Episode 21: Terry Tamminen
Guest Name(s): Terry Tamminen
Matt Matern talks with Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California EPA, President of 7th Generation Advisors, author, about environmental issues.
Episode Audio Links:
#21 – Terry Tamminen – A Climate Change with Matt Matern (formerly Unite and Heal American with Matt Matern)
This pre-recorded show furnished by Matthew Matern. You’re listening to Unite and Heal America with Matt Matern, KABC 790. My guest today is Terry Tamminen. He’s a distinguished former secretary of Cal EPA chief policy adviser to former Governor Schwarzenegger, CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and headed up the Santa Monica Baykeeper foundation environment.
Now Foundation has such a long list of achievements in the domain of environment, it’d be hard for me to go through all of them and still talk to Terry. So I’m going to thank you, Terry, for being on the show. And looking forward to talking to you.
Thank you, Matt. Very nice to be here.
Well, tell us a little bit about yourself, and where do you come from and how you ended up working in the environmental domain?
Well, sure, I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about as far from the ocean as you can get. But my family moved out here when I was 12. And gave me a diving certification course, as a birthday gift. And I discovered the undersea world and just became mesmerized by it. My family moved to Australia. I came back 10 years later to go to Cal State Northridge go matadors. And I went back to that favorite diving spot, and was just distraught to see that all of the kelp was gone, that the rocks were just covered in some kind of polluted sediment.
And that’s when I first became aware of the impact that humans were having on the environment, that, in fact, polluted runoff from our streets, rainwater want to runoff from our streets, could actually kill an entire ecosystem that I had seen just, you know, 10 years earlier. And so I became an environmentalist in the sense of, hey, you know, those days you sent 10 bucks to the Sierra Club or the Jacques Cousteau society or things like that, and went on with my life and business and real estate and other things.
And then I think it was probably my midlife crisis in my 40s. I decided, no, I’ve got to do something about this. And I met Bobby Kennedy Jr, who was heading up the Waterkeeper. Alliance and forming local citizen groups to protect water to use their voices their early days of video cameras. There are other evidence gathering tools to try to highlight what was harming their waterways, in my case, the Santa Monica Bay and San Pedro Bay down by the LA River, and started the Santa Monica Baykeeper. To do that. We also brought citizen lawsuits against polluters, the Clean Air Clean Water Act allows us to do. And from there.
One of the foundations that supported me was the environment now foundation that you mentioned in the intro, the late Frank Wells was the president of Disney. And so we formed a kind of a think tank to help others do the same thing. We created a dozen keeper programs all up and down the coast of California, and in the Sierra Nevada mountains with the Sequoia forest keeper. And, and then came to the attention of an Austrian movie star bodybuilder guy who decided to run for governor.
And Bobby introduced me to Arnold and we hit it off. I’m a Democrat, he’s a Republican, but we understood from day one that there is no democrat or republican air, there’s no democrat or republican water, there’s only clean air, clean water, etc, that everybody wants. And so I helped him form a Environmental Action Plan that he campaigned on. And then when we got into government, he appointed me secretary of the California EPA to implement that. And then later his chief policy adviser for the whole state.
And then when we left government in 2010, I started working with Pegasus Capital Advisors in New York, on sustainable investing, realizing that one of the most important ways to shift our economy to things that are more sustainable is to do it with investment to show that people can actually make money with renewable energy and energy efficiency and waste optimization and and electric vehicles and all these kinds of things just move the economy and started Seventh Generation advisors to help other companies and other states and provinces and cities all over the world to do the same thing.
One of our biggest clients, as you mentioned earlier, was the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation for a number of years until that merged with two other foundations into the Earth Alliance. And now is off on its merry way in that alliance.
And we now advise the UN Green Climate Fund on how to deploy hundreds of millions of dollars into developing countries into these sustainability solutions as well. So that’s quite a mouthful. And along the way, I’ve written several books on these topics, which I won’t get into all the details at this point, but everyone can Google them and find them at their baby. Like so?
Well, that is that is a lot. And it’s a testament to somebody putting their focus on something and really working hard at it. For me, it looks like sounds like 30 plus years you, you built an incredible resume. Take us back to the time that you were in government, as the former secretary of Cal EPA, what did you feel like your biggest accomplishments were in that role?
You know, first and foremost, because I had been in the foundation, as I mentioned before, and helping nonprofits advocate with the state government, on how to improve sustainability policies and environmental protection, we always felt like we were on the outside knocking on the door trying to get in. So now all of a sudden here, the inmate has taken over the asylum.
And we not only had a chance to to implement many of these policies and programs that we had planned out during Arnold’s campaign, but we managed to get more people into public service. And I just want to say this to you and all of your listeners, government gets a bad rap. I mean, sure, there’s plenty of people that are doing stupid things are just marking time until their pension or what have you. But I gotta tell you, there’s just also a lot of very dedicated hardworking people.
And in many cases, we’re not getting paid. So these volunteer boards and commissions, I’m sure most people have never heard of the State Water Resources Control Board, and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards in throughout California, the 11 regions, and other places where they could serve their community, and actually have an impact on on keeping our environment healthy and safe. So being able to influence those kinds of appointments and recruit more people into public service is one of the biggest accomplishments, I’d say that we had, as an administration getting new voices at the table, especially environmental justice concerns.
But then I’d also mentioned our million solar roofs initiative, our Hydrogen Highway, which allows us to have electric vehicles powered by hydrogen, not just batteries, our Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which set up a cap and trade system for carbon emissions and, and set up a lot of ways for us to reduce our carbon footprint in a very economically sound manner. So I’d say those were among our biggest accomplishments during that tenure.
That’s a lot. The question I have for you follow up to that is what were the biggest challenges you faced in in dealing with the bureaucracy as well and the legislature, as well, as you know, what kind of led you to go back to private working with private foundations?
Well, I’d say the biggest challenges the one that we still face today across this whole country, and that’s partisanship and partisanship, sometimes for good policy reasons, we can have honest debates about what’s the best way to accomplish something, or what’s the best way to allocate scarce resources, like tax dollars, and so forth.
But when you have people denying science settled science, and when you can see things like the case of climate change wildfires, constantly getting bigger and more intense and more damaging, storms, you know, destroying our coastline and valuable coastal real estate, you know, greater heat waves that are causing health problems and agricultural problems and so many other things. You just can’t deny the science and and then with a straight face, say that you have a better policy solution. So unfortunately, it was partisanship.
And there were many times in Sacramento when I meet with legislators, and I hate to put this as a Democrat Republican thing, but it very often was a Republican legislator who would say, hey, Terry, that that bill that the governor is promoting, or that you want us to pass, it’s totally makes sense. It’s good for the economy, good for the environment, but I can’t do it.
Because if I went back to my constituents and said, I voted for that, I’d never get elected again. So when you have politicians who are afraid of their own constituents, and don’t feel they can explain things to their own constituents, then we’re just painted into a corner that’s very hard to get out of.
Well, that is a challenge and education of our electorate is an important piece of this. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve been talking about it so much on the radio is to try to spread the message of why we should be doing this and that we can both have a strong economy and a great environment. So those things are not mutually exclusive. And I think that’s something that unfortunately, gets painted into the picture as being it’s one or the other.
But California is a great example of we’ve got some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the country, yet our economy has outperformed the nation over the last you know, 50 years, you know, year on year so, it it shows that you can have both I guess I would like to kind of pivot to one of the things that I find very important is the Hydrogen Highway that you helped promote, and getting that economy that piece started, tell us a little bit more about what you did there and how that came into existence?
Well, we realize that, you know, batteries are heavy and inefficient when a car has to lug them around takes hours to recharge. And there is another technology that allows you to have the exact same electric car, call it a Tesla call it whatever, but powered by hydrogen, a tank of hydrogen gas, not a liquid like gasoline, but a gas in your car that’s converted to electricity on board that’s done by it with a fuel cell. And it takes only five minutes to refuel.
Yeah, of course, you do need refueling stations. But with electric cars, you need a lot of places to plug in. So of course, nobody wanted to bring the cars to the California market unless there were fueling stations and none of the fueling companies wanted to build fueling stations if there were no cars.
So we assembled the hydrogen highway network, we brought 200 stakeholders together to work on all of these issues, including insurance and safety regulations and so forth, to try to get everybody on board. And as a result today we have 1000s of hydrogen cars on the road and 100 stations and growing.
Well, that is a tremendous accomplishment. You’re listening to Jana unite and heal America on KBC 790, your host Matt Matern and my guest Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of Cal EPA, we’re going to be right back and talking about hydrogen as well as many other environmental issues facing our state.
You’re back with United and Heal America and KABC 790. This is Matt Matern. Again, my guest today, Terry Tamminen, former Cal EPA Secretary chief policy adviser to former Governor Schwarzenegger.
So Terry, before the break, we were talking about this Hydrogen Highway, and it’s kind of near and dear to my heart, because I’m on my second hydrogen car. I leased one Toyota MRI, back three plus years ago, and just turned it in to get the new MRI and has even greater range, greater range than my Tesla. And, you know, it’s a great car.
So, you know, without the foresight that you and Governor Schwarzenegger heads had to roll this Hydrogen Highway out, we wouldn’t, that would not happen. And I think it’s important for the listeners to know that California is really the only state in the nation that has this network of hydrogen filling stations.
And it’s really kind of a sad commentary on the rest of our 49 states that they were not able to see what we had done and follow that lead, which I think that we should be doing in short order. And I don’t see a whole lot of action by the Biden administration to roll that out aggressively. And I’d kind of like to hear your thoughts on that.
Well, you know, there are other states Florida has a program, Connecticut, because of one of the big fuel cell makers there has a program, Detroit because of the car companies. And right now you can drive your hydrogen vehicle to Las Vegas or Phoenix and fuel up, even all the way up to Vancouver. So there are a kind of a loose network of stations that are starting to fill in.
And there are trucking companies, because a lot of advocates for electric transportation agree that whether or not you like batteries versus hydrogen batteries are not practical for heavy duty 18-wheelers and really big, heavy duty vehicles, construction and so on. Because the amount of batteries you need to lug that much stuff, especially up over mountains and so on, is so heavy that you make the truck very inefficient.
And then of course, you can’t have it off the road for 10 hours, 18 hours to recharge all those batteries. So most people do agree that at least for heavy duty electrification, you need something like hydrogen, and stop and think about what happened in Texas a few months ago, where the entire power grid was down for days, in some places even more than a week.
Well, if everybody was driving an electric car plug-in there, not only would have had no lights and no heat, but they would have had no transportation. So this is also just a diversification strategy. And battery cars are great for many people who want that. But of course not everybody lives in a in a single family home where they can go home at night and plug in or goes to a job where they can plug in during the day.
So at some point we’re going to run out of the people that are interested in plug-ins and more people I think will discover the flexibility and the convenience of five minutes refueling in a hydrogen car that gives you the same electric vehicle experience.
Right, the performance is great. And there’s zero emissions, the only thing it emits is water when it combines the oxygen and the hydrogen together to create that chemical reaction, which creates the power.
So, and let me give you your listeners of some really interesting statistics. First of all, we produce about 3 trillion cubic feet of hydrogen in this country every single year. And the vast majority of that is used to strip sulfur from petroleum to make gasoline instead of simply putting the hydrogen in our vehicles. The second interesting thing is, you know, a lot of hydrogen today comes from Steam reformation of natural gas.
So people say, well, it’s not such a clean fuel if you’re basically getting it from natural gas. But a lot of it also comes from a electrolysis of water, and you can electrolyze water. And one of the ways to do that is to take all of the excess solar and wind power, which now California produces more wind power, especially at night, when the wind is blowing and demand for electricity isn’t so great.
You could run that excess electricity, through wastewater from our sewage treatment plants to break the hydrogen out of water, think, you know, go back to your high school chemistry, H2O, the H is hydrogen, a little bit of electricity applied to water and you break the hydrogen out?
Well, it turns out that the Los Angeles sewage treatment plant the Hyperion sewage treatment plant has enough water that it discharges to the ocean throws it away every single day uses a lot of energy and money to clean it up and throw it away.
There’s enough hydrogen in that wastewater to power the entire United States transportation fleet from that one sewage treatment plant. Now, obviously, you wouldn’t do that. But what that tells you is every city that’s looking for revenue, could turn their sewage treatment plants into a revenue center producing hydrogen fuel for the transportation sector instead of spending money to throw away that valuable resource.
Well, it’s, it’s clearly the way of the future. And we need to be investing more money into this. And I do see that some private industry is getting into the hydrogen field or has been in the hydrogen field, and you see them taking off a bit. So obviously, we need even more investment. Where would you direct the Biden administration to focus their attention to roll this out more effectively?
Well, I think they are doing a good job of focusing on electric vehicles, because again, the electric vehicle is the same whether it’s using a battery or hydrogen. So anything that brings down the overall cost of electric vehicles, makes them more convenient for people. And in the fueling stations, that’s the real thing. I mean, whether it’s charging stations for batteries, or refueling for hydrogen, especially along our interstates, where then the heavy duty trucks can use it.
But also people live pretty close to an interstate throughout most of America. So you could sprinkle actually just a few 100 stations around and people can drive all over this country with hydrogen and then you add more stations as there’s more demand. So if they’re on the right track, maybe a little bit more into the into the refueling infrastructure.
But we are certainly as you said, the poster child for this, how you can do it not just in terms of the fuelling and the cars, but the safety regulations, the insurance regulations, what happens when you locate a hydrogen pump next to the gasoline pumps in the in the gas station, so that you have all these different kinds of fuels? And those are things which the federal government can work on to standardize across the country?
Yeah, well, it’s it’s very easy to fill up, it’s just the same as filling up really gas, you know, very, very similar process. And it’s not complex. So for those who may not have ever experienced it, it’s trying to demystify it that it’s, it’s pretty simple stuff and and then you can drive for over 300 miles on a tank so you’re getting more as much or more range than you get out of an electric car. So I think it’s pretty effective technology.
It is and I’ll just mention I drive the Honda Clarity, which is a fuel cell vehicle My wife has the du mer i We’ve also in the past had the Hyundai Nexo, which is an SUV that is a really terrific SUV and all the car companies are beginning to come out with hydrogen vehicles now that they know the demand is there and the stations are going to be there.
And for anybody who wants to learn more about this I wrote a book a few years ago ago called lives per gallon the true cost of our oil addiction. And despite that ominous title and the fact that I do take oil companies to task for lying to regulators and harming the public with their products and so on that it does have a happy ending because the last chapter is all about hydrogen and electrification of the Also you can learn a lot more about it in that book.
Well, everybody should pick that one up. I certainly well lives per gallon. I mean, we’ve, we’ve obviously subsidized the oil industry for 100 plus years, in so many different ways. So when conservatives raise hackles about subsidizing, say, for instance, hydrogen or other alternative energy sources, I just think, well, what about the subsidies that we’ve given to the oil and gas industry?
The oil and gas industry is still getting massive tax breaks for investing in the oil business so that why shouldn’t we be investing or subsidizing good behavior, good behavior is cleaner energy. It’s just, it’s why it’s wise policy.
Well, that’s right. And it’s American jobs. You know, in the book lives per gallon, I calculate what we’re spending to subsidize oil. And it comes out to about $7 A gallon more than whatever you’re paying at the pump. So if you’re paying $3, at the pump today, or set or $4, it’s actually more like, you know, 10, or $11, when you factor in the tax breaks the cost of people with health care that now we can directly affiliate to air pollution that’s directly related to petroleum air pollution.
And that doesn’t even include lost productivity, somebody who has asthma and can’t go to work, or what have you, lung cancer, I mean, we’re finding petroleum products and the umbilical cords of pregnant women from studies, children lose as much as 1% of their lung function every year if they live within a mile of a busy freeway. So the cost is actually enormous, indirect subsidies and hidden subsidies, and another good reason to make that switch.
Right. So you know, it’s only a question of how we do it, and how we can do it most effectively and efficiently. And kind of pivoting to the seventh generation advisors and the Pegasus capital work that you’ve done on sustainable investments, what type of success would be had in terms of getting investors to to invest money into alternative energy and sustainable resources?
Well, today, I think renewable energy is just almost a non sequitur. It’s just it’s just energy because solar is now much cheaper than coal or any other fossil fuel energy. Wind has already proven itself. And energy efficiency is the most important one because that reduces pollution and greenhouse gases overnight. I mean, if you change out a light bulb with an LED that’s 70% more efficient, you save money you pay for that light bulb. And of course, if it’s a city doing it with streetlights, or whatever the energy efficiency retrofit is it pays for itself. And that’s another really good investment opportunity for people.
Well, everybody you’re listening to Unite and Heal America on KABC 790. This is Matt Matern. And we’ll be back with Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of Cal EPA in just a minute we’re gonna be talking about the environment and how we can make a shift to make a change to have a cleaner, greener and healthy economy as well. We’ll be back.
You’re listening to Unite and Heal America with Matt Matern. My guest, Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of Cal EPA. Terry, I’d like to talk to you a little bit about the work that you had done for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. And what, what successes you had there?
Well, you know, Matt, Leo had started his foundation about a dozen years ago, to work on endangered species and their habitats. He had given significant money to World Wildlife Fund and others to protect endangered Tiger habitats in Nepal, and endangered reefs and other things around the world.
And increasingly, he came to learn that all of those things were being threatened by climate change. So you could make a lot of progress setting aside land and protecting species having captive breeding programs, whatever. But none of that was going to matter if we didn’t get ahead of climate change.
So in 2016, he asked me to come into the foundation and help him build a climate program and expand his work and include the United States because previously most of his grant making had been out of the US. And we started with two people in a million dollars a year in grant making in 2019, when we close the foundation to merge it with two others into the New Earth Alliance that he’s part of.
We had 20 people and $25 million a year in grant making and activism. And we were supporting things like the our Children’s Trust lawsuit against the federal government for stealing their their future, in essence, because of failing to address climate change. So we’re supporting activists in the Amazon, indigenous people all across the world, including in the Amazon.
And we had a very active climate program working on advancing things that were economically viable for people around the world. And and trying to tackle this from ways that most people weren’t thinking about.
What are some of the ways that you think others weren’t thinking about that were particularly useful or effective?
Well, I’d say one thing is, of course, awareness, and obviously with Leo’s ability to get eyeballs, and now in the days of social media, to get people to pay attention and take action, that the movie he made before the flood, and if anyone hasn’t seen it, if you want to learn more about climate change, I recommend investing just three hours one and a half hours to watch Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and set aside if, you know, if you’re on the right side of the aisle, and you don’t like Al Gore, just don’t listen to those parts.
But in that movie, he brings in scientists and he predicts what’s likely to happen. Well, then Leo comes along 10 years later, and makes the movie before the flood. And that is basically looking at what was predicted and what happened. And of course, everything that was predicted in An Inconvenient Truth happened faster and worse.
And so it’s a great way to learn about climate change and learn about the evidence and and then learn how to take action just by watching those two films. So we did that. You know, I think there was also just a lot of work that people weren’t thinking about in terms of, you know, everyone, as we mentioned before, thinks about electric vehicles and, and renewable energy, but they don’t think about waste.
You know, everything that goes through our garbage cans every day goes to landfills, decomposes into greenhouse gases, or just gets buried. And, you know, we cut down forests every day, and then literally throw them away into landfills, we, some of it gets recycled, of course, but not enough, every day, we march armies around the globe to kill people to get a barrel of oil.
And then we refine that into something including plastic, and then we throw it away every day in the form of plastic and landfills or goes out into the ocean. And the list goes on and on, we could really solve many of the sustainability challenges if we would just end the concept of waste.
And the really exciting thing is now 90% of what goes to landfills, what goes through our trash cans, could be recycled with modern technology can be turned back into feedstocks to make new products and materials. So it’s really a very exciting investment sector as well as just a sustainability one. I guess, on that front, I know China had kind of closed their doors to a lot of our waste wish they had been taking a lot of our stuff to our plastics.
Where where’s the United States now in terms of dealing with our waste, our recyclable material? Are we recycling what we’re putting in our bins, and doing it effectively?
You know, humans are just not very good at it. I mean, even at our best, we were recycling about 37% of what could be recycled in America. In Europe, they’re also only about 39%, Germany and Denmark are better at 65%. But on average, Europe is no better than we are. And that’s the leaders, everybody else. I mean, a lot of developing countries, the recycling rate is zero.
Humans are just not that good at it. But I can take you to facilities here in Los Angeles that are using technology, just put it all in one bin, don’t even try to recycle it put it all in one bin, they will use technology to separate it out. Effective. Speaking of Schwarzenegger, it kind of looks like some futuristic Terminator machine, where it all goes in one big Hopper in the beginning.
And it comes out at the end as bundles of clean cardboard and paper and glass and plastic and so forth, that can easily then be converted back into something else. And when China closed its doors to taking our recycled content. They actually did us a favor because it forced us to say well, what are we going to do with that stuff?
So first of all, we’ve got to get better and more efficient at recycling, which is, as I mentioned now with technology we are doing, but then the second thing is what do we do with it. So for example, there’s a company called fulcrum bioenergy that just built a plant in Reno, Nevada, that is processing 1000s of tons of waste that would otherwise go to landfills. After as much recycling as they can do.
The waste that would still go to landfills is being converted into low carbon jet fuel that’s being purchased by United Airlines and Cathay Pacific, and it qualifies for the California low carbon fuel standard that we put in place as part of our work in the Schwarzenegger administration.
And there’s a lot of this innovation now that’s happening right here in America because we were forced to keep our own waste right here.
Well, that’s that’s a good story. And I guess the question is, how do we encourage more of that? What are we doing in the state of California to encourage more of that? Well, What is the federal government doing? And what is the Biden administration doing to encourage more of effectively recycling our waste so that we put less carbon out into the, into the atmosphere. I don’t think the Biden administration has really addressed this yet, but they will.
And my advice would just be copy California. I mean, we start with policy, for example, we set a goal all the way back in 1990. We said that by 2005, we would have to divert at least half of the waste that was going to landfills, we’d have to divert it, either by reducing it, reusing it or recycling it. And in 2005, when I was EPA secretary, coincidentally, I had to certify that we had achieved that goal. And in fact, we had exceeded it, we had hit a 55% diversion rate from that 1990 baseline.
And now we’re setting a target of 75%. And even imagining zero waste in this state. And many companies are doing the same Walmart, for example, is down to a zero waste profile here in California. And they’re trying to copy that throughout the rest of the United States at all of their facilities. And so just copy California, we also did a landfill ban on electronics, we said that was one of the biggest waste sectors that was growing with with everybody having so many electronic devices now.
And so we put a landfill ban in place. But we realized you can’t just ban something from the landfill and then wonder what’s going to happen to it after that. So the statistics showed us that we could incentivize a whole new industry to recycle that electronic waste, if we just gave a small incentive to the recyclers.
So today, if you go buy a television or a computer in California, you pay $4-$5 recycling fee, even if you’re not turning in your old device, but under the assumption that you probably will. And then that money is used to incentivize the recyclers about 40 cents a pound for every pound that they recycle.
And that makes up the difference of what it takes to make these industries very profitable, and make them help them learn how to get more valuable recycled content out of all this e-waste, but it keeps tons and tons of waste out of our landfills. It harvests plastic, it harvests valuable minerals, and, and, and metals. And so that’s all stuff. We don’t have to dig up landscapes to get from somewhere else all because we set a good policy that was incentively and economically driven.
Well, I guess the question is the Biden administration copying California? And I know they’ve got a lot on their plate. And sometimes it’s a matter of prioritization. And sometimes you’re hitting your top priorities first, but do you? Have you been following the work that they’ve been doing closely? And what do you see? They’re hitting the A pluses on and what are they missing? A little bit? Well, I’d say first of all, the the a plus is their personnel, Gina McCarthy, who was the Connecticut EPA Secretary when I was California EPA secretary, she went in and ran the EPA under Obama. And then now she is in the White House, coordinating climate and sustainability policy across all the different agencies.
John Kerry, our former Secretary of State who made climate change, a very important issue when he was Secretary of State, as you know, was appointed ambassador to go out to the world and get us back onto the world stage. And this is not just a matter of us bragging and saying, Oh, we can do this. And we can do that. This is an opportunity for American economy to flourish.
So just take that example, I mentioned before of fulcrum bioenergy, that’s a technology that can be exported all over the world. If we are active in solving the climate crisis, and we’re telling other people, Hey, you should follow our technology lead and have low carbon jet fuels and other kinds of fuels made from waste. Well, no one else is doing that.
So this is a chance for us to export our technologies create American jobs. And and that’s an area where again, I think the Biden administration has excelled so far.
Well, that’s that’s clearly the wave of the future. And clearly how we should be looking at this as a crisis that has an opportunity. And the opportunity is to create those industries that do provide green energy that do recycle, because every country is going to need that going forward. And so every country is going to want that. And if we’re the leaders, obviously, our economy is going to benefit from it. So it is such a win win situation here. Can’t see how anybody could oppose that.
So you’re listening to United and Heal America and KABC 790. This is Matt Matern, and we’ll be back in just a minute with Terry Tamminen and former secretary of Cali EPA to talk to us about the environment and what you all can be doing on a grassroots level to help change.
You’re listening Unite and Heal America with Matern, your host Terry Tamminen, a former secretary of Cali EPA is, is our guest today. And Terry, I wanted to circle back to a topic you had spoken about earlier, which was the all the hydrogen that is used for the oil industry. And if you can discuss that a little bit more, that I think that would be very useful.
Well, as I mentioned, we make a lot of hydrogen in this country every year to process petroleum into fuels and other things, instead of just putting it into our vehicles. And there’s no question that that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it just doesn’t occur in the air or in some other natural way that we could take it out of the earth as is we have to break it out of out of various materials, whether it’s water, or anything that’s got carbon in it. So that’s one of the nice things about hydrogen and about the local economy.
So as I mentioned before, you can get a lot of hydrogen out of sewage water that you’re currently spending money to clean and pump into the local rivers or out into the ocean, from a city, but you can also get it from waste, organic waste, can be turned into hydrogen with digesters, and farm waste, especially from animals, animal manure, and so forth, can be turned into hydrogen.
So whatever you have can actually be turned into a sustainable source of your transportation fuel, and it creates a local economy with things that are already there.
Well, you had mentioned that there were 3 trillion units, and I didn’t quite get the units that you were referring to that were being used for the oil industry, currently, hydrogen of hydrogen, right 3 trillion cubic feet a year of hydrogen is produced, mostly from steam reforming natural gas.
So they take natural gas and run some some hot steam through it, and it breaks it up into the different components of gases, and they can harvest the hydrogen that way. And of course, the criticism by some is that you’re still getting it from a fossil fuel. But it’s a cleaner fossil fuel than petroleum.
And, and the fact that you can actually make it from so many other sustainable sources as the real issue, right. And then it can be used to power vehicles that have zero waste versus powering a gas powered car, which is going to have a lot more carbon emissions, and then obviously, the hydrogen vehicle would.
Right. And, you know, it’s also a thing of flexibility of having these different fuels that can that can power us. And, for example, I mentioned earlier that we have a lot of wind power that runs at night in Texas, and across the Southwest.
And here in California, in fact, we even have to curtail it as the saying goes, which is literally zapping it into the ground because there’s more produced and we can use or selling it to neighboring states where we actually pay them to take the electricity. Well, if instead we use that to electrolyze water and get the hydrogen out, we could use that hydrogen for stationary applications as well. I mean, fuel cells can also power buildings, and entire power grid. So you could use it then for transportation or for powering the grid.
Right, I heard of a big project they’re doing in Utah, where they’re putting the height trying to restore the hydrogen and big caverns there, which would deal with the problem that you’re talking about, which is this excess electricity off the renewables that could be pumped into this cavern and saving it as hydrogen, I don’t know the chemistry behind it the be as hydrogen, essentially, and then using it later, to power things?
Well, sure. And we do that already. In fact, here in Southern California, we have several underground storage facilities for natural gas. There’s a lot of natural gas produced around Texas, and so forth, it gets shipped out here throughout the summer, when we don’t use that much because we’re not heating our homes.
And it gets put into the ground and stored in water. You know, kind of like the way aquifers store water. These are geological formations where you can store gas under pressure. And then it’s brought back up during the winter when there’s more demand because of heating, demand. And so we can do the same thing with a hydrogen gas.
So, Terry, what are you working on now? What are the things that are kind of front and center on your plate?
Well, I think one of the most important things is finance. We’ve got to get more investors comfortable, whether it’s an individual who wants to put their money where their mouth is or whether it’s the major pension funds, or whether it’s even big foundations that are giving grants to nonprofits to do good environmental work, but then you say, well, where’s their endowment invest in it turns out, it’s in fossil fuels are all kinds of things that are, are actually not productive for sustainability.
And so I think we’ve got to move more investors, one of the things I’m working on is with the UN Green Climate Fund. In a in a blended product, it’s called our sub National Climate Fund, which is a mouthful. But basically, it’s working with sub national governments, meaning states and provinces and cities to help them finance their climate solutions like renewable energy, energy efficiency, retrofits waste optimization, like we talked about, even sustainable agriculture.
And, and the reason that you can do that in some of these developing countries where people might think it’s too risky to invest, is because the Green Climate Fund comes in and puts about 20% of the investment up there for you as the first loss position, and also they look for a much lower return than regular investors on these kinds of projects.
So you end up with a blended capital model, you bring in conventional investors to do the rest, and they take less risk, they get a higher return, and are therefore willing to deploy their capital in places and to projects that they otherwise might not. So I think that’s really the way of the future is to get more people to put their money where their mouth is, and realize that if you care about public health, if you care about the future of the planet, and your and your kids, that you can’t keep financing business as usual.
That is very true. So how much in the way of funding does this UN Green Climate Fund have? And what is it shooting for?
Well, it was formed back in 2009. Some might remember that in 2009, President Obama went to Copenhagen for one of these Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that happened every year, the composites called and with other world leaders tried to get a new global agreement on climate change.
That didn’t happen. But this, this Green Climate Fund did emerge from that, where wealthy countries put money in to be invested in these developing countries to help them develop green and avoid some of the pitfalls that we did, building our economies on on dirty fossil fuels. And so there’s 10s of billions of dollars available right now. And the money goes quite a ways. I mean, we put up very little of that the US taxpayer, because there’s so many other countries that are contributing.
And basically every dollar that the US taxpayer puts up, ends up being about $100 of investment, in terms of leveraging all the other sources of capital, both public and private. And, and then like I said, I think it’s really just a good investment in American jobs. Because what is it these other countries want? They want American technology for energy efficiency and renewables and waste optimization. I mentioned this fulcrum bioenergy, for example, before that’s converting waste into jet fuel.
There’s projects that are planned now in India and Mexico. And those will be financed by this green climate fund with private investors. But where the Green Climate Fund helps to take out some of the risks.
I guess that is a an enormous concern going forward is that many of the largest polluting countries are poor countries, and they don’t have very robust environmental protection. My understanding is the EPA in Mexico is almost toothless. And and certainly that’s a problem for us. How can we deal with that, that problem going forward?
Well, I think it’s by its by spurring the economy and realizing especially coming out of COVID. And the recession that’s happened, especially in many of these developing countries, even worse than here, that there’s economic opportunity.
So I work, for example, on 18 projects in western India, in the state of Gujarat, where we’re working with 18 municipalities to help them get the same technology we have here in Los Angeles, to convert all of their waste into valuable feedstocks, green chemicals, materials that can be put back into production. And think about it.
You know, if you’re starting a company and you want to make something the first thing you have to say as well, where am I going to get the raw materials to make my product? Well imagine if there was already raw materials sitting in a city and they were willing to pay you to take it. Well, that’s what exists with waste all over the world. And especially in India, they’re paying people to pick it up and take it to a landfill, just like here in the US.
Instead, they could be taking it to a place that converts it back into usable products and materials. And that creates local jobs. It solves local environmental problems of materials washing into the waterways or decomposing into air pollution and greenhouse gases. And so when you show people that they can do this with economic opportunity and jobs, I think that’s the quickest way to help these countries out of poverty but also to protect their environment and the shared global environment.
Well, certainly that is the path forward, Terry and If you have eloquently stated how we can do it, I guess we still we have concerns of, Can we do it quickly enough? And? And what can we do to hasten these the speed of this change so that we avoid environmental disaster?
And unfortunately, we don’t have much time for you to give a short clip on that. But you know, if you had a sentence or two or three, what would you advise the listeners to do and start taking action to help the environment?
Well, that’s it is it really is also up to all of us, not just government and big business, on my seventh generation advisors website, that’s seven th advisors, Seventh Generation advisors.org, you can find the personal Climate Action Center with all kinds of tips of things you can do that will save you money, help you reduce your carbon footprint, clean up the environment and your neighborhood.
So taking those personal actions makes a difference. And Shakespeare said nature’s bequest gives nothing but dead land. And so when nature calls the to be gone, what acceptable legacy can still leave? Well, I think if we all take personal action and teach others to do the same, that we will not run out of time and we will be able to pass a better environment on to the next generation than we inherited from the last one.
Well, amen to that. Thank you, Terry, for being on the show. Everybody check out 7thgeneration advisors.org. And you’ve been listening to Unite and Heal America. Our guest today, Terry Tamminen, and it’s been a pleasure talking with you, Terry, and we’ll be looking forward to talking with you in the future.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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