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Former Interior official Hayes says new president should prioritize land use in effort to combat climate change

How should the next president address the broad range of challenges associated with combating climate change? During today's OnPoint, David Hayes, a former deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior, and currently a distinguished visiting lecturer in law at Stanford Law School and a consulting professor at Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, discusses the recommendations of Stanford's Climate Implementation Project. The project explores policy mechanisms for addressing issues such as land use, health, electric power sector innovation and governance.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is David Hayes, a distinguished visiting lecturer in law at Stanford Law School and a consulting professor at Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. David served as the deputy secretary of Interior in the Clinton and Obama administrations. It's very nice to see you. Thanks for coming on the show.

David Hayes: It's great to be here, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: David, Stanford recently completed a project seeking to provide recommendations to the next president on how to address the challenges associated with climate change. It's a comprehensive look at a wide range of topics: land-use issues, health, infrastructure investments, the shape of the electric power sector. Broadly speaking, how critical of a role will the next president play both nationally and internationally in advancing the agenda on climate change?

David Hayes: Oh, Monica, the next president's role is hugely important. Obviously the last eight years have been significant as well, as President Obama has laid the groundwork, together with other international leaders, toward a solid setting of our climate agenda. But now we have to actually get to work and beyond the basic building blocks. President Obama has focused a lot on the Clean Power Plan and the coal industry.

Now we have to think: really societywide, how do we get at our emissions and get them down? And that's going to mean looking at infrastructure in a new way. It's going to be thinking harder about research and development, and also, probably even more importantly, deployment of clean energy. And then making this new international arrangement that we have a reality, and working with partner countries to deal with the big issues that're holding them back in terms of climate change.

Monica Trauzzi: So one of the items that you emphasized as part of the project is the role land use plays in the climate agenda. How is the current strategy on land use lacking?

David Hayes: Well, land use is hardly part of the conversation here in the United States in terms of climate change. We have been focused obsessively, and for some good reason, on our heavy fossil fuel sector, with coal combustion being the center of it. We have to get started there for sure. But we cannot move forward in a meaningful way in the U.S. or globally without thinking more firmly about having land use as a key part of the overall agenda. And the reason why is: No. 1, 25 percent of global emissions are coming from deforestation and poor agricultural practices; 25 percent of all emissions.

And, No. 2, smart land use, good forestry, smart agricultural management can drink in, uptake carbon. Already 20 percent of our man-made emissions are being sequestered by forest and good land management.

Thirdly, we have to site clean energy. And big-footprint solar projects and transmission projects — land-use decisions are essential to that.

And, finally, land use is taking the brunt of our climate impacts. Our coasts are being impacted. Our landscapes are being affected by droughts and wildfires. So land use has to be much more of a central focus for our climate agenda going forward.

Monica Trauzzi: So how does the next president then jump in on this?

David Hayes: Well, it's a good question. Because I think it speaks to another part of the Stanford agenda, which has been a governance question. This is an enormous challenge for the next president. Given the fact that climate change issues cut across so many federal agencies, and then, vertically, up and down the governance structure into local areas, regional areas, states, et cetera, how do you that? And particularly land use, which typically is quite apart from the DOE world and the EPA world.

I think the next president does it by deciding that we're going to include land use as a key part of the overall agenda, having a climate cabinet that meets regularly and that works across all of these issues.

Monica Trauzzi: So you mentioned the governance questions that you'd like to see addressed by the next president. I thought that part of the project was very interesting because we have seen a variety of ideas in addressing climate change. We've also seen certain cases where certain offices have overstepped others. And that's something that you talk about in the project and in the report. How does the next president avoid those complications?

David Hayes: Well, we had a fascinating workshop on this subject. And then at our major conference in May at Stanford, luminaries like Secretary George Shultz and John Podesta talked about these issues. And there's no one right answer, to be sure. Some of the work that students at Stanford did, in looking at interagency efforts in the past, concluded that, No. 1, the White House shouldn't try to implement policy. It's great at making policy, but when it comes to executing, you've got to have the agencies doing that as a primary role.

That said, there's a clear recognition that there needs to be somebody very close to the president with the ear of the president and with authority in the White House over all the many offices, to help the agencies execute. And then, as an ongoing matter, to continue to make policy where it needs to be made. We can't have lots and lots of White House offices with somewhat similar briefs to get involved in climate change. This is too big a problem to not be well-organized in how we go about handling it.

Monica Trauzzi: You talk about the structural challenges that exist in the electric power sector. And they seemingly are getting in the way of competition and innovation. This is an industry that's sort of slowly breaking away from this 100-year-old model. What are the chief concerns that you believe are still present? And then how does the industry move away from those?

David Hayes: We had terrific papers presented a couple weeks ago now at the National Press Club on September 15th on this subject. Which incidentally you can get to by going to woods.stanford.edu under News and Events, and you'll find all the materials for this entire project. We had fascinating presentations by Reed Hundt, former chair of the FCC, by professor Michael Wara, by practitioner Michael Gergen and out at Stanford by former Republican Assistant Secretary Andy Karsner. They all essentially said — and I should add one more: Michael Picker, who is chairman of the California PUC. They all essentially said that we have to rethink the entire electricity sector.

And while there's no question that we appropriately have a monopoly approach for regulation of the grid, when it comes to generation of power and also customer interface and behind-the-meter-type innovation, we have to have more competition. And I hope that your listeners will read some of those papers. Because there is the sense of potentially lighting a fuse and putting some antitrust issues in front of some of the jurisdictions that really have been stifling innovation on both ends of the spectrum. And there's a menu of options there that will keep a lot of lawyers in this town busy for a long time.

But, arguably, that's what revolutionized the telecommunications industry and changed it from a monopoly to an incredibly vibrant part of our economy. Arguably, some of those same techniques should be applied in the electricity sector.

Monica Trauzzi: That's going to be a huge deal if that ball gets rolling.

David Hayes: Yes indeed.

Monica Trauzzi: E&E reported this week that Donald Trump has selected climate skeptic Myron Ebell to lead his EPA transition team. What does that tell you about what we could expect from a Trump administration on a climate agenda and also on agency structure?

David Hayes: Well, our proposition here at the Stanford project has been that whoever wins the election is going to have to deal with climate change, regardless of the rhetoric. And throughout this yearlong project supported by the Hewlett Foundation, we had prominent Republicans participating, folks like Jim Connaughton, Andy Karsner, Bill Reilly, George Shultz and others. And I think, regardless of the appointments, issues like the impacts that climate is already having on our country and our infrastructure are going to have to be dealt with. But certainly if there's a climate skeptic put in charge of a major agency, that would be a body blow, I would think, to forward movement. So it's certainly not welcome news.

Monica Trauzzi: And, finally, if Hillary Clinton wins, would you be interested in heading back to Interior?

David Hayes: Oh, that's an unfair question, Monica. That's an unfair question. I had the pleasure of serving for two presidents, and we'll see what the future brings.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it right there. I had to ask [laughs].

David Hayes: Right [laughing].

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show.

David Hayes: Okay. Good. Thank you.

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

[End of Audio]

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