ve said, so that as you’re working in a local way, helping people in areas where they most need you to help preserve their eyes longer. You get to assess Are there any side issues that you haven’t considered going into it so you can start small, you can start where people know they have a need and want to collaborate with you.
And over time, as you find out more and more about all the realities of this enough time to do even more climate modeling, you get to see what the strategic areas are and to really make these attempts to improve things for people improve their resilience, and you get to over time get a cumulative effect as you moved along. The issues in it’s fascinating the diversity of problems with glaciers there are so the issues in the Himalayas far as our steep slopes, we want to be able to keep materials in place, that means a slightly different materials set than we’ve used before, which would run off what we’ve been using on flat areas with runoff.
We’ve got really detailed results from work on a Minnesota pond over years that got published in December in Earth’s future, which is, you know, useful to look at that we got a lovely thermodynamic model out of it, we know what we’re doing on flat areas, but on sloped areas, as I say the materials look like they have to change a bit. We’ve been testing things there and they’re looking quite promising. And then if you start considering Greenland, or Antarctic glaciers, you know, there are there are a whole different risks and and difficulties that you need to address. And so it’s it’s certainly endlessly fascinating. There’s there’s the the upside for me is that fascination, but it’s really dire situations that we’re trying to collaborate to help people avoid if we possibly can or cope with this they’ve come along.
I don’t know how you want to know about the details of this? Well, it is it is endlessly fascinating for sure we had a guest on the program just a week or so ago, a fashion Annapolis was her book, and she was talking about the impact of fast fashion on the world. And in particular, the growing of cotton, which I understand they do a lot of in Pakistan, I recall the price of cotton, shoot me shooting up because of a drought issue there. And how this is all connected is that I guess the hybridization of cotton now produces more cotton, rather than organic cotton at but it also takes a lot of water that traditionally cotton didn’t require that much water is a crop. And so that is a problem. Because there’s not necessarily always enough water to go around in dry places. So in the Himalayas, so, you know, it’s it’s all connected.
And so we need to, you know, do work. So we’re not using as many garments. So we’re not needing as much cotton but maybe using organic cotton. So it’s not destroying the land the way this this crop. The cotton that requires a pound of fertilizer for every pound of cotton is a crazy model. But anyway, let’s let’s turn to the issue of of how you would actually make this work in and what the effect would be in the Himalayas. I thought that was pretty fascinating. The fact that I mean, over a billion people depend upon the Himalayas is source of water. And if those glaciers go away, you know, this is going to be cataclysmically problematic.
Yeah, I agree. I think the number is 1.6 billion people, depending for their water on the Himalayan melt in in its previous, you know, predictable fashion rather than now it’s melting enough, that doesn’t get replenished enough, right. So the the ice inventory is diminishing, so that water supplies that risk. And what I’ve heard is that that, you know, the 10 rivers that are fed by this, the 10 major rivers that are dead by this seasonal, you know, used to be melt, are responsible for something like a third of the world’s food production, you know, or helping that. So there’s a there’s a huge food crisis that can happen, as well as sea level rise as well as the irony. You mentioned droughts in Pakistan, but a third of Pakistan has been underwater, right as well.
So you know, droughts and floods do seem to tend to alternate and it all ends up being misery for people death for people and certainly risking a lot of, you know, all the species and ecosystems that we’ve all depended on. So it’s a big deal. How do we intend to do this is to you know, start out with our usual method of getting the right permissions to work and the right collaborations and then which are in process right now the permissions were getting those documented and then work on very small research scale areas.
So that we can see, you know, is this effective here? Is this not you try to keep things as low cost as you can. The plan is a three year testing with one of India’s premier scientific institutes IIT, and in a wonderful glaciologist. And we’ll see, you know, how that works out? Have we got it? Right, we’re doing, as I say, some pre testing in, in Minnesota on a pond. And that’s been a lovely test pond. That’s what that paper and mentioned where that data came from.
I was curious as to you know, how that the ice melt and the the Mississippi River system, I just read recently how there was some, in some places not enough water to allow shipping to go up the Mississippi River. So, I mean, it’s it’s kind of close to home. It’s not just in the Himalayas?
Well, certainly. And for us, the problems with water supply in California, I mean, it’s, it’s right here, right? We worry about fire danger every season now, too. I mean, it’s just, besides having things washing out here, you know, a lot of the coastal areas near us in the San Francisco Bay area have been cut off for a while from power and from roads for, you know, intermittent periods. It’s, it’s not great.
What, what I wanted to mention also is I’ve got the nonprofit bright ice initiative that’s working on glacial melt. But we also have a consulting company where I’m getting my whole group of people who specialize in these sensors and things small scale, so you can monitor these and maybe predict things better, and control things better. pivoting towards environment now to towards this whole management of how do we manage the water? How do we manage this, you know, preserve water, where we need it? For for the, you know, predictable future of drought that will come, you know, a few months later, all of these things are very much on our minds. And we’re just absolutely determined to help in these areas. If you don’t want to drive all your agriculture out of business, right?
Right. I started right. If we use our data to monitor these things there. There’s certainly a lot of improvements that we can make in agriculture to use less water. And if we were using drip agriculture and things of that nature, probably save a ton of water. So we we might have enough if we used it more wisely.
This is a climate change. This is Matt Matern, your host I’ll be right back with Lesley Field and Rob Verichick to talk to you more about these very important environmental issues.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Rob Verchick and Leslie Field on the show. You know, Rob, you were listening to Leslie, tell us a little bit about, you know, is there some overlap between the work that you’re doing and the type of work that Leslie is doing?
Oh my gosh, there’s huge overlap. And let me let me try to make a connection that I do in my book octopus in the parking garage, which is this folks in Miami, which is involved with octopus, I’m going to get to and folks in New Orleans where I am on a golf. We care or should care a lot about those glaciers, because that water when it melts, is raising the seas and the title of my book octopus at the parking garage comes comes from an event that happened in 2016. In Miami, there’s a guy his name is Richard Caitlyn. He was going he lived in a in a condominium complex fancy condo complex on Biscayne Bay. He was going to work went into his parking garage structure, and it was full of water and there was a live octopus flopping around. And he did what any of us to do, he took pictures and then he put them on the internet. And and I ended up with a friend ended up writing a an op ed for the Miami Herald basically saying that that’s an eight armed alarm bell for climate change because what happened was there was a drainage spout that went down into Biscayne Bay from the garage.
There was a an extreme tide and of course the sea level has been rising there the entry of that drainage pipe is now underwater when it didn’t used to be. And it flushed that octopus all the way up the pipe into the, into the parking garage and everything was okay they got it out and was doing fine, apparently. But what it shows is that all of this stuff is connected. And so in my in my book for instance i i live part of my my time in Washington State and and I write in the book about the glaciers on Mount Rainier, on Mount Rainier and Mount Rainier National Park and this quality glacier and other glaciers, which I’ve actually climbed on, and they are all receding. And when they recede, of course, that’s because the water is melting. When the water melts, it floods various rivers in that park and floods, some communities one called Longmeyer, which is which is there.
Another issue that I’m thinking about? Leslie, what I’d like to know more about is that, for instance, in Washington State, you don’t think of Western Washington as having water scarcity problems, but in fact, it does. And one of the reasons is that the snow the ice pack, the snowpack and the and the glacier, or the ice, rather, it’s it’s melting faster in the spring, and it’s not staying put for later on in the early summer. And so it’s it was a natural way of saving water up in the mountains to come down when when folks needed it in the summertime. But now the water is is coming down too fast during the spring. And so one of the things that people want to do it or they’re thinking about doing is is building reservoirs, which means building dams. The problem with building dams in the mountainous regions there is that they affect the rivers and and the salmon runs. And and there are many people who depend on the salmon runs, including indigenous communities in Washington, whose treaty rights can insist you know that, that you don’t just damp things up because you need them.
And so you’ve got this issue. And and I’ll just say this. And then another thing for Leslie, too, is one thing that I that I started to find out when I was looking at the United States, and adaptation of things like glaciers, was that many of these areas are in wilderness areas in the United States protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964. And that puts a lot of emphasis on not intervening, which might have sounded like a good idea in the 60s, because the idea was, well, we just want to preserve nature the way it is. But we’re already affecting nature with climate change. And it’s making, it’s harder to get into places like the sequoias, or the glaciers on Mount Rainier, and do anything that might be manipulative. And I’ve talked to a lot of biologists and others, and I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing to be manipulative or not, and how you how you make that balance.
One of the arguments that I make in my book is I think the these preservationist laws aren’t there to protect ecosystems. They’re just there to protect the way that things were. And because we can’t protect the way that things were, we need to think about how to improve the ecosystem functioning, rather than just keeping our hands off. And I’m wondering, Leslie, what do you what do you think about that? Does that ring true for you? Or is there a way to balance this?
Yeah, what you’re saying is certainly what I found as well, I had the privilege of getting to hiking Glacier National Park on a climate hike, the same folks who organized the climate ride events at a hike and we were visiting one of the most accessible glaciers, forgetting exactly the name Grinnell maybe while it was it was a bunch of years ago, in the very week, where we were visiting that glacier, it had been demoted to a snow field. And so it was, you know, it had just shrunk far enough that it didn’t qualify as a glacier anymore. And that was really attention getting so I talked with the Park Service on my way out, you know, as we had finished our whole week long trip there was beautiful, and said, Would you be interested in any tests to try to interview and the answer was absolutely no, we are a national park, hands off.
And so you’re right. That is the attitude. I know some people in some of the parks who are very concerned with this sort of thing, and convene meetings about the Anthropocene. There’s a there’s a course that they teach about the Anthropocene and they really keep trying to say to You convinced their communities, which includes some indigenous people as well. But all the communities have just conservationists and, you know, local residents all of this? That, yes, if you keep things the way it is everything you’re trying to preserve it, none of it’ll be left if you don’t do anything. And that that’s a powerful argument that certainly sways me. But it’s, it’s not an argument that rings true for, for a lot of people. And, you know, I can understand the attitude.
Well, you know, we’ve had all this technology, and it got us here in the first place. So why why would we trust that the rule that I have, that’s very hard and fast, and why I’ve been so interested in policy and such about these things is, I know, as an inventor, that you do not want inventors in general, to be the ones to say, this is the best thing, you know, and we’re we got to do it, you don’t want that you need external review. And that’s why I insist on you know, it’s really a hard and fast rule of me, you need permissions before you go and do this, somebody else has to decide it’s a good idea as well, right. And so that’s a that’s a big deal, HEU American Geophysical Union, one of the biggest conveners of climate scientists worldwide, you know, every fall meeting is huge. 10s of 1000s of climate scientists, I’ve just been on a panel with them, where they’ve been updating their climate intervention policy statement. And they really want to embrace that if you’ve got teeny enough tests, that the rules are very different than if you want to do something very large, that might affect the whole world right away. So get the research done. We got to get the research done.
So we know which in the tiny scale with permissions, but we’ve got to get that done. And transparency, we’ve got to get that done in time. So we know which solutions are going to actually work and which ones are not. And so that’s a very, it’s my thank you. But it’s complicated.
Yeah. Well, that’s certainly one of the things that I was was drawn to the work that you’re doing. Lastly, in that the, the material that you’re using is completely natural, and comes right off the periodic chart. So that, you know, if it’s unlikely that it’s going to cause any adverse effects downstream, literally and figuratively, because it is a naturally occurring element. And maybe you could speak to that a little bit.
Yeah, nonetheless, you want to run the appropriate test. But yeah, the material that we’ve researched most for flat areas, are these hollow glass microspheres, which are basically a very thin shell of a silica glass. And silica is one of the most abundant materials on Earth. So we’ve all evolved with it. It’s everywhere already. It’s certainly in the oceans, from river runoff as sediment but also dissolved in the oceans. And it’s in, you know, it’s a it’s a major component for most rocks on Earth. So, yeah, it’s, it’s there, we all evolved with it, it’s absolutely not a plastic.
There are concerns that some types of silica actually have needle like things that can be harmful for breathing. And some people get very worried about that. But the kind that we use is as a glass, and that means it’s it’s not sharp as it means it’s an amorphous, very smooth material. And you can pick sizes that won’t get in your lungs. But that’s something that’s an issue that’s of concern to some folks, because it’s easy to confuse, to conflate those two different kinds, but fundamentally, quite safe. And yet, you still want to have labs testing and seeing what will it affect any sort of being there? And if so, you know, let’s know what the risks are, before we do anything, at at any sort of scale. But for tiny research tests, we’re getting, you know, we’re getting permissions to do things like that.
I think that’s, you know, great that you’re doing it. And I think that, that we do need to modify the rules so that we can do these small tests, so we can be in position to make better decisions. So we’re not at the end of our rope saying, Hey, we hope this works. And we have no idea because we’ve never tested it before. And now we’ve got to do it in some emergent basis. And it’s much more dangerous at that point in time.
So let’s test as many things on a small scale to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work. And, and quite frankly, every intervention is, from a human standpoint, if we plant say, a trillion trees, that is a human intervention, because it isn’t something that naturally would happen without us doing it. And of course, if we plant trees in the wrong way, that can have a consequence too. So we’ve got to, you know, something as simple as planting a forest, or it seems that simple, might have a lot of complexity because there’s all kinds of different types of trees that you need to put in a forest. So that it actually mimics a natural evolution of of one. We’ll be back in just one minute. We’ve got Robert ver check and Leslie field on the show. And we’ll be back to talk to him a little bit more about all these fascinating issues.
You’re listening to a climate change, and I’ve got Leslie Field and and Rob Verchick on the program. And for our last segment wanted to switch switch our direction a bit and talk a little bit about methane and and what we can do to stop the the massive amount of methane that’s going up in the atmosphere. That’s what 10 times more powerful greenhouse gas than co2. Rob, you certainly have a fair amount of it down in Louisiana that it’s going up from orphan wells and natural gas leakage, right?
Yeah, yeah, it’s an interesting thing, because you would think there’s a fair amount of leakage in the pipelines that are distributing natural gas, as well as in some of the other facilities. And you would think that companies would have an economic incentive to prevent the leaks, because, in fact, they’re selling the product that’s leaking, which is the natural gas. And that’s true enough for many large operations, which could, which could do this more easily. But some of the smaller operations, see it as as, as too expensive for them to do or at least more expensive than they want to spend.
The Obama administration had put in regulations against methane leaks, the Trump administration rolled them back. Now, you know, there’s discussion again, in the Biden administration about controlling methane. It’s a really important part of Louisiana’s plan to reduce carbon emissions, because as you say, methane is so much more powerful as a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide is, and and it really is very cost effective to, to control it, you do have to detect it. And you have to have either monitors on the ground or monitors in the air to to find the leaking methane. So that so that, then the companies can do something about it.
Well, tell us, Leslie, you’ve done some work and on sensors and like, how do your sensors work in terms of determining whether methane is leaking from various sources?
I have to say, I haven’t specifically worked on methane sensors in the past, but it certainly could be done. Yeah, there’s our little Consulting Group is filled with PhDs, as you know, who have worked on various kinds of sensors. The concern with methane, and it really is a rising concern for for me, is that I keep hearing just fantastic, fantastically qualified people who are considering all the tipping points of what’s what’s about to happen. And I’ve been thinking that methane, alright, if we can keep things frozen longer, we could, we could reduce how much methane is going to be emitted there. But it’s a it’s a problem beyond that, because we have pipelines because we have agricultural lands, you know, it isn’t just about keeping things frozen.
And the truth is, as you said, Matt, is that it’s a short term forcer, that that is many times more powerful than co2 in the short term. And increasingly, it seems that we’ve got maybe this decade, maybe two decades, in which to make the change, we need to in order to really keep habitability and you know, avoid many of these dire outcomes that are coming from climate change. So methane emissions will drive things much faster. It’ll be another positive feedback loop that we really want to avoid.
So Rob, where are we? Where’s the Biden administration as far as putting those regulations back in place on on methane?
Well, they have. They’ve renewed two rules from the Obama administration and under updating them what one has to do with methane leaks on public land, which is, which is an easier political lift, I guess. As you could say, because it’s it’s land owned by the federal government, and the second is a rule that would target emissions from existing oil and gas wells nationwide, that put out a certain amount of three tons of methane per year. I think it is.
And, and I think those are going to go forward, in part because the larger industries are not really against it, you know, that they don’t suffer much financially for something like that. But it could be a huge, it could be a huge wind, and obviously needs to be done. We have issues here in Louisiana, I mentioned the orphan wells, you know, wells that have been abandoned, because and haven’t properly been closed, or sealed off. And, and so you have a lot of leakage coming from wells that are no longer use, but you know, methane and other chemicals or airborne chemicals are coming out of those things. And, and it’s just a matter of identifying where they are and funding the closure of them. Because often the people who own the land or own the wellheads, you know, they don’t have an interest in spending more money on that. And we don’t have very good enforcement in that area, or at least the enforcement that we should have.
So is there any attempt to go after those former owners or producers, because at some point in time, and many of them got quite rich off of these wells, it seems as though it’s unfair for the taxpayer to have to pick up the cost of something that should have been done by the owner of the well.
Yeah, I know that. I mean, that’s, that’s definitely the argument. I think at this point, what we’re looking for, and this has been, you know, sort of the mode that the the Biden administration has been in is basically spending money to encourage people to do the right thing. We spent a lot of time in the past, you know, finding people and penalizing. And I think, actually, we need to, we need that too. But I think that the decision that the Biden administration made was better to just shovel money into trying to fix these problems, shovel federal money, and and and it will pay back in the terms of benefits to the American public. By huge amounts. There’s just no question about that. Well, I guess in terms of efficiency, there’s no question that just doing it and getting it done, and then maybe going after the perpetrators, after you’ve spent the money and saying, Okay, well, this is your bill, you have to pay it versus the litigation cost of finding them chasing them down, right, yet. It’s gonna take a decade to get done. It just takes too long. So that probably makes more sense to just fix the problem as quickly as we can.
What about carbon capture there? And in Louisiana, I know you have a lot of salt, natural salt domes that I think we store the strategic petroleum reserves in those salt domes. Is it something that has been looked at as far as capturing carbon in those areas? And could we capture methane in those areas as well? I hadn’t heard anybody talk about it. But it seems so why not?
Well, there’s definitely a lot of talk down here about what’s called carbon capture and storage, that is stripping out the co2 that comes from the burning of fossil fuel, and then storing that co2, injecting it in a super cooled way underground, and storing it permanently in structures that you’re talking about. The Biden administration is is definitely favoring that, and definitely encouraging that through many of the federal funds that are being made available. Certainly the state of Louisiana it’s it’s the governor’s office is very interested in that and has been courting facilities that would do that. I personally have reservations about it and have written about that in a in a, in a white paper called The false promise of carbon capture and storage that’s produced by senator for progressive reform.
The problem that I have, I have a couple problems. One problem is that we’ve never done it at scale. And it seems very, it doesn’t seem to be any evidence that we can permanently store co2 Underground forever.
The second problem is that much of that infrastructure that would have to be built would be in poor communities of color, particularly in Louisiana, and and they are already overburdened by much of this industrial complex.
The third issue that I have with it is that I think that one As you build this infrastructure, which is going to take more than a decade, you’re going to want to continue to use it.
And, and, and so, you know, the the plan literally is to be storing co2 Underground so that coal fired, plants that generate electricity can continue to run. And that just seems to me a bad thing, it seems to me, we’d be much better off to create incentives to close fossil fuel electric plants. And, and not simply develop ways for them to encourage for them to continue in the future.
You know, the smart money says, Well, you know, there might be some things that we just absolutely need to burn fossil fuel for, maybe it’s certain kinds of steelmaking or whatever, and then it would be good to bury it underground. The problem with that is it doesn’t make financial sense to do this at a small scale, it only makes financial sense to do it at a very large scale.
And if you’re going to do it at a very large scale, become the hub of co2 disposal in the nation, which is what Texas and Louisiana are competing for. If that’s what you want to do, then you’re going to be bringing in co2 from coal fired power plants and everything else. And then there’s no incentive to reduce carbon. So those are definitely some of the issues.
Well, I appreciate that. You know, Rob, I know you do a podcast as well, maybe you can do a quick pitch in 10 seconds for your podcast.
I do so my podcast is called Connect dots with Robert Verchick. It’s produced by the Center for progressive reform, which is a network of scholars that work for thriving communities that are based on climate change and environment and public health issues. And we are going to be doing our next season all about successful ways that people that communities in the United States are either adapting to climate change, or meaningfully making meaningful progress in reducing carbon pollution. These are stories that really work stories about how activists actually are turning the gears of government into their favor. And our hope is that people will learn from this and do more of it.
Great having both of you on the show. I look forward to talking with both of you in the future. Everybody tune in. If you miss part of the program, we rebroadcast through our podcast and go check out a climate change.com and tune back in next week.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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