Climate and Energy Project's Jackson discusses Kan.'s efforts to reduce emissions

As the Senate debates the allocation of allowances in its version of a cap-and-trade bill, Midwestern senators are hoping to protect their constituents from the high energy costs that may come as a result of the region's large manufacturing sector and heavy use of coal for electricity production. The Climate and Energy Project was created in Kansas to help Midwesterners become more involved in their clean energy future, ahead of a federal cap on emissions. During today's OnPoint, Nancy Jackson, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project and a member of the Kansas Citizens' Utility Ratepayer Board, discusses efforts in the Midwest to reduce emissions and increase efficiency. Jackson also explains how a federal standard will affect progress on the local and state levels.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Nancy Jackson, executive director at the Kansas-based Climate and Energy Project. Nancy was appointed to the Citizen's Utility Rate Payer Board by Governor Mark Parkinson in August, 2009. Nancy, are coming on the show.

Nancy Jackson: It's a pleasure to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Nancy, CEP was created to help Midwesterners become more involved in their clean energy future and they're doing this by reducing emissions, developing renewable resources, improving energy efficiency and it's more of a grass-roots approach to outreach. Tell us a bit about why CEP was created and what some of the main goals of this project are.

Nancy Jackson: Sure. So, our primary goal is really to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Midwest, of course, is very heavily carbon emitting. We have significant large industry, we also have agriculture, we are heavily dependent on transportation, and we depend on coal for the vast majority of our electric generation. So, when we looked at what to do in the state of Kansas what we found was nationally there was a very top-down approach to reducing emissions. And in Kansas we knew that wasn't going to happen and so we looked at what we could do from the grassroots up and what we found was that the majority of Kansans, while they're not sure what they think about climate change necessarily, they do know what is the right thing to do. And from their perspective, based on current land values like stewardship and frugality and making do with what you have, energy efficiency and renewable energy just makes sense.

Monica Trauzzi: And there are two initiatives specifically that you have going on, the Take Charge Challenge and the Kansas Interfaith Power and Light. Tell us a bit about the two of those.

Nancy Jackson: Sure. So, the Take Charge Challenge a friend of mine calls the Biggest Loser for energy efficiency and really, it's six Kansas towns who are competing against one another to reduce their energy use the most over a one-year period. What's fun about this is that we have community leaders leading teams who are competitive amongst themselves. So for example, we have car dealerships challenging one another to reduce their lighting load and we have schools challenging one and other and right now, in Marion, Kansas, we have children doing a vampire hunt and what they're looking for is phantom load, of course, all the power that we draw when we have things plug-in that are not actually on. And so those kids are going to be ferreting out that phantom load, slaying it and getting a pizza prize, vampire teeth, all delivered by the city manager who will be dressed as Dracula. So, it's those sorts of fun community events that end in winning, that refigure energy efficiency from sacrifice to success and we think that's a huge part of what can happen in the heartland and elsewhere. The Interfaith Power and Light is also an exciting initiative. This is a national part of the Regeneration Project and the Kansas chapter is signing up Kansas churches who pursue energy audits and then efficiency improvements to their sanctuaries and as cool congregations reach out to their congregants to show them how they can save energy at home and at work.

Monica Trauzzi: Have you faced resistance considering the economic downturn, the job loss rate? I mean certainly the Midwest has not been immune to everything we're seeing across the country on job losses. So, what's the climate like for these types of efforts considering where the economy is?

Nancy Jackson: Well, interestingly the economy, if anything, has led to more intense interest for energy efficiency in particular, because, of course, this is a way to save money both now and over the long-term by forestalling the necessity for new generation. But even on the renewable side, what's interesting is we did a statewide poll done by a Republican pollster in April, to ask Kansans what they thought about a national renewable energy standard. And, of course, many critics of that policy say it will cost too much money. What Kansans, typically mandate-averse Kansans, said is 80 percent of them supported a renewable energy standard, 75 percent were willing to pay two dollars a month for that privilege and over 50 percent still willing to pay more than $10 a month, which of course we know it won't remotely begin to cost. So, I think that in Kansas there is a very strong recognition that addressing our energy future increases our national security and that those two things are important to do outside of the climate question.

Monica Trauzzi: So how do you take what's been done on the state level and sort of transfer it naturally?

Nancy Jackson: Well, that's a great question. If I knew I think that we would be doing it. I will say though that I think the Take Charge Challenge has proven so successful thus far that we are actually speaking with utilities nationwide about the possibility of putting together a sort of toolkit so that this sort of community-based program could be replicated across the nation. Certainly, that is possible, but I think in general that the environmental community, particularly when it comes to cap and trade and energy policy, has tended to address the coasts with most of its rhetoric. And I think it's really critical, and that's understandable, because the middle of the country doesn't have the emissions that sort of justify a laser beam attention, but at this point with the Midwestern Congressional delegations saying a fairly loud no to the proposed climate legislation it seems like this is an important time to get out across the country and take the message to the grassroots and talk about why this is a good thing for us, not just in terms of jobs, but in terms of savings and in terms of a secure energy future.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you concerned that a federal standard, a federal mandate on emissions might weaken what's been done on the local and state levels?

Nancy Jackson: No, I'm not. I think that those standards have such strong support within the states that there's not much danger of them being superseded by a weaker standard. I still hold out hopes for a stronger national standard, particularly on renewables.

Monica Trauzzi: I want to talk to you about the Kerry-Boxer bill which has been introduced in the Senate. It's likely going to be marked up early next month. What's missing from that bill on the renewable and transmission fronts?

Nancy Jackson: What's notably missing in the bill is a renewable energy standard and I think, of course, that the presumption is that the standing energy bill that was passed out of committee in the Senate will be melded in. But at present, no renewable energy standard, which is a glaring omission, particularly damaging for support in the middle of the country. And similarly, on transmission we know that to move that renewable energy we have to have good, extra high-voltage lines and that's going to require, we think, at least a FERC backstop citing authority, so we'd love to see that in the bill as well. The other pieces I would say that are absolutely critical for that piece of legislation obviously missing as well would be a generous offset program that includes agriculture and can really bring those strong agricultural senators into the fold.

Monica Trauzzi: And the allocation of allowances is going to be a huge deal, especially for the Midwest where a lot of the electricity generation is coming from coal. Are there any specific numbers that you're looking for on that front?

Nancy Jackson: You know, this is the toughest thing for us in the Midwest and I think what you see in all of the talking points from our delegation, which in our case is almost entirely Republican, is our utility statements that this will increase bills by 40 to 50 percent by 2012. That's a remarkably rapid ramp and it's frightening and so I think this is one of those difficult times for the environmental community where you have to ask whether you want purity of motive or constancy of action and we in the heartland are looking seriously at the possibility of allocations based on historical emissions. The current formula, of course, favors the coasts. There are good reasons to do that to credit early actors, but if we don't get Midwestern utilities on board there's a real concern I think about whether we can get this done.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Nancy Jackson: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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