Today's guest is Maggie Thomas, Political Director of Evergreen Action. Evergreen Action is a recently founded nonprofit, organized by the former staffers of Governor Jay Inslee's presidential campaign. Its mission is to elect a new president, who will lead a national mobilization effort to defeat the climate crisis while creating millions of job opportunities as part of a new green economy. Prior to joining Evergreen Action, Maggie served as climate policy advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren and deputy climate director to Governor Jay Inslee. During the Democratic presidential primaries, the Inslee campaign’s climate plans were heralded as a gold standard of climate policy for the 2020 presidential race. I was very excited for this discussion, as Maggie is deep in climate policy and has done so on behalf of campaigns that have arguably the best climate policy around. We cover a lot of ground in this episode, including the key tenants of the Inslee policy plan, what it was like to be a part of the Inslee campaign and the Warren campaign, and where we find ourselves in this pivotal moment of the clean energy transition. In addition to dissecting the merits of various policy positions, we also discuss what other levers can be most impactful to bringing about the change that we so desperately need. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I suspect you will as well. Enjoy the show! You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at email@example.com, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
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Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help.
Today's guest is Maggie Thomas, the political director for Evergreen Action, an organization set up by the former staffers for Governor Jay Inslee's campaign for president. Prior to that, Maggie served as climate policy advisor to Senator Elizabeth Warren and deputy climate director to governor Jay Inslee, whose campaign climate plans were heralded as a gold standard of climate policy for the 2020 presidential primary.
I was very excited for this discussion as Maggie is deep in climate policy and has done so on behalf of campaigns that have arguably the best climate policy around. We cover a lot of ground in this episode, including the key tenants of the Inslee policy plan, what it was like to be part of the Inslee campaign and the Warren campaign, where we find ourselves in this pivotal moment, as it relates to the clean energy transition.
And as it relates to the upcoming election and Maggie's input, not only on how to grease the skids to get the transition to happen faster from a policy standpoint, but also what other levers can be most impactful to bring about the change that we so desperately need. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I suspect you will as well.
Maggie Thomas, welcome to the show.
Maggie Thomas: Thanks for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Thanks for coming. I have to say I'm a bit intimidated to have this discussion because my whole career has been in little tech startups, and I've only been kind of dipping my toe in the water with policy over the last year or year and a half, because I care about addressing climate change and policy is such an important lever, but this is not my comfort zone or my happy place. I'm just here because it matters. But you like this is, I feel like not only are you well versed in this, but I actually feel like you might like it.
Maggie Thomas: I do like it. Yes. You don't work on two presidential campaigns in one year, unless you like it.
I must admit. And we can get into this a little bit later, but it's a learning experience for me too. When you are a climate staffer on a presidential campaign, you have this massive portfolio and there's no way that you can be an expert in every aspect of it. So I am continually learning just like you are so happy to be here for this conversation.
Jason Jacobs: So how did you find your way into doing policy work and how did you find your way into doing climate work? Let alone at the intersection of those two.
Maggie Thomas: Great question. I've always been really motivated and excited to work in and around politics. It's something that gives me a lot of energy and excitement and enthusiasm.
I know that probably sounds crazy to a lot of people, but yeah, ever since I was little, I have been out knocking doors for candidates and it's just been a part of my life and what I do with my family. And, now I do it professionally as well. So at the same time, I've always been really interested in climate and environment issues.
And now in this moment in time, I think there's no better way to spend my time then try to work at the intersection of those two things, because in order to really defeat the climate crisis, we need to make some pretty significant changes politically. That's really where I find myself.
Jason Jacobs: I mean, I'd love to talk about your current work, which is usually where we start, but given we've come from, and even where you've come from recently, I feel like we should start there. So you worked on Governor Inslee's campaign for president.
Maggie Thomas: That's right. So early last year I was living in working in San Francisco at NextGen America. I spent about three and a half years. I'm working on a variety of sort of climate and political initiatives there, including a bunch of youth vote work. So working on college campuses, trying to turn student voters out to vote, which is obviously a really important and critical voting block, especially in every election. But in, particularly in this election.
I was going to say this election, and then I thought that's wrong. It's in every election. Yeah. I ended up heading up to Seattle and joining Governor Jay Inslee's presidential team as the deputy climate director at the time, it was a total dream job. And I will just stop here because. Not to focus on my title, but the fact that it is a deputy climate director implies that there's a climate director.
So that means there was a whole team of people who are working on this campaign on climate, which is a really at the time, it was just an incredible opportunity and was a complete dream job. So I helped write some of the policy for Goverrnor Inslee's campaign. I also traveled around the country with him. I did some of our climate political work.
I staffed him on the road on a small campaign. You kind of do all of it. So I had a really unique and an inside view into sort of the climate movement across the board and exactly how the climate movement is engaging in the political process.
Jason Jacobs: From that experience, what did you learn about what we need to do to get climate policy right? And also, what did you learn about where we are on that journey?
Maggie Thomas: I really found myself in a position to be a listener. I felt that it was my job, not to have all the answers, but to know all of the various people who do have the answers and also to use the opportunity to listen to people who might otherwise have voices who aren't traditionally elevated in this political process, particularly in a presidential campaign. This is obviously a very unique campaign cycle, where there was what, 23 people that ran for president on the democratic ticket. It was a bit different in that sense. It was also different in that there was a real race to the top on policy.
And I think that was really driven by a lot of what Governor Inslee did and his contribution to the campaign, which was to sort of paint the picture, the vision of what it means to have a full government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis and really inspire people that this is a challenge. This is a crisis that the government can and should take on as a priority.
And so through that effort, I met people all across the country. I met this incredible and amazing woman, Theresa Landrum, who lives in 48217, which is a neighborhood named for its zip code. It's the most polluted zip code in Michigan. One of the most polluted zip codes in the country. And she has spent her life fighting the Marathon Oil Refinery, which looms large in her neighborhood.
And it was stories and voices and people like that, that we really use to build the 218 pages of climate policy. And it was my job to listen and to learn and to crowdsource all of that material and then assemble it and synthesize it into a cohesive policy document.
Jason Jacobs: And what was your assessment at that time?
I know you went on to worked for Senator Warren's campaign, but while you're on the Inslee campaign, what was your assessment of the democratic landscape? Did you feel like the different candidates' climate platforms and stances and priorities were pretty similar or was there a wide discrepancy across the field?
Maggie Thomas: There was definitely a pretty wide range. However, something that I certainly am incredibly proud of is the 218 pages of climate policy that we put forward were called the gold standard of climate policy in the presidential field. And I think the other candidates really recognized that this, the priority and the importance of this issue, and really rose to the challenge.
And when governor Inslee dropped off the race, many of the candidates actually not only did the candidates pick up the phone and call him and ask for advice on this issue, but they actually adopted his policies into their own climate platforms and policy platforms. I would say that we almost were busier after the campaign than while we were on the campaign.
All of the staff of the other campaigns were calling us as well saying, asking for advice, asking for line edits on their climate policy plans. It was an incredible thing to be a part of and really proud to sort of have been one of the many staffers on all of these different presidential campaigns that really contributed to this race to the top on policy.
Jason Jacobs: And so was there a lag in terms of when governor Inslee made the decision to drop out of the race, did you migrate right over to Senator Warren or I guess how are you feeling at that time? And then how did you end up switching gears and working on the Senator Warren campaign?
Maggie Thomas: I was picked up by the Warren campaign fairly shortly after governor Inslee had dropped out of the race as the climate policy advisor to the campaign.
So it's on the policy team. Although I did a lot of climate political work as well in this field, you really can't do the policy without the politics or the politics without the policy. So that's really the area of climate that I, I love to work on.
Jason Jacobs: The intersection of those two?
Maggie Thomas: Exactly. The intersection of policy and politics and Senator Warren very much believes in the best ideas.
It doesn't matter to her where those ideas are coming from. She wants to elevate the best ideas and she really recognized that Governor Inslee had some of the best ideas on climate in the presidential race. And so she fully adopted his climate platform starting with the a hundred percent clean plan.
And then wanted to expand on all of those policies as well. So when I came on board, I continued to write climate policy. Senator Warren came out with 14 climate plans by the end of her campaign. Which is crazy to say, and she had a full time climate staffer. I mean, think about that on a presidential campaign, it just really talks about it really shows how far this issue has come and what a priority it is for voters as well as for these campaigns.
Jason Jacobs: And then when Senator Warren made the decision to drop out, tell me about the thought process at that time. If you had followed suit, I could see you migrate over and next be a climate policy staffer for Vice President Biden, but you went a different way. So I guess, how did Evergreen Action come about?
Why did you make the decision to go there and tell me about the work that you all are doing.
Maggie Thomas: When governor Inslee left the presidential race, he made his 218 page gold standard policy plan into an open source document. And so Evergreen is really taking up that promise to provide an open source climate policy platform to inspire bold action by the next president in Congress beginning on day one. And so it's our job to take these ideas that were put forward in a very public way. I will say most policy ideas are not introduced into the American psyche via the political press core. That is a very unique way to bring ideas forward and the press tell you what they think of it and the American public tells you what they think of it. So we're in a very unique position where we have this suite of climate policies that have really been socialized with the American public over the course of the last year. And so now what we're doing is we're working with Congress and we're saying, okay, we're going to individual offices.
And we're having really good conversations saying which pieces of these do you want to take? What pieces of this climate policy can we implement now? We are in the middle of a pandemic-fueled, economic crises. So what pieces of these ideas can be put into those economic stimulus packages now, and then what do we need to think about and what does that sort of deep policy work that needs to be done in order to be ready for day one action.
And that doesn't mean that on day one, people are thinking about what they want to do. That means on day one, we're actually taking action.
Jason Jacobs: Is it certain races or campaigns or elections that you're focused on or is it more people that are in office that need to make decisions for their constituents?
Maggie Thomas: We're focused on sitting elected and really taking that policy document and turning it into action at the federal level. So what governor Inslee put forward as part of his presidential was this, it's not a new idea, but really proving out the point that good climate policy is good economic policy. And so now we're taking that to Congress and we're saying we've got the ideas, let's work together to actually turn this into a legislative bill text and make some of these changes.
We think a lot about this idea that in this policy framework of standards, investments, and justice. So that means clean energy standards. It means large scale investments in the federal government to transition our country to a hundred percent clean energy and a focus and prioritization on justice. And that's really the framework that we use to think about all of the different policies that we're putting forward.
And so now we're having those conversations with Congress to figure out how to actually implement those.
Jason Jacobs: Is this a bipartisan organization or is it focused on one party or another?
Maggie Thomas: Obviously, Governor Inslee is a Democratic governor. Unfortunately, America is perhaps the only country in this world where climate is such a politicized issue.
And I would say that we would be more than happy to work with Republicans, but we also don't have time to wait to take bold action on this. What we need is full mobilization of the federal government to defeat the climate crisis. We need every person in this country doing what they can and working as well as the federal government reorienting itself to actually contribute to decarbonizing our economy and creating a stable future, a more just and sustainable stable future should say.
Jason Jacobs: And you say federal, does that mean you were focused at the federal level exclusively?
Maggie Thomas: Yes, that's correct. We are working primarily at the federal level. I think a lot of states. We couldn't have predicted this at the time when we were launching Evergreen as an organization, but States are obviously hit incredibly hard by the recession that we are now in.
And I think there is a really important role for states here as well as for the federal government. And we are a small team of people. We try to be targeted and focused in our work and are primarily focused on the federal government.
Jason Jacobs: And I'm curious from a personal standpoint, when you we're in between and at this crossroads, there was an opportunity to focus on trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
Or an opportunity to help educate and empower existing sitting-elected. I learned a new term here, but setting-electives to put the right policy measures forth--what made you decide that working with the sitting electeds was the more impactful way to go?
Maggie Thomas: Yeah, I'm not sure I would necessarily say one is more impactful than the other per se.
I didn't feel like I needed to go for the hat trick of presidential campaigns. I think two in one year three jobs, three states was probably enough for me. That said, what we at Evergreen are calling for and what governor Inslee is calling for is this idea of a full scale mobilization of the federal government and that type of action doesn't happen by flipping a switch. That type of action takes a lot of very careful and detailed and comprehensive planning. And so that's what we are going to work doing now because we don't, as you know, as someone who's spent a lot of time studying the issue of climate change, we don't have time to waste.
This is something that we need to take action on now. There is a lot of really, deep and important policy work that needs to happen in the lead up to any kind of presidential transition. That's really what we're focused on right now.
Jason Jacobs: And as you look out at the existing landscape, where do you feel like your work is needed the most in terms of, I mean, you mentioned the intersection of policy and politics.
I look at the different scenarios in terms of what happens at the presidential level, what happens in terms of who controls the house, what happens in terms of who controls the Senate and are you more focused on just working with that landscape, however, it plays out or with influencing that landscape in some way?
Maggie Thomas: Evergreen is a 501c3 / c4 so we are limited in what our political involvement can be. That said there's all kinds of really important policy work with sitting elected officials that can happen as a C3 or a C4. And so, we are really focused on this idea, as I was saying before, of standards, investments and justice and finding sort of cohesion among the climate community around these ideas and making sure that we are all advocating for these suite of bold and ambitious climate policies starting on day one.
And so, like I said, the president has when he needs to take action on day one, not to get into office and start thinking about maybe what he might want to do sometime down the road.
Jason Jacobs: In your mind and in Evergreen's collective mind, is there one or a small handful of things that are absolutely key where you're putting all your guns and optimizing for getting some big things done? Or is it more of a long tail where there's a whole bunch of little things and it's just grinding it out, kind of putting more small Ws on the board every day, every week, every month.
Maggie Thomas: I would say it is fully a "both and." I'm happy to talk a little bit about, go into a bit more detail on the idea of standards, investments, and justice in each one of those pieces, there are all kinds of policies that we could employ to actually achieve those goals.
So, when it comes to clean energy standards, what we're advocating for are bold near term timelines. It's no longer enough to say that the U S will be at net zero by 2050. We need enforceable sector-specific targets as well with benchmarks along the way. So that means the power sector. It means the building sector.
It means the transportation sector. We need clear timelines and rules of the road of how our economy is going to get off fossil fuels and what those interim timelines and deadlines are going to be. Actually, first of all, I'll go to investments here. It is really important...
Jason Jacobs: Are we leaving standards? Because if so, can I ask one question on standards?
Maggie Thomas: Please? Yeah.
Jason Jacobs: In the carrot and stick world is standards purely a stick?
Maggie Thomas: I would say no. I think that what we need in order to achieve a hundred percent clean energy is... We need to be incentivizing both the supply and the demand at the same time of deploying the resources that we have that are already available to us.
And that's really what clean energy standards are all about. It's saying go ahead and deploy those existing resources as fast as you possibly can while also incentivizing the market to achieve that last 10% to get us to a hundred percent clean. So, I'm not sure if you saw, but there was just a new modeling study that came out by the folks at Energy Innovation and from UC Berkeley, showing that the U.S. can actually get to 90% clean power by 2035.
So over the next 15 years without any new technology, and we can do this without raising energy bills. But what we need to actually put the wheels in motion to make something like this happen is a clean energy standard. It's the rules of the road. And it's saying, this is the direction that we need to go as a country.
We can get 90% of the way there. We shouldn't wait, just because we don't have that last 10%. We can take action and we can take bold action now. And we should.
Jason Jacobs: And how much of that is incentivizing the good direction versus unwinding the incentives on the bad direction, let alone penalizing the bad direction.
So fossil fuel subsidies, I'm asking about.
Maggie Thomas: To your earlier point, is it one or two big things or is it lots of little policies on the way? This is exactly what a full scale mobilization of the federal government is about. It is the fact that we need to have clear direction from the federal government about where we are going in terms of decarbonizing our economy. So clean energy standard, but we also need to be disincentivizing the bat as well. It means saying no new fossil fuel use is on public lands, starting on day one, which is something Joe Biden has already said. It means rolling back fossil fuel subsidies, also something that Joe Biden has already said, and we really need to be focusing on both of those pieces in order to create change as fast as possible.
Jason Jacobs: Shall, we move on to investments?
Maggie Thomas: Happily. One of my favorites. Investments, there's a long history of investments, incentivizing change, particularly in clean energy. So actually, interestingly, this is something that Joe Biden knows a lot about. So in 2009, he oversaw and led the implementation of the Recovery Act, which included $90 billion in clean energy investments.
And that's something that revolutionized entire industries. Once again, hopefully, he will be taking office in January, 2021. And he is going to be inheriting an economy that needs to be jumpstarted. It's an economy that needs to be pointed back in the right direction. And once again, we can look at what was so successful as part of the Recovery Act, particularly in terms of those large scale, clean energy investments.
And we can say, we need to rebuild our economy. We need to put millions of people back to work and the way to do that is to spend money by the federal government, incentivizing the transition to a hundred percent clean energy, and these need to be industry scale transitions, and we need to be using the power investment to drive change.
And that's exactly the role that the federal government should be playing.
Jason Jacobs: So can you give an example of what an incentive might look like? And also, I guess how that compares and contrast to a standard that is attempting to do similar.
Maggie Thomas: Definitely. So a couple of examples I can give, we can talk about infrastructure.
That's a big one. The house is talking about having a pretty large scale conversation on infrastructure right now. They're thinking of putting together an infrastructure package, passing that bill. So, the federal government should spend money on infrastructure. This is kind of boring stuff. This is not like sexy, clean energy, necessarily.
This is like roads and bridges. It's ensuring that every American has clean water. This is the kind of stuff that the federal government should be spending money on. And through those expenditures, we are putting people back to work. We are saying we want to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure.
Now, of course, there's all kinds of clean energy infrastructure. That we also should be spending money on that. We also should be using as an opportunity to drive this transition. So that means transmission lines. It means EV charging stations. It means solar panels. It means wind turbines. It means all of that.
That is the infrastructure that we need to build. And the federal government has a role to play in spending the dollars to make sure we are investing what we need to meet the demands of science.
Jason Jacobs: And then on the standard side, I just want to make sure I understand before we fully move on. So if it's not sufficient to say net zero by X date, and you want to double click on that and get more granular and more specific to be able to hold people accountable and have something to measure against, what's an example of a standard for one aspect of this transition, knowing that there's many that would help achieve that more effectively?
Maggie Thomas: One example would be exactly as I was talking about on the Energy Innovation and UC Berkeley study that just came out. So when do we want to have a hundred percent clean power in the United States, specifically for the power sector? So the governor Inslee plans talk about 2035. Is one example, another example might be when do we want to have all new clean vehicles being sold in the United States? We talk about 2030 in the plan. Another example might be when do we want to be using all new, clean building materials? So those are the kinds of sort of industry-specific standards that we need to be setting associated with near term timelines that are enforceable. Because we want to know what are the rules of the road?
What are the rules that we can play by? And that's exactly what the role of clean energy standards is.
Jason Jacobs: And then on the investment side, do you also look at the different options for where that funding comes from and the tradeoffs with the different paths?
Maggie Thomas: Always good to ask a Warren staffer about pay-for-us all your listeners out there who followed that. Yes.
Jason Jacobs: And if that's a gotcha, that's like an accidental gotcha. Because I am not an insider in any way, shape or form. I'm just kinda muddling my way through the policy side again, because I have to, because it matters so much, but I don't know what I'm doing.
Maggie Thomas: It's a really important question. The federal government can print money.
That's part of the job of the federal government. And this is one of those places where we should be spending a lot of money and we should be spending new money because we need to be rebuilding our economy in a more just and sustainable way. And we need to be putting millions of people back to work.
And the way that we know that we can do that is by transitioning our economy to a hundred percent clean energy.
Jason Jacobs: So, I guess the last bucket there from the three is justice.
Maggie Thomas: Absolutely. So I think now in particular, it's always been that climate justice and racial justice have been connected and now more than ever, I think we are seeing a call to really highlight that this is not an issue that is particularly easy to talk about, but it is an issue that is incredibly, incredibly important. And as we think about rebuilding our economy, this is an opportunity to right the wrongs of our past and is an opportunity to ensure that every American has the right to clean air and that every American has the right to clean water.
It is not a coincidence that in America, more black and brown communities have higher rates of asthma and higher rates of cancer than white communities. This is because very intentionally, there is a long history of environmental racism in America. And I think particularly in light of the tragic murders of innocent black men, like George Floyd, and so many others, this is a time when we should be making that very, very clear connection.
And we can't stand down from calling it, what it is, which is environmental racism. So like I was mentioning earlier, one community that we visited on governor Inslee's campaign three times was 427 in Detroit. It's the most polluted in Michigan. And it's one of the most polluted zip codes in the country.
It's primarily black and low income and they live in the shadow of the Marathon Oil refinery. But it's not just the Marathon Oil refinery and that community, as far as the eye can see, the landscape is peppered with industrial plants and this community is being poisoned, literally, with every breath they take. The community is plagued with cancer, incredibly high rates of childhood asthma, as well as adult asthma.
Another example, and another trip that we took on governor Inslee's campaign is to Little Haiti in Miami. It's a primarily Latino and low income neighborhood. And residents are being priced out of their neighborhood because the white and wealthy people who live in high rise condos on the beach are being forced to move in because of sea level rise.
And now with COVID, we're seeing this extremely clear link between communities who were exposed to air pollution and those who are hardest hit by the virus. And guess who's going to be the ones who are also hardest hit by the economic effects. It's the same communities who are feeling the worst effect of the virus who are exposed to air pollution, and who are feeling the worst effects of climate change.
So this isn't a coincidence. This is environmental racism, and it's something that the United States and our federal lawmakers and those who are in power need to take very seriously and prioritize when we think about rebuilding our economy, this is also an area that we spent a lot of time particularly listening on both campaigns that I worked on. It's exactly why our environmental justice plan was called the "Community Climate Justice Plan" and not just the environmental justice plan, because it was about listening to communities who have the solutions to the problems that they are facing in their communities.
Jason Jacobs: As elected officials get educated on environmental racism and this discussion gets brought to the forefront. Once one knows what can one do, either as an individual or collectively as a society or as a government or as a policymaking body or whatever to right those wrongs and bring about the change that you're advocating for--which I agree with--but what do we do?
Maggie Thomas: I think the first thing is to be willing to call it what it is and not be afraid to say it. That's incredibly important. Gone are the days of propping up the fossil fuel economy of the past. And now is when we need to look forward and we need to rebuild this clean energy future. I think there are a variety of policies that we advocate for particularly around justice that are important to name.
I also think that right now, as the house is debating this infrastructure bill, this is a perfect time to talk about what it means to actually weave environmental justice into all of our climate policy and not just kind of tack it on at the end to check the box and say, well, I care about environmental justice.
So, I've done this one little small thing. So, we'll talk about a few of these policies now. So, the first is equity impact mapping. As I was saying before, and as lots of data is showing, environmental factors are affecting lots of different aspects of everyone's lives. It also impacts housing. It impacts education, you name it, and all of these issues are connected.
What we need is a national dataset that overlays all of these different factors and is actually what drives, where we are spending money in the nuclear energy economy. So we shouldn't just sort of randomly be deciding to spend money here and there. We should be spending money in the places that are hit first and worst by climate and who are hit by a legacy of industrial pollution.
And then the second thing is advocating --and this comes straight out of that environmental justice bill that passed last year in the state of New York-- is advocating for about 40% of climate dollars to be spent in frontline communities. We need to have a clear target, and again, that should be backed up by data, of course, but we need to have a clear target and a prioritization of this issue in every dollar that's spent.
And that starts with infrastructure. And I hope that our leaders are willing to take this moment and prioritize justice.
Jason Jacobs: We've talked about these kind of three pillars of standards and investments and justice; if it's okay, I have kind of a punch list of topics I would love to just bring up and speak about in the context of these pillars and the overall views and plans put forth from Evergreen.
So, one is a price on carbon. Should that fit in? Where does that fit in? How does that fit in? How do you think about that?
Maggie Thomas: There is a role for a carbon price. I think that most climate advocates will say that it is a useful and a necessary tool, but it cannot and will not be the major driver of reducing our carbon emissions.
And we know that because when we look to the States who have passed and implemented climate policies, what is driving the most sustained emissions in those States is not the carbon price. Sorry, I should say it's the clean energy standards. Not to mention that if we were to actually price a ton of carbon, the price that it would have to be at this point in time to drive change at the scope and scale that science demands is so unbelievably high, it's politically untenable at this point. But, a few other data points on this, I will keep going on my rant on our carbon price here.
State-based examples. So in Washington, they came up with a basic price on carbon. They put it up for a ballot initiative and oil companies spent over $30 million to defeat it. And that was after it didn't pass in the legislature. And then in California, a sort of slightly different take where of course there is a cap and trade program.
There's a really powerful example of why policy design matters so much, which is that in the most recent cap and trade auction, there were no allowances sold by the state of California. Zero. That means $0 were raised through the cap and trade program in the last auction. However, there are all kinds of programs that are funded through the greenhouse gas reduction fund that are climate programs that rely on funding because in California, we have tied our use of oil and fossil fuels to our climate programs.
And this is exactly why we should be using federal investments to fund these programs and federal appropriations to fund these programs and not tying it to our use of oil.
Jason Jacobs: I've had a number of people on the show that have said a carbon price has to happen. It's the most impactful thing that we could do and we're going to make it happen.
Then I've had other people come on the show and say, well, what's the most impactful thing we could do, but I don't believe that it's politically tenable. And we should be intellectually honest about that. I'm hearing something different from you, which is kind of a combination of not politically tenable, but even if it was not convinced that it's the best path anyways, am I hearing right?
Maggie Thomas: I think that's right. I think an approach that emphasizes jobs and investments in particular, one that emphasizes investments in communities of color that have been hit first and worst by climate change is what is incredibly popular. There's some data for progress pulling, particularly on this topic.
You can go check it out at Data For Progress. We just put out a report called the Clean Jumpstart Plan that actually pairs some of these ideas. Some of these policy ideas with polling, showing that an investment standards and justice approach is incredibly popular and in many cases is actually more popular than pricing carbon.
The last thing I will say on state based examples is, in Oregon, Republicans literally fled the state not to get a quorum to vote on a strict cap and trade program. So, I think when folks come right and they say that politically our best option. We just have a lot of good examples showing that that's not the case.
And we should be thinking a little bigger
Jason Jacobs: if it was politically feasible though, just so we're clear, even if it was politically feasible, you still don't believe that it's the right path?
Maggie Thomas: That's correct. There are other ways to implement climate policy that will drive sustained emissions quicker in a way that actually sustains them for longer.
Jason Jacobs: Okay. Well, another question semi-related to that is that I've heard a lot about the government's role and investments and standards and things like that. Where does the market and the private sector fit into all of this?
Maggie Thomas: It's a really great question and actually something that's really interesting, particularly from the data that we have around our investments in ARRA, the Recovery Act from 2009, is that that $90 billion that was invested in clean energy through ARRA actually drove very significant investments and contributions and leveraged private dollars. And that's, again, this is exactly the role that the federal government should be playing. As we think about transitioning to a hundred percent clean energy is how can the federal government actually leverage the private sector, leverage American manufacturing to drive the sustained emissions reductions that we need.
Jason Jacobs: But the thought is that there's not really necessarily anything different than we need from the private sector. What we need is for the government to do things that bring about the desired change from the private sector and the private sector will respond accordingly.
Maggie Thomas: If the private sector wants to act sooner than the federal government, I certainly would welcome them to do so but, by and large, so far, we have not seen that that's the case. And I think that the federal government needs to step up and take the lead here.
Jason Jacobs: Okay, well, again, semi-related adjacent area, but one little subset of the private sector that we haven't talked about explicitly is big oil majors. The utilities. What are the big energy companies roles in this transition, if any? I mean, do they need to die? Are they critical in the transition and their key partners of the government? How should we be thinking about fossil fuel companies?
Maggie Thomas: I would actually separate fossil fuel companies from utilities in this case.
Jason Jacobs: I realized, as I said that.
Maggie Thomas: You're a policy expert already.
Jason Jacobs: No, actually I'm just a politician. I can just twist around and adapt and just fall in line with your position. Since I know you're smarter than I am.
Maggie Thomas: The pivot, tried and true. I mean, look, fossil fuel companies have given us very little reason to believe that they are going to lead this transition.
In fact, they've spent hundreds of millions of dollars actually spreading doubt and climate denial and fighting climate policies in the States and at the federal government. So again, will fossil fuel companies come around, maybe certainly the economics are such that coal is not a very profitable business anymore.
And you better believe they're losing a lot of money on coal. And I think there's basically no choice at this point, if we hope to defeat the climate crisis, if we hope to have the livable future that you and I believe in that we deserve and that we need is that we need the federal government to step up and lead this transition and others will follow.
Jason Jacobs: So if I'm BlackRock or I'm CalPERS or one of these other big institutional asset owners, would you rather see them divest and push wholesale divestment or exert control as significant shareholders?
Maggie Thomas: I think we've seen some really interesting examples of shareholder activism, actually just recently, particularly with BlackRock engaging at the Chevron and ExxonMobil shareholder meetings. Unfortunately, most of the provisions that BlackRock led on did not pass. And so that's one thing to consider. Another thing to consider. I should have just backed up and probably started with this is the way that I think about divestment is that when a company or an institution or an entity says, we want to decarbonize you can't separate out the emissions associated with their investments from the emissions of their operations. Those are one in the same. And so if you're going to say I am university X, and I'm going to decarbonize by 2030, you can't say but the emissions associated with my fossil fuel investments, those are fine. We're just going to let them go. But we're going to be a zero emissions campus.
And so I think it's really making that connection between those two pieces that are important. Again, we need to respond to the demands of science here. This is climate change. We need big bold policy, and we need actors at every level of government, as well as in the private sector, stepping up and leading on this issue.
Jason Jacobs: What about nuclear?
Maggie Thomas: Nuclear. Absolutely. I would say has a role to play in the transition. I personally don't think you have to be like pro-nuclear or against nuclear. I think particularly when it comes to advanced nuclear, we need to be expanding the federal R&D budget and making an investment in nuclear so that we know that it is a feasible technology that we can and should be employing that it's a safe technology and that we can bring the cost down such that it has cost parity with other technologies.
Jason Jacobs: Should we be decommissioning the existing fleet?
Maggie Thomas: I personally don't believe we need to necessarily decommission the existing fleet before they otherwise need to be decommissioned. I think it's fine to rely on nuclear as a baseline solution now. That said, we should be focusing and prioritizing building new renewables before we are focusing and building new nuclear.
Jason Jacobs: Given that, what do you think the role is of natural gas in the short term, medium term and long term?
Maggie Thomas: There is no role for natural gas.
Jason Jacobs: I'm going to start speaking over my pay grade here, but how do we ramp up renewables while decommissioning nuclear without continuing to rely on coal or natural gas?
Maggie Thomas: We have the federal government make large scale investments in our clean energy transition.
We use the federal government to set sector specific clean energy standards, and we have a focus and prioritization on justice.
Jason Jacobs: But technologically, and again, I'm going to start speaking over my pay grade here. So maybe I'm confused or misspeaking, but if it isn't nuclear, then doesn't it require coal or natural gas to power the base load due to intermittency until there's breakthroughs on long-duration storage that aren't close?
Maggie Thomas: No. So that's exactly, actually, what was so interesting about the study that just came out from Energy Innovation, saying that we can get to 90% clean by 2035, is that it won't raise electricity bills and we can get there with the existing technology that we have now. Existing technology is really important because that's like the technology that we have today.
We absolutely advocate for at Evergreen expanding a federal R&D budget. We a hundred percent should be doing that. And if we are putting all of our resources, shouldn't say all, if we are expanding our resources into R&D at the same time and running that in parallel with this dramatic expansion of deployment of renewables, you better believe--I fully believe--that we will have those technological breakthroughs in the time that we need them. But we have to be running those two tracks in parallel.
Jason Jacobs: More tactical question, but given that policy is so important and given that it sounds like you've been spending most of your time on the left side of the aisle, because the left side of the aisle, at least today, is the majority of who cares about this stuff.
But how important is bipartisan support for durable climate legislation?
Maggie Thomas: I will say that I would love it, if the Republican party came around to be the party of Teddy Roosevelt, but so far, they haven't demonstrated that that's what they're interested in doing in the near term. Again, when we look at the issue of climate change, it's not a discussion between two political parties on what the role of government.
This is a different kind of issue. This is science. This is us meeting the moment with policies that meet the scope and scale that science demands, and so we have to start doing that now. And I would love it if Republicans wanted to come along. But so far, they have not demonstrated that they're willing to do that.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. Cause it's interesting. I mean, if you look at the democratic party, there's kind of a green, new deal, progressive justice, like inspirational, visionary, like the kind of world we've always aspired to live in. And then there's kind of the more pragmatic center that says, hey let's unbundle this. We want to get to the same place.
But the way to get there tactically is to kind of get small wins, steadily over time that don't get overly politicized, that aren't overly combative, and that don't completely alienate the right by triggering them with some name like the Green New Deal. How do you think about that? And I mean, do you fall closer to one side of that slider or another or is there another kind of framework altogether for how you separate that distinction? Categorize it.
Maggie Thomas: I will say I think the Green New Deal has been incredibly important in reorienting and refocusing and creating a vision and sort of putting a north star out there and saying, this is where we want to go.
This is the world we want to live in. That said, to get there I think there are, again, it comes back to this idea of the full mobilization of the federal government. There are so many different things that we need to do from within our federal government in order to achieve that end goal, that there is lots of space for lots of different people in lots of different voices. And what I really believe is that we should be expanding the tent and we should be using our ability to communicate to bring as many voices in as possible to say, hey this is the future that we want to have. And this future has a hundred percent clean energy.
Jason Jacobs: So here's a question. So I've heard from multiple people and again, perspectives vary a lot on this so it's not like there's any, there was no consensus that I can tell. But I think one frame of reference is the Green New Deal is inspirational, but there's really nothing in it for me to assess.
It's like a frame within which the guts sit, but there's no guts. If someone said, well, the 200 something pages of work that Governor Inslee's campaign did, and that's now kind of evolved into what you're doing at Evergreen Action. I mean, if someone said that's kind of the guts for the frame, that is the Green New Deal, how do you react to that?
Maggie Thomas: Well, I have been known to joke that the Inslee plan is the green new details. So, perhaps that answers your question.
Jason Jacobs: Got it.
I guess you, might've also kind of answered this next question, but I think it's an important one. If you were led to believe that the guts of the green new details will be more effective to be brought to life from a political standpoint in an unbundled way where you pull out different pieces and put them over the line kind of one little piece at a time versus as this overall kind of tidal wave, would you be resistant to that approach or is it just, whatever's going to get the job done?
Maggie Thomas: One way that I often think about this is to break it out by who actually has to do the thing.
So is this a role for the Congress? Is this a role for the agencies? Is this a role for the executive branch? And so that's kind of how we think about separating out all of those pieces sort of getting at what your question is. And they're absolutely is an order of operations that we are thinking through about the best way to get that done.
And there is plenty of opportunities to have small wins along the way that said, and I probably sound like a broken record here, but again, we need to be responding to the demands of science. And that's what the suite of policies that we at Evergreen and Governor Inslee really put forward does is it says these are the kinds of policies that we need to meet the scope and scale that science demands.
Jason Jacobs: Okay. So given that and given that you're focusing on sitting electeds, what are you out there trying to get them to do or trying to provide them? So tactically, when you look at the landscape of all of sitting electeds, where are you spending your time and in what context, what are you trying to get done?
Maggie Thomas: Especially now, as the Congress has been passing these economic stimulus bills, we've been engaging with particular offices to think through and to say, all right, how do we make sure to prioritize our clean energy objectives while also jumpstarting the American economy? And so that sort of intersection is the particular policies that we've been focusing on now. That said, there's a really important role to play to think a little bit longer term to say, okay, what is that big omnibus legislative package that we want to see in January or February of 2021? That's like right out of the gate has some of these big policy priorities in it.
And what are all of the details that we need to think through in order to make that happen? So there's kind of again, it's "both and" it seems like everything.
Jason Jacobs: So, let's say Biden wins. Is there a clear subset of the Evergreen plan that you have clear cut recommendations for the first hundred days that we could immediately get to work on stuff that's relatively straightforward to put through that you think will be outsized in terms of its potential impact?
Maggie Thomas: I can speak to particularly executive actions. Why don't we start there. I don't find a lot of congressional actions previously. So a few things that Biden has already said that he's going to do, which I think is important to start there. So one is to rejoin Paris. I see this as really the absolute bare minimum.
This is the first thing that any politician can say that they're going to do, but it does show the world that we're serious about being a leader on the world stage. The second, which Biden has said is no new fossil fuel leases on public lands. Getting back to your question, sort of how do we ramp down fossil fuels, but also ramping up renewables.
The third is clean cars. So how do we actually put a clean energy standard around our vehicles to incentivize and create that demand so that we're producing we're jumpstarting American manufacturing of clean vehicles in the United States and around the world. And then the last thing that Biden had said that I think is really important to focus on is this idea of a buy-clean standard and federal procurement.
So the federal government spends about $500 billion on contracts every year. That's a lot of money. And imagine if the federal government said tomorrow, we're only going to buy EVs. Or tomorrow we're only gonna use your emissions building materials. These buy-clean rules can play an outsized role in driving demand, which I think is really important as we think about shifting the entire economy onto a hundred percent clean energy.
So that's, what's Biden has already said he's going to do, and there's a few more things that I would be remiss if I didn't mention. Of where we think he should go. So the first is to aggressively use the Clean Air Act to clean up the power sector. The second is to prioritize and reorient the federal government around climate action.
Something that Elizabeth Warren talks a lot about is how personnel is policy. And this really fits into Governor Inslee's idea of a full scale mobilization of the federal government, which is that every person in the federal government has a role to play on climate. Traditionally, we may have not have thought of treasury as a really important place for driving climate action.
But we know that when we think about what we're financing, particularly financing, the fossil fuels, treasury suddenly becomes very important. So really that commitment of personnel as policy I think is super important. And then lastly, this prioritization on environmental justice, thinking about that equity screen, that equity data mapping piece that I talked about earlier.
Jason Jacobs: And given the study that came out how the existing tech can get us all the way there et cetera, what does that mean for things like carbon removal, carbon sequestration, and storage, direct air capture. How do you think about that?
Maggie Thomas: I think about it pretty similarly as we were just discussing with advanced nuclear.
Absolutely we know we are going to need carbon removal technologies, and we should be investing in expanding our federal R&D budget, but we shouldn't let the fact that we don't have those technologies yet stop us from taking action now. And again, we really need to be working on both of these tracks at the same time, in order to ensure we can transition to a hundred percent clean energy as quickly as possible.
Jason Jacobs: What about geoengineering?
Maggie Thomas: I would say that we should absolutely make investments in R and D and see if we can get the cost of some of these technologies down that we can do them safely. And if we can, then we should deploy them.
Jason Jacobs: I guess, my final kind of line of questioning here. And I hope we're still doing okay for time.
I know we're coming up on an hour here, so I now have a much better idea of both your views on the substance, but also what you're trying to achieve with sitting electeds, I guess my question is just taking a step back from the work of Evergreen Action; what could change structurally or systematically, or if you had a magic wand to change something consumer perception, I don't know, that would make your life easier in bringing about the transition that you're working so hard to achieve?
Maggie Thomas: I would probably...there's so many things I could say... I don't know the one thing. Well, the first thing I would say is I would create the conditions so that every person in America could get out and vote, because I think if every person in America voted, we would see a very different makeup of our sitting elected officials than we do now.
And I think you would see a group of people and a group of representatives who are willing to take bold action, who weren't beholden to the fossil fuel industry.
Jason Jacobs: Is that the one thing?
Maggie Thomas: Oh, there's so many things I'll just stop at one. That's one thing.
Jason Jacobs: My last question, or maybe two final questions. One is actually an MCJ community member suggested I start asking guests, this I've asked at one time before you'll be the second.
Never asked it before that a hundred something interviews so far, but if you weren't doing the work you're doing at Evergreen Action and you want it to have the biggest impact you could on addressing the problem of climate change, what would you be doing?
Maggie Thomas: I think I probably run for office.
Jason Jacobs: Nice. Does that mean maybe at some point you'll be a sitting elected in the future?
Maggie Thomas: Yeah, I think I might one day want to run for office, but in the meantime, I think advocating and trying to get some of these ideas past and into the public dialogue and into the congressional bloodstream is one of the best things that I think I can be doing with my time in order to try to do my part, to defeat the climate crisis.
Jason Jacobs: I hope you run for office someday. I will vote for you. But my last question is just a bunch of listeners-- maybe even all the listeners-- like you just said, they're trying to figure out what's the highest use of their time that they can do to address this problem. Some of them have full time jobs, and this is a nights and weekends thing.
Others of them are in between and trying to figure out where to work or what company to start, or should they be running for office or things like that. Others of them work in the climate movement today and have been for a long time. But I guess speaking either separately to the different stakeholders or to everybody in unison, what advice do you have for listeners in terms of how they should find their own lane and think about what they can do to help?
Maggie Thomas: So the first thing I'd say is vote. You probably predicted that. So I'll give a few other answers as well. In addition to voting, I think being willing to be an active and engaged citizen and calling your representatives at every level of government and demanding that they take bold action on climate and advocating for the solutions.
Not the solutions that you think are politically palpable that might get bipartisan support, but the solutions that are actually going to respond to the demands of science, that is a very good use of your time. I would say in my humble opinion. The other thing you can do, of course, is give to organizations that are acting politically to create these policy solutions. Evergreen is one of them, which is where I work. You can go visit our website if you want, but...
Jason Jacobs: What's the website?
Maggie Thomas: The website is www.evergreenaction.com.
Jason Jacobs: We'll put that in the show notes as well.
Maggie Thomas: Awesome. You know, at the end of the presidential debates, when they would all go around and say their website and say chip in a dollar, I don't want people to think I'm doing that.
But one thing I do think is really important to recognize is that I wish that I could tell people to recycle or reduce, but what we really need is systemic change. And we need people who are willing to fight for that full government mobilization so that we can defeat the climate crisis. It's not about eating a few less hamburgers anymore. I'm sorry to report.
Jason Jacobs: Gosh, this was such a comprehensive discussion. Is there anything that I didn't ask that I should have, or any parting words for listeners?
Maggie Thomas: No, I don't think so. Thank you for your time and thank you for doing what you're doing and getting the MCJ community together. This is an issue that we need everybody working towards everyone fighting together on, and I am excited that you were willing to dive into policy and excited to hear more about your learnings going forward.
Jason Jacobs: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Maggie, and thank you so much for all of your work as well. I'm just here learning about all the people doing the real work and you are the poster child of that.
Maggie Thomas: Well, thank you. I really appreciate it. And hope we can keep in touch and keep the conversation going.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here.
Thanks again for joining me on my climate journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at my climate journey dot C O. Note that is dot C O not .com. Someday, we'll get the.com, but right now .co. You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22, where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made be say that, thank you.