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Friday, November 18, 2011
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Q&A with Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program at NRDC

By Susanne Stahl

Dale Bryk, Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently spoke at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the future of climate change regulation on a panel with Dan Lashof, Director of NRDC’s Climate Center, and Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

YCELP: What is the future of cap-and-trade as a policy solution in the United States?

DALE BRYK: It already exists as a policy in the United States:  the 10 Northeastern states launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in January 2009. That   program has some flaws, but in general I think the states are really happy with the benefits it delivers. The program provides a mechanism to shift gears from sending energy dollars out of state -- to West Virginia for example -- to import coal and instead keeping those energy dollars in the states, in the local communities to drive investment in efficiency, local construction jobs, and that has huge economic development benefits, in addition to lowering pollution and energy bills.

I think the states didn’t realize – even when they were designing that cap-and-trade program – how good it was going to be for them in terms of making that shift to clean energy and what the larger economic benefits would be within the states. California’s planning to launch its program next year, and there are probably 10 other states in the wings – so that’s all going to happen even though we don’t have comprehensive federal climate legislation, or a national cap and trade program. The programs in place at the state level are going to change the way people think about that policy, and I think that’s how we’re going to pave the way to doing something similar at the federal level.

YCELP: What do you see as the policy or regulatory mechanisms most likely to provide the largest greenhouse gas reductions?

DALE BRYK: We just got the vehicle standards. If you think about the wedges analysis a lot of people have done to show where we’re going to get these greenhouse gas reductions, the vehicle standards put us on track for significant reductions in the transportation sector.

Energy efficiency standards for vehicles, and then efficiency on the stationary side for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and for appliances and equipment -- those policies represent the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to reduce pollution. It’s already cost effective, but there are all kinds of market barriers – so it’s just a matter of scaling up the policies that have been effective in the states where they’ve been implemented.

More has been done in residential and commercial buildings than industrial facilities – so scaling up in the industrial sector to make motors and industrial processes more efficient – and businesses more competitive -- is a key area for growth, as are existing buildings . A lot of the work that’s been done historically on efficiency has focused on new buildings, homes and offices, but now we are seeing New York and other cities working with the real estate industry on strategies to attract private sector financing for deep energy efficiency upgrades in existing buildings.  

While efficiency is by far the quickest way to make reductions, especially since it pays for itself, there are a lot of market barriers, for example landlords do not have an incentive to purchase efficient appliances if tenants reap the rewards of those investments in the form of lower electric bills.  And efficiency is more difficult to visualize so it doesn’t get the same public attention– people know what a wind farm looks like but they can’t imagine how better lighting, heating and cooling systems, windows and insulation can save more energy than a nuclear power plant produces, much less avoid the need for dozens of power plants.  And then you have things that are politicized like the light bulb standards, which have actually created a lot more choice in the market place including a more efficient traditional lightbulb, and which will lower our national energy bill by $10 billion a year. So there’s a lot of misunderstanding – and efficiency is not as glamorous as renewable energy and even as climate policy was a few years ago (now it’s more of a mixed bag in terms of it being a political win for local and state politicians).

If Congress was functional, we could have something like a federal energy efficiency investment requirement for utilities that would just require them to invest in efficiency when it’s cost effective, but it’s hard to imagine such a policy, even if it was supported by industry, because things are so politicized. Industry, consumers and environmental groups strongly support the lightbulb standards and they are under fierce attack by the right wing of Congress.  That leaves us with a state-by-state, industry-by-industry approach. The utility industry is further along than most other industries in their thinking on these issues but they still have a long way to go.

YCELP: Are there other measures or legislation pending that could prove to be a real push forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

DALE BRYK: You have the straight-up state energy-efficiency and renewable energy policies and energy-efficiency resource standards in places like Ohio, which you might not think of as the hotbed of clean energy investment. But Ohio has both a huge number of solar manufacturing facilities – it’s a bright spot on the state’s economy on the manufacturing side – and they also have energy efficiency investment policies on the utility side. And you have a relatively new governor who didn’t come in with any particular interest in clean energy who I think we’re seeing embrace this sector as an economic driver in the state. Michigan also has a governor who’s very interested in clean energy. These things are on the cusp: there are policies in place, but they are just starting to deliver the fruits of the enormous potential they have to create jobs and save money for people, in addition to lowering pollution.

The other thing, not so much on the policy front, is working directly with the real estate sector and the finance sector to scale-up energy-efficiency retrofits, working more with the private sector on existing buildings and developing models like the one we have in New York City.

There is a policy element to it – they have city legislation that requires all large building owners to do retro commissioning, which is basically just making sure all the systems in their buildings work as they’re supposed to so you don’t have your air conditioning and your heating fighting against each other. Then you need to line up financing, and of course it helps to have a very powerful and active mayor like Mayor Bloomberg to encourage large building owners to demand efficiency investments. The policy element requires people to look at these issues and proves to them the huge opportunity they have to mine existing buildings as an energy resource, but then we need to line up everything so that it’s very easy for them to move forward.

That’s something that we’re working to replicate in other cities so it’s a ground-up approach that’s more focused on direct collaboration with the private sector than just straight-up policy work where you’re relying on the policy to be the primary driver.

YCELP: Are there measures pending that could be a real setback?

DALE BRYK: The Environmental Protection Agency is under court order to issue their regulations for greenhouse gases for power plants and industrial sources, and yet they have Congress threatening to pull their authority to do so under the Clean Air Act out from under them. And there’s interplay between what the states are doing, sort of pushing the envelope, and what EPA is doing where they can encourage each other. If a lot of the states are going to move forward on their own anyway, it’s not so scary for EPA to do that. And if EPA is going to move forward anyway, then it’s easier to get more states on board to do even more than that as they start to realize the economic benefits of shifting to a clean energy economy, as the Northeast states and California have done and as some Midwest states are starting to do. That could go in a virtuous cycle, or it could go in a vicious cycle. If EPA loses its authority, the state-level initiatives could be affected as well.

YCELP: Anything else you’d like to add?

DALE BRYK: We want to have climate regulation; we want to limit carbon dioxide with a pollution cap. When we sit in the think tank part of work looking at what’s the best policy and what’s the most efficient way to get the most reductions for the least cost, that’s all something that we want to achieve, but there are a lot of other ways to move the ball until we can get that.

So all the policies we can adopt on efficiency, on renewables, on vehicles, on alternative fuels, including expediting the commercialization of electric vehicles – there’s a huge opportunity to start moving down the road to 80-percent reduction by 2050 with these policies, all of which have traction now at the state level or in federal agencies, including EPA and the Department of Energy, where we can get things done. We have to put more of our thinking on how to move those balls faster and further because we certainly don’t want to rely on a polarized, dysfunctional Congress to create the policy framework we need to enable us to compete in the global clean energy market; we can’t put all our eggs in that basket, so we have to make the other baskets do even more than we thought they could in the past.  As more and more people realize the benefits of clean energy in their own lives – lower energy bills, lower unemployment rates in their communities, lower asthma rates and an improved quality of life – it will be more difficult for ideologues in Congress to vote against their constituents’ best interests, and then we will start to see some opportunities open up for federal action.

DALE BRYK is the Director of the Energy & Transportation Program and a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she oversees a team of 50 lawyers, scientists and technology experts working to develop policy solutions that will dramatically improve energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and industry; expedite commercialization of emerging renewable energy technologies; increase vehicle efficiency; drive investment in low-carbon fuels; and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Her expertise is in the area of energy and climate policy, including utility regulation and energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. She was integrally involved in the development of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the cap-and-invest program launched by 10 Northeast states in January 2009.

Dale joined NRDC in 1997, prior to which she practiced corporate law at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York.  From 2002-2010 she also taught the Environmental Law Clinic at Yale Law School. Dale has a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a Masters Degree in international law and policy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a B.A from Colgate University.

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