At Harris Bricken, we keep close tabs on what is happening around the world, and we know that our friends and clients do, as well. We are happy to provide this podcast series: Global Law and Business, hosted by international attorneys Fred Rocafort and Jonathan Bench, where we look at the world by talking with business leaders, innovators, service providers, manufacturers, and government leaders around the world.
In Episode #74, we are joined by Luis Martínez, the Director of the Southeast Energy, Climate and Clean Energy Program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
- How Luis’ desire to be the next Jacques Costeau led to a career in environmental law
- Luis’ time at the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and his advocacy in support of Vieques cleanup efforts
- The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Luis helped design
- Shifting political winds on climate policy
- How the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria sparked a conversation on energy resiliency in Puerto Rico
- Listening, and watching recommendations from:
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Ted Lasso on Apple TV+
- Darknet Diaries podcast
- Making Sense podcast with Sam Harris – Episode #258 – The Fall of Afghanistan: A Conversation with Peter Bergen
We’ll see you next week for another exciting and informative episode when we sit down with Ilya Umanskiy, director of the Current Consulting Group, to discuss risk management, asset protection, and related topics.
This podcast audio has been transcribed by an automatic transcriber.
Fred Rocafort 0:07
Global law and global business go hand in hand, but never seem to keep pace with each other. The importance on the global stage of developing and developed nations waxes and wanes, while consumption and interconnectedness steadily increase all the while laws and regulations change incessantly requiring businesses to stay nimble. But how do we make sense of it all? Welcome to Global Law and Business hosted by Harris Bricken International Business attorneys. I’m Fred Rocafort.
Jonathan Bench 0:37
And I’m Jonathan Bench. Every week, we take a targeted look at legal and economic developments in locales around the world as we try to decipher global trends in law and business with the help of international experts. We cover continents, countries, regimes, governance, finance, legal developments, and whatever is trending on Twitter. We cover the important, the seemingly unimportant, the relatively simple and the complex.
Fred Rocafort 1:02
We hope you enjoy today’s podcast. Please connect with us on social media to comment and suggest future topics and guests.
It is a real pleasure to welcome today’s guest Luis Martinez. Luis is an old friend. We were fellow students at the University of Michigan back in the 90s. As a fellow Puerto Rican Luis and I developed a close friendship with Luis he was actually my roommate as well. And his brother is also a friend. We had him on the podcast not too long ago. So it’s a real pleasure to have someone who’s not only a friend, but also very distinguished in his field. As a grown-up, he’s now the director for the southeast energy climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. So, Luis Oh, and by the way, he’s a he’s a fellow attorney as well, it’s important to put that out there. So Luis, welcome to Global Law and Business.
Luis Martinez 2:10
Thank you, Fred. It’s a pleasure to be here excited to be talking to you again. I’d say we’re friends. We’ve been friends for a long time, not old friends.
Fred Rocafort 2:24
I endorse that qualification. So Luis, let me turn it over to you for for a more adult introduction. I tend to focus on the more personal aspects of who you are. But there’s there’s a lot that’s happened since we studied at Michigan so so please tell us about your work and what you’ve been doing since college?
Luis Martinez 2:45
Yeah, happy to. Well, Fred is as you know, I went to the University of Michigan to study environmental science. Growing up, I wanted to be the next Jacques Cousteau. I still want to be the next Jacques Cousteau when I grow up. Meanwhile, I, I finished my degree in environmental science at Michigan, I then went to law school and went to Tulane, I wanted to be able to do civil law and common law. And they offered a great program plus a great Environmental Law Clinic and great environmental law training, I realized that sort of where my passion was, was in sort of figuring out how to make things change for the better. And for me, that was in the in the place of policy, you know how to how to figure out which policies would be effective to improve environmental conditions. I’m growing up in Puerto Rico, I had sort of developed a deep appreciation for our environment, the ocean, the mountains, and sort of, I say, I felt personally offended whenever it wasn’t properly protected. So I realized that was sort of going to be my, my mission in life. I did law school. Then I came back to Puerto Rico joined the Puerto Rico environmental agency, the environmental quality board, were one of my first projects was working on trying to get the island of Vieques, itis, which used to be a Fred, as you know, very well enabled bombing range for the Department of Defense for decades and decades and had been severely contaminated. There was a population of folks living in vehicles that became cysts that had been living under sort of weekly bombardment, as part of their daily life. And when the Department of Defense left finally after extended civil disobedience acts, they decided they weren’t going to clean up the island and that they were just going to sort of put a fence Around the bombing range, call it a nature reserve. And that the standard of cleanup there for men, nobody would be able to come into contact with a lot of the unexploded ordinance and other contaminants so that they would just leave it there forever. So my task with a number of other folks at the environmental quality board was how to pressure the Department of Defense to to clean up. So it was quite the project, right from law school. And it took a number of years until right in 2000. And I joined in 2002. And in 2004, with a lot of help from the US EPA, the Department of Natural Resources in Puerto Rico, sort of we and you know, it became a very well known environmental justice issue, the Department of Defense finally agreed to clean up we had we had launched a lawsuit trying to force them to clean up and in 2004, shortly before I left, the environmental quality board vehicles was listed in what’s called the national priorities list for cleanup under a Superfund law, which is now unfortunately, not that well, super funded.
But that’s that’s that was my sort of experience in Puerto Rico was a wonderful experience there, it was a great opportunity to to learn, and and to sort of begin my career. And then I had the opportunity to join the Natural Resources Defense Council, which, you know, I had learned about NRDC, even in law school, because of all of the sort of active litigation that they would do to protect the environment to protect human health and to improve environmental policy. And I saw that there was an opportunity to join them I applied. I at the at the time, I thought I would be working on protecting the Clean Air Act, there was a bush administration to have been sort of talking about gutting the Clean Air Act and air protection laws. And I prepared for that in an interview. And I went and sat down with them, and spent a lot of time talking about how I was ready to sort of protect our air laws. And too much, they said, No, no, no, no, we were not going to be talking about that. Or sorry, we’re not going to be focusing on that what we want you to do is to work on something called climate change. And because we weren’t able to get climate change legislation done federally or climate change policy on federally, we’re going to be doing climate change at the state level. And essentially, that’s that’s been the task then since 2004. I’ve been working on this now, for a decade and a half, to try and get. First it was just to focus on climate change policy, I’ve now been sort of more broadly focused, if you can say focus is probably the wrong word. But more broadly, looking into how to transition the whole energy sector towards clean energy, and that the sort of industrial sector, the electricity sector, the transportation sector, how to switch all of those energy uses from primarily fossil which is severely polluting, to clean energy and primarily renewables. By started that in the northeast, working out of the New York office for NRDC, and I was there for about eight years, since 2000, from 2004 to 2012. And after that, I moved to the southeast to open up. NRDC is engagement in the region, and have been here since 2012. in Asheville, North Carolina, which is, I feel lucky to call this place home. I’ve got a now a few kids here. And it’s it’s been great, although extremely challenging. Going from the northeast, where there’s more of an appreciation for environmental protection to the southeast, where it’s not no longer preaching to the choir. I’ll say that.
Jonathan Bench 9:23
Luis, I think the thing that impresses me most about your background is that you knew what you wanted to do early on. I turned 40 this year, and I still think about alternate career options, right thinking I probably 10 things I would enjoy doing besides what I do, and I love what I do, right? But I’m very impressed that you are so focused. And of course I know a lot of people who are older than I am and they’re not sure they made the right career choice. They’re not sure how to make a different career choice. So you know, kudos to you for figuring that out. Certainly sounds like you’ve had some great adventures along the way. So in doing this, you help design, implement and defend the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative, which is the first cap and invest regional initiative implemented in the US. Can you tell us more about RGGI especially how cap and invest works, and how it offers a solution to the climate crisis.
Luis Martinez 10:12
Sure, that was what essentially what I was hired to do back in 2004, when we decided to start working on climate policy at the state level, we weren’t fully sure if that could even be done, whether it could only be done federally whether the states had the jurisdiction to do it. So essentially, I spent about two years researching and drafting legal memos both on the ability of states to undertake this sort of regulation or legislation, and in many cases, legislation was needed, and then in how to shape it so that it would be sort of legally defensible, and and that that took a lot of thinking a lot of time, a lot of partners that we were working with trying to figure out what was the right way to regulate this sector. And so under that effort we had, I mean, this is so long ago that primarily we were working with two Republican governors to regulate climate change at the time, it was Pataki in New York and Schwarzenegger and California, both of which became climate leaders. So that it’s a long time ago. And the goal, we started an effort called the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative, which was then abbreviated to RGGI. And the goal essentially, at first was to take on sort of all of these sectors across the economy and figure out how to regulate them to effectuate this transition from fossil energy to clean energy. Ultimately, RGGI was limited to the electric sector, the electric sector was the most polluting sector at the time, it’s now sort of tied with transportation, for most polluting in terms of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. So what the policy ended up being is an evolution of cap and trade, which was pioneered under the Clean Air Act to address sulfur dioxide. federally, and the way it works, basically, you set a maximum allowable number of tons of pollution that can go into the atmosphere, that’s your cap. And so once the cap is set at any given year, so every year then it starts declining by a certain amount 1% 2% 5%, depending on how aggressive you want that policy to be. And you figure out who you’re going to regulate, in this case, in New York, and across a number of states that were participating collaboratively from this effort, and that’s where the regional part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative comes from. It was it was Pataki in New York, but there was about 1011 states that were all sort of collaboratively participating in the development of the rule. And that ultimately implemented it. And in terms of who they were regulating, we chose the electric sector, this would be power generating plants, so power plants larger than 25 megawatts. And that’s the amount of the the capacity that of electricity that they can generate, and that we’re fossil fired. So fossil generated power plants larger than 25 megawatts. So those are all the regulated body, the amount of pollution that they put out, helped to form the basis for the cap. So basically, when the policy started, we were right at about where they would be anyway and then we started sort of cinching down or clamping down with the with the cap. And the evolution flum the cap and trade or the Clean Air Act was that in under the cap and trade, what the EPA would do is once they figure out what the maximum amount of pollution is the cap, then they split that cap up and what are allowances or sort of individual units, each allowance for a ton of that pollutant going into the atmosphere. And allowances a permit to pollute a ton of that pollutant. And for RGGI, it was co2, carbon dioxide, I should say, to not use acronyms. And so you divide up the cap into allowances, you figure out how many you have, whether it’s, you know, 100,000 of these permits, and Under the under cap and trade, you essentially then portion them among the polluters based on their historical emissions. So if a power plant was putting out, I don’t know, let’s say, you know, 10,000 tons of co2, they would give them 10 allowances at 1000 each. And once you sort of distribute the allowances, you know, the cap year after year is going to start declining. And you allow those market players to trade with themselves for who can achieve reductions in their generation most cost effectively. And so that was the way things were done. What we noticed was at the same time, Europe was working on these policies, they did the same thing. They did a cap and trade program over in Europe called the European emission Trading Scheme, ETS. And the news that we were getting is that the allowances became so valuable in trading, that the polluters were making windfall profits. And this is sort of the opposite of the philosophy that you want, you want the polluter to pay, there’s a principle of above polluter pays for these emission reductions. And what we were hearing is polluters, were actually benefiting from these programs. So the main switch in RGGI or the evolution and RGGI was rather than cap and trade cap and invest. And that’s because these permits to pollute, were then auctioned, instead of being handed out for free. So each state would figure out what their cap is, they would have a certain amount of other allowances for auction, they pooled collectively to do a regional auction, that would happen a number of times a year.
And then the polluters would go to this regional auction to acquire the permits that they need for their operations. And the more permits that people need, the higher the price of these allowances get, but there’s those permits are kept. So the polluters would then pay for these allowances, and the states have a source of funding that they would then invest. And so that’s the word that with the invest piece comes from, and they would use that towards energy efficiency programs, like buying down the price of a very efficient heat pump for your home or buying down the price of folks installing solar panels and their home, or putting incentives for folks to transition to efficient appliances, or just actually reducing the cost of folks electricity bills. So sort of direct subsidies for bills, for those most vulnerable for low income folks in particular. In some cases, they would take the money and just put it into their yearly revenue, and it became sort of a source of funding for the state altogether. But the idea was that there was a price to pollute, to polluting, and that that price would then be incorporated into that electric use. And RGGI launched in 2009. In in the northeast, and it has since been participating honestly better than than we sort of thought it would the emissions dropped very quickly. There was sort of a transition happening to lower emitting fossil generation. So from coal, which is very polluting to gas, which is less polluting, ultimately to renewables, which is where we want to go solar wind, both onshore and offshore. And it’s been working seamlessly we then the idea of the program was to have it be a basis for federal regulation. And indeed RGGI became the framework for what was called the Clean Power Plan, which the Obama administration promised, promulgated, adopted, and it got mired in litigation. And ultimately, it still sort of it was it was it was not allowed to go into not allowed to be implemented.
And now, all those legal challenges are still going through there. They’re sort of clearing up the but the problem is that the sector may have sort of moved from where we were at that point, not entirely sure of RGGI or the Clean Power Plan is the right policy. But the Biden administration now is sort of figuring out what policy they’re going to issue. And whether this something like was what was RGGI becomes part of it. Meanwhile, the states Now in the southeast Virginia, has joined RGGI, Pennsylvania. Finally, although they were participant from the beginning, they never joined has now joined RGGI and North Carolina where I call home is, has moved towards regulation. So they’re they’re beginning their regulatory process to join RGGI.
Jonathan Bench 20:20
So two questions for you first, what kind of interaction Did you have with the governor? And second, how’s how’s the rest of the world comparing to what is happening in the States? Do we have some, some leaders, some followers, some that maybe won’t get with this for decades. But first, the Governator question, because that’s really my burning question.
Luis Martinez 20:42
Well, I had no no interaction with the Governator, I think I might have been in the in the same room at a conference or two at the time, but the program so California was doing its own thing, though, the Northeast was working on its set of programs at the time, California was working with the West Coast states and some of the Canadian provinces actually. So that was a an interesting topic about whether they could create their own program in almost international program as the state or whether that was solely the function of the US government, the national government, but no California did their own program. And theirs was incorporated a number of things. Essentially, it’s it’s RGGI for or cabin invest for the electric sector. But then they also incorporated industrial sector transportation sector. So they were much more ambitious. But they were launched on a different timeline. I think they they implemented their program where they went into effect probably four or five years after RGGI began. But I didn’t I didn’t get much of a chance to hang out with with Arnold. Although at that time, Al Gore was very much involved in climate regulation. I did get to go to his home and did the whole sort of the he was doing like a climate training. And I was part of the the first batch of folks out that were sort of going through the training and helping to shape it for the mainstream.
Jonathan Bench 22:14
Second question was about the rest of the world. What do you see in developed nations developing nations? It’s a very broad question. But since you’re so in tune with, with climate policy, I wonder what kind of insights you have as far as what’s going on outside the US?
Luis Martinez 22:28
Yeah, I mean, ultimately, the the rest of the world was expecting the US to help lead on this. And I’d say sort of wanted needed the US to step up to the plate, I thought that would happen. Back in even 2009, there was an opportunity, there was a discussion on a federal proposal that sort of died in the Senate, unfortunately, then the Clean Power Plan was going to be the basis for federal regulation that would was going to enable give the US legitimacy in these international negotiations. What’s been happening is the US has been largely absent. So that sort of leadership has passed on the US and Australia, I think I have been two of the the two main developed nations that have not been participating fully, but the rest of the world has sort of moved on now the US is playing catch up, they weren’t able to, to help define how that is how those climate negotiations are moving forward. The next one is happening just now in October, November in Glasgow, Scotland. And my sense is hopefully by by then there’ll be a role for the US having had some sort of success at home, whether that’s just a proposal, which is apparently what’s going to happen. But yeah, unfortunately, the US has been missing the rest of the of the world has sort of moved on without our involvement as much on on the climate front.
Fred Rocafort 24:05
Luis, I want to turn back to what’s happening at home. And I think our years at the University of Michigan are a good starting point for this. The world has changed a lot since then. I think we can say without fear of understating. I think it was our senior year, I remember when the NATO bombings of Serbia started happening. I remember being at one of the many bars that we frequented in Ann Arbor. And I remember seeing some of the other students their chair as they learned of this more vigorous involvement by the US to take action. Of course, this was a different era. This was that golden period, if you will, between the end of the Cold War and September 11, when when it really felt as if the world was was changing in a positive direction, the end of history and all of that, but a lot has happened since then. From that we’ve ended up Where we are now with withdrawal from Afghanistan, we’ve seen also very deep cultural changes in the country, or at the very least, we’ve seen a manifestation of things that perhaps were always there under the surface. And in many ways, and I think I’m not alone in this, I am surprised that that’s some of what I see. If you had asked me to predict when I was a college student, you know, what, what will the country look like in 2021? And when it comes to certain issues, I could not have predicted most of what I see where I’m going with this is, from your vantage point, you know, as someone who is obviously an expert, really in these fields, what do you see, as far as the general population goes, when it comes to awareness of environmental issues? There’s obviously what we see in the in the press. And I imagine that there’s some element of truth to that, probably some exaggeration, as well. But I’d be very interested to hear your perspectives on this. Do you see progress overall, in terms of how we, as a society move to address these different challenges? Do you see things more or less remaining stable? Or perhaps you even see some some regression in terms of how we are facing these challenges?
Luis Martinez 26:23
Yeah, Fred, that’s, that’s a great question. And it’s, I mean, I, I’ll try to answer it from my perspective, which is, admittedly, from the through the lens of the climate regulation and energy regulation. But like I said, previously, when I when I joined NRDC, and we were working on climate regulation, the champions that we were working with, were Republican governors, and there had been a deadlock, you know, a year, a few years later, there was a sort of deadlock in the in Congress, which I’ll speak to in a second. But it was republicans that that were sort of championing action on climate change. And even the policy itself, cap and trade came from a republican administration, at EPA in time, you know, the who was looking to use something called market mechanisms to do environmental regulation. So allowing the sort of market to find the least cost way to reduce pollution, and it was very effective. And at the time, the environment was sort of, I wouldn’t say General, completely out of politics, but it was something in which both sides of the aisle had winds under their belt and, you know, had their own things that they were promoting, but it was sort of consistently the environment and even climate change. It wasn’t as fully tribal, and political, as it became. And when when he was being discussed from 2004 or five, really, when it launched in 2009. That that became a sort of a model then for federal regulation. And there was discussion, there was a bill called the Markey Lieberman bill back in, in the Senate, in, I think 2009, that was moving towards federal regulation. So it was moving towards being approved. I guess what we didn’t realize was the degree to which the opposition was so well funded, and would sort of make the environment and climate regulation in particular, sort of a litmus test for conservatism. And for sort of one party and you know, if you’re in this party, then you can’t believe in this and you don’t, you know, you’re completely opposed to that. And climate change sort of fell in there, because of, you know, very well funded concerted efforts from incumbents in the fossil fuel industry, to put it in there. And at the time, remember, we were working with Alisa Jackson, who became then Administrator of the of the EPA, we were working in her state to implement RGGI. And then it was implemented under the administration of Chris Christie, who was supportive right up until he went up and met with the Koch brothers. And you know, before we knew it, he came back and he just said he was pulling the state from RGGI, the state was New Jersey would no longer participate in RGGI. And that started happening sort of across all the big states. We had, you know, Chris Christie saying, No, we’re no longer doing this. And this, you know, when you mentioned the part that I was defending RGGI I was working on then I sort of sued the state to get them back into RGGI because they were they were doing it illegally, the way they were removing the state from RGGI was illegal. But you know, Pataki ended up then sort of trying to gloss over all of the work that he did on climate. He didn’t want to speak on that. And at the time, we had to The governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was also a climate champion at the time, and shortly thereafter sort of denounced climate, you know, this is purely sort of liberal stuff, purely stuff for the Democrats, we no longer work on this, or can are allowed to. And and it became very partisan, very tribal. And, you know, intensely so and I guess we were surprised by, by that, because the, you know, the tradition had been that there was progress made on the environment under both a Republican or a democratic administration, and then it polarized it.
And the environment and climate change in particular sort of became something that apparently only democrats care about, you know, public health, air pollution, water pollution, you name it. It’s no, we don’t care about that it that’s something for liberals or conservatives, which is really unfortunate, because it’s step back environmental progress in the country. Significantly, I would say, to sort of end on a lighter note that there are signs of a shift back to some normality, particularly because the well I you know, two things one, the the younger generation of folks that are conservative are not on the you know, we don’t believe in climate change, and we’re never going to regulate pollution, or we’re gonna regulate greenhouse gases, I think the party has realized that they’re, they’re sort of their younger folks, if they want to appeal to the younger voters, they need to do something on on climate change. What that is, we, you know, we yet to see. And the other Of course, and much more, unfortunately, is that climate change, then move from being this thing that, you know, climate scientists would tell you about, to something you, you know, open the news, and you see it all over the place. And it’s everywhere, you know, droughts, fires, floods, incredibly powerful storms, in the end, the IPCC report, and this is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which started meeting in 1990, their latest report, which happened earlier this month, the sixth report is showing just how dire everything has gotten. And one of the scientists that works on that had a great quote, which is, you know, sign climate change went from something that you had to be a climate scientist to understand to something, you can just open your window, look out the window and see happening. So at least on that front, things are getting better, but the incumbent, and you know, the fossil fuel industry, are very powerful, they’re still fighting tooth and nail against it, it’s just that Yeah, you know, almost like the regulations on on smoking, where the truth is coming out, and they can no longer sort of cover the, you know, discover the sun with their hand, as we say, in Spanish. So, there’s signs of hope. But we’ve lost a lot of time, which means that, you know, if going back to RGGI as an example, that cap, if we set a cap and start reducing it year by year, now those yearly reductions are going to be are going to need to be very significant. Rather than a sort of a more gradual reduction, we’re going to need some much more dramatic cinching of our, you know, societal belt.
Jonathan Bench 33:37
So let’s use Puerto Rico as a case study. Puerto Rico has been affected by many natural disasters, most recently, Hurricane Maria in 2017. But Puerto Rico had committed to 100% renewable energy by 2050, and no coal after 2028. With the damage that Maria caused, is that still going to be possible and kind of talk generally about how these these natural disasters are affecting goals that that countries and states may have?
Luis Martinez 34:03
Yeah, so Puerto Rico, I mean, Fred and I are both from there. It’s an it’s a really interesting case. I started my career in Puerto Rico and then came to NRDC in the northeast and had been working there and you know, keeping an eye on our, on our island. But by and large, I wasn’t sort of engaging in Puerto Rico and then Maria happened. And it was a devastating storm, category five, you know, it. The economy and the infrastructure in Puerto Rico had decayed to such an extent that it was really in a precarious situation. And Maria just finished it off. It wouldn’t have taken a Maria, you know, a hurricane half a strong cook would have done that, but it was devastating. And to this day, I was there just last week, we were engaging on a number of things and the sort of society scars are very visible both, you know, in the people and and in Puerto Rico and the infrastructure and even the economy. But when Maria happened, the Diaspora mobilized to figure out what we could do. And me being at NRDC, I was trying to figure out what what could be done. And what we’ve seen in Puerto Rico, the, the infrastructure that was there, at least on the electric sector, was modeled after what’s happened in all of the states, which is you generate electricity from a fossil fuel, and at a central, a very large central power station, and then you sort of transmitted over lines, long distances from where it’s generated to where it’s used. And that was part of the problem, the storm sort of destroyed all of that transmission and distribution system, because it had to go across a mountain range on these, sort of, at the time rickety telephone poles, which are very hard to access, some of them, you can only get in there via helicopter, and repairing all that took forever, it became the second longest blackout worldwide. And it was devastating. The the toll on the economy and the number of deaths were staggering. So and but interestingly, what’s happened since is that Puerto Rico’s realized that they need to move beyond it, and both for their for the, the sustainability issue. So addressing climate change, but just for the resiliency of Puerto Rico, they didn’t have any fuels, the infrastructure was destroyed. And then now focusing on what can be sourced locally, and I was recently on a panel talking about the same topic, both agriculture sector, but and also the electric sector are looking at how to increase local production and civil society has united around a proposal called we want son get him a soul, which is getting solar power, on rooftops. so different that how solar power has sort of evolved, in some of the states where these these large utility scale, solar farms are happening often on land or an agricultural land that is not being used in Puerto Rico, they want to save the agricultural land for increasing agriculture in the island.
And then use the rooftops as a resource for for solar. But the challenge is, and we’ve seen this in Puerto Rico, but we’ve seen this in Hawaii, which took similar steps a long time ago, the gas industry is very much in Puerto Rico, trying to force the development of the use of their product, and they’re trying to force the island to rebuild the destroyed electric grid, essentially, to use gas instead of to use solar. So you know, you can rebuild one of two ways whether you develop a system that is centralized, and then transmits power over long distances, or that is very much distributed, using that solar rooftop resource. And that source places the generation, you know, right next to or on top of where that electricity is used. And that’s what folks want that and, and that’s really become a model for what can be done not just in Puerto Rico, but everywhere, where sort of, we need to go to increase the resiliency of our electric infrastructure. But it’s challenging, there’s a sort of something good to come out of this. They now have a funding to rebuild their electric system. FEMA has about nine and a half billion dollars that are earmarked to re build the Puerto Rico electric system, but there’s a very active debate about what is going to be rebuilt. And even though Puerto Rico passed a law in 2019, about 100% renewable even though the regulator’s the environment, the energy Bureau in Puerto Rico, then rejected the utilities plan to rebuild using gas and said we’re going to invest in solar, and we’re going to invest in battery storage. They’re still that that’s still not set in stone, there’s still a very active push to force Puerto Rico to build liquid liquefied natural gas ports and a big sort of gas duct and to instead of using coal plants to use gas plants, for their electricity, and this is a similar story to what we saw in Hawaii and they had to sort of push off the gas industry because the you know, in the US with fracking, the advent of fracking which is a form of drilling, there’s a significant gas resource and they’re looking for off takers. And there’s a significant you know, there’s they’re looking at a big risk of, of stranded assets of not being able to capitalize on those investments. So they’re looking for to ensure that infrastructure is built to use their assets, whether it’s long pipelines in the US, or these Liquefied Natural ports in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands or in Hawaii. That is very much what we’re seeing everywhere. So I do think it can to answer your question, sorry about the long winded answer. But to answer your question, I do think there they can rebuild renewable there’s, it’s challenging, because nobody’s done it before. All of a sudden, Puerto Rico is at the forefront of what can be done with the electric system, whether you, you know, how distributed can it be? how resilient can it be? What are the models to allow, you know, somebody to service these systems, you know, what are what are the ownership structures when it’s somebody rootstock, but it’s, you know, the the solar panels are then put on there by your utility by your state utility, or now a private utility? Lots of questions that need to be answered in real time, that make it challenging, but they have all the pieces to sort of then become a model for where everybody can go.
Fred Rocafort 41:25
Luis, I have a bit of a random question. It might seem but this is an issue that I work with, looking at it from other angles. But it would be interesting to hear your perspective. And perhaps, to the extent that you can, you can speak to it, the perspective of those who we work with. So it seems, at least to to my untrained eye, that solar is really going to be a critical part of how we rebuild in places like Puerto Rico, how we build in places where perhaps the infrastructure is at a more more basic level. But one of the problems that we’re dealing with right now is that the the solar industry in China is under a lot of scrutiny over forced labor practices in parts of China, specifically in shinjang. province. And then and solar is not the only industry that’s that’s making the news, when it comes to this. There’s been a lot of focus on cotton, tomatoes, and many other industries. And the conversations that I had have, and that I listened in on regarding this topic, point to this tension that that that exists, especially under this administration, where there is this effort to, to rely on solar, but there’s also that problem and that and that risk. And obviously, at one level, the proposed solution can be like, well, let’s just make these panels elsewhere. And that way we avoid the issues with China. But that’s a longer term solution. So I’m just curious, I mean, is this something that is coming up in your circles? Because we see, I see sort of the opposite of it? Are China practices quite strong? So typically, we’re looking at this from a perspective where we where we see the implications on trade, and then we hear as a sort of afterthought, we hear Well, yeah, but there’s the impact that this is going to have on efforts on climate. So I’m just wondering, Is this something that is coming up within environmental policy community?
Luis Martinez 43:33
Yeah. So to clarify, I work since I work at the state level, on these policies on the regional level, I don’t have as much direct interaction with with these issues, but it’s certainly something that NRDC has been, I’d say, as is aware of and is trying to figure out how to address the Yeah, it’s hard, it’s hard to give you a response because the I think we, you know, we’ve been working to push for the transition to clean energy and whether that’s at the, at the state level, local, level, regional, national and international. I think that’s where we need to go we need to transition to renewable energy, but issues with ethical sourcing of these resources, of the solar panels or of windmill are, are sort of critical to how effective that transition can happen. And so my sense is the solar industry itself needs to look at what they’re going to do about these issues. And to the extent that they are not addressed, then it will change then what we can I’ve added the Good for as advocates, right. So if I know that there is an issue with these resources, solar panels, windmills, whatever it is that I’m sort of proposing or proposing, then I can’t continue to propose that transition if those issues are not addressed and using forced labor. And, you know, not having ethical production of these is certainly a significant issue. So, I’d say that, you know, my sense is the advocates are waiting to see that, at the beginning, the solar industry was sort of nascent, and not particularly powerful. I think that’s changed significantly. I think solar is obviously the solar resource itself lands on every part of the world that where the panels are produced can shift. And can shift cost effectively. So they don’t need to come from China for a long time to give, you know, healthy manufacturing of, of panels in the US. I think there’s a lot of interest in having that happen. Again, we, as environmental advocates, we sort of Don’t get involved in that aspect, as much only to the extent maybe only to the extent that sort of moving all these products across the world then has environmental implications. But now that we know this sort of additional issue, I think that’s certainly something that we’re taking into consideration. And we’re pushing the solar industry to address it. And we may need to shift sort of how we advocate for this transition. If they’re not sort of addressed effectively. I’m sorry, it’s a little general. But that’s sort of as as as best I understand where we are at.
Fred Rocafort 46:47
Now. Thank you. That’s useful. A couple of things you mentioned there that I think is what I was looking at. Right. I mean, you, you you address this issue of ethical sourcing, right. It’s it’s really linked to the the issue more generally. And as you pointed out, right, we’ve made these things within the US before, right. So there’s no reason why we could we could not do it again, right?
Luis Martinez 47:05
Yeah ,my sense is, it’s similar to that, you know, I think these issues have happened across a number of products, whether it’s phones or shoes. And it’s sad that they continue to happen, but that I’m hopeful that they can be addressed effectively. So that this transition can continue to happen. My sense is solar as a resource is here to stay. Where these panels are produced has significant implications. I think there’s a lot of interest in labor, particularly in the US to have a lot of that manufacturing come back to the US. Which is important in the idea of green jobs, and how to transition to clean energy and what jobs are generated from that transition who benefits from those jobs. So there’s a lot of questions to be answered. But there’s potentially an opportunity then to sort of shift sourcing for more ethical locations.
Jonathan Bench 48:06
Luis, it’s been great to have you on the podcast with us today, very much enjoyed your insights. We always like to end with recommendations for the audience. Do you have anything that you recommend, we could listen to watch read either on point or something completely unrelated?
Luis Martinez 48:22
Yeah, I lately, and these are sort of the most recent, I’ll mention two things. A book I’ve been reading a book called braiding sweetgrass, the author is Robin wall. kimmerer. She is a professor of environmental biology at the State University of New York SUNY. She’s also Native American. And it’s the idea that she is merging her scientific knowledge with sort of her indigenous wisdom and just learning from plants learning from the environment learning to sort of understand sort of what the environment is telling us. And it’s a really fantastic book, I’ve I’ve enjoyed it. It’s the type of book that I’ll read a chapter and just let it sit and sort of reflect on it for a while I’m not reading it sort of cover to cover because they’re all in all the chapters are a little different sort of on different topics. I’ve I’ve enjoyed that. So for folks that are you know, might find that interesting braiding sweetgrass, I think is terrific. And then the other much more lighter. You know, something I’ve been watching which I’ve been enjoying a lot and might be a reflection of just sort of how dark society is has gotten but I’ve been watching Ted Lasso on on TV, and It’s about soccer and you know, maybe international relations. But it’s I, you know, I think I, the way I see it is sort of about it’s, it’s feel good TV. And I’ve been, you know, enjoying it thoroughly. So if folks are looking for a new show to watch the sort of maybe put away some of the darkness in the world at the moment. That’s a good one.
Jonathan Bench 50:25
Fred, what do you have for us?
Fred Rocafort 50:28
I’m gonna have to move back to the, to the sober. Just a quick explanation. I mean, by the by the time we publish this podcast, it might be a couple of weeks after after the fact. So keep that in mind. But we’re still very much experiencing the aftermath. We’re actually we’re still in the midst of the of this Afghanistan withdrawal. And certainly, it’s been something that that has been fascinating me in a sad way. Obviously, there’s there’s nothing to celebrate. But it is a dramatic event. And I have to say, the degree to which to which it has impacted me has has surprised even me in the abstract, it seemed like it would have one impact. And then the reality of all these images has has certainly got me thinking about what’s been happening there. So along those lines, I’d like to recommend the latest iteration of the making sense with Sam Harris podcast, and I’ve recommended the pilot cast before I’ve recommended specific episodes. But once again, Sam Harris just just hits the right notes and my views. So this is episode number 258. titled, The Fall of Afghanistan, conversation with Peter Bergen. You know, if you’re looking for a conversation that avoids the extremes that we’re that we’re hearing when it comes to to what’s happening in Afghanistan, this is this is a good place to start. I think it’s a it’s a very nuanced and and balanced discussion of what what’s happening there. So that’s my recommendation for this week. Hopefully, by next week, I can make and come up with something not related to Afghanistan. Jonathan, what about you?
Jonathan Bench 52:13
My recommendation this week is a podcast called Darknet Diaries by Jack Rhysider. This is something that my teenage son discovered when he was at cyber camp this summer. And it’s, it’s very interesting. It’s a little heavy if you get nervous thinking about all the underbelly, the assorted underside of the internet. But this podcast dives pretty deeply into hacking incidents, what’s happening online, I listen to the first few episodes and found them quite enjoyable. From a technical perspective. I’m not consider myself a serious techie. But growing up when I did, I think we got my first computer at 1985. And I consider my, my journey really started probably in the mid 90s. When I saw the movie hackers, it was a lot of fun. And so I started to think of myself as kind of a techie even though I didn’t ever study Internet Security or, or programming in any serious way. But if you enjoy the internet, you enjoy understanding what’s going on who the players are, why things happen from a security perspective. Very interesting. So it’s called the Darknet diaries podcast, highly recommended. With that, Luis, we’d like to thank you again for being with us. We enjoyed it. We hope we can get back in touch with you again, certainly your expertise is is always going to be timely, I’m sure for our lifetimes and beyond. So thank you again.
Luis Martinez 53:39
Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I look forward to further conversations.
Jonathan Bench 53:46
Global Law and Business is a production of Harris Bricken. The team includes Madeline Williams and Michaela Moore. The music is composed by Steven Schmidt. If you like the show, subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review there. We’d like to hear what you think of the show and it helps new listeners find us. Tune in next week for another episode. We’ll see you then.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai