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Erin Burns

Executive Director

Carbon180

July 6, 2021
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Ep 34: Erin Burns - Executive Director, Carbon180
00:00 / 01:04

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
We are here today with Erin Burns, who's the Executive Director of Carbon180. Erin, welcome to the show.

Erin Burns
Thanks so much for having me, Michelle.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. So on Energy Impact, we like to highlight the work that's being done to make clean energy and climate abatement projects actually implemented around the world. And with decarbonisation, that's really the ultimate goal. And something that Carbon180 clearly focuses on is paving the way for carbon removal and they focus on areas to do this around policy, around private sector and business innovation, and of course, around accelerated research. So we're going to get into all of those amazing areas where Erin and her organization have been focusing for the past several years, but I would love to actually start by getting to know you and introducing you to our audience, Erin, so if you could just kind of start with your background and how you really became personally involved in climate policy to begin with?

Erin Burns
Yeah, absolutely. So, I did not plan on working on climate policy or carbon management - I actually have a degree in cultural anthropology - but I'm from Southern West Virginia. And when I graduated college and was thinking about what my next steps were, I sort of moved to DC on a whim, I don't think I'd actually been here before I moved here, and was thinking about the kind of thing that I want to do. And I'm from Southern West Virginia, and was thinking about, as I'd left the state, I'm from the outside of a town of about 4,000 people, and how much impact that it had on me as a person and sort of my perspective on the world, and ended up getting a job in the office of Senator Joe Manchin, and working on energy and labor policy, as well as other public lands issues, a couple of other things. And I was there for about four years working on these and, as part of that, got really involved in the carbon management work. And that's actually back in 2015, where I met Noah, one of our two co-founders and our current president, and he came in and said, You guys work on point source carbon capture, you should really also think about legislation for direct air capture. And that was maybe one of the first times I had heard about it, and went around to a couple folks I trusted, because I just met Noah, and I was like, this could be- he seems legit, and his ideas make sense, but let me just do a little bit of vetting. And everybody was like, Yeah, he's great and he really knows what he's talking about. This is definitely something that folks need to be aware of. We ended up writing one of the early pieces of carbon removal legislation together. And then from there just kind of kept working with Carbon180. And I'll say, for me, being a policy person, and being somebody who is not a scientist, who doesn't come from the private sector, but has really spent the decade of my career just in the policy space, I kept coming to Carbon180 because there were the scientists on staff, right, they have these deep ties to innovators, these deep ties to the research community. And when I was thinking about how do you write really great policy that is reflective of sort of what's needed from what entrepreneurs or innovators need and really reflective of where our technologies are, having those connections are really essential. So, I kept coming to them and coming to them and asking what was needed and working with them, and so when they were interested in starting a policy shop back in 2018, I was really excited to join the team. Since then, we've really shifted as an organization where we still work at the center of, like you said, of the sort of business and science and policy piece, but it really shifted to focus on that federal policy impact.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, that's fantastic. I mean, and that's something just kind of reflecting on my own foray into climate policy work and coming to carbon capture, I have a similar background, except on the science side, starting out kind of in carbon capture systems research, and then eventually moving into policy. But absolutely, a decade ago, five years ago, carbon removal and decarbonisation and going carbon negative, these were things that were barely talked about. We were barely reaching consensus and reaching net zero. And so, having organizations like Carbon180 that are actually speaking to real scientists who are looking at the carbon problem in our atmosphere and saying, the problem is not the carbon emitting now, it's the carbon that's already there that we need to actually address. That's so critical, because it might have sounded to someone 10 years ago, like this was kind of a far-fetched idea. But that's where the science was 10 years ago, and even before that, and it's really great that now we're finally having organizations that are focusing on ensuring that our policy goals match up with where the science actually is. So I know you aren't a scientist, but I know you are an expert on this, so I will ask you to kind of jump into actually this goal around carbon negative. Could you define that as a policy goal and why we actually need to go beyond carbon neutral, go beyond getting to net zero, and actually get back to understood levels of carbon dioxide and actually removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?

Erin Burns
Now, I'm really glad you asked that question. It's funny, I was thinking back even just three, four years ago, where the conversations in the policy space were, Is decarbonisation too technical a word? Like, is that too, should we, is there a way- and I think that's in part where some of the net zero conversation came from? That's a little more obvious and that even felt really ambitious a few years ago, and I think, yeah, for us, and I think, really, the vanguard of a conversation is actually net zero is really not enough. We need to be thinking about net negative and we need to be thinking about not only, first of all, obviously, and I think this conversation is incredibly, maybe it'd be timely any week we had it, but we are seeing the impacts of climate change already. Right? This is not a problem for the future, it will get worse in the future if we don't do anything, but it is happening today. This is impacting people's lives right now. And so what we need to think about is one, addressing, as you've mentioned, those legacy emissions. We already have too much CO2 in the atmosphere, and we need to pull it out. We also, and something that's really important for us, is we need to think about as we are not going to stop emitting tomorrow, that we're going to keep emitting. And we need to use carbon removal as an appropriate tool in addressing some of those continue to missions. And I say appropriate, because one of the things that is incredibly important and really central to our work is that this is an addition to really aggressive mitigation. This is in some of the work that we're doing, and Rory Jacobson on our team, who's our Deputy Director of Policy, and with our technological carbon removal work is going to be spending, him and his team are going to be spending time on over the next year or so is looking at what is the appropriate role of carbon removal when we're thinking about, for example, industrial decarbonisation in some of these places where it is really hard to decarbonize really quickly, and is there an appropriate and what is the appropriate role for carbon removal. So again, that it's not a replacement for mitigation, but it's sort of alongside really ambitious mitigation. And I also think it's really important when we're talking about the role of carbon removal and meeting climate goals. Sometimes, depending on your background, that's get shortened to - I come from definitely more tech policy background - we do work on the full suite of carbon removal solution. So, we work on nature-based solutions, carbon hybrid solutions and technological solutions, and there's appropriate role for all of those. And so I think it's also really important to look at, when you're thinking about policy, how do you incentivize carbon removal really across the board? And I think that they're- that the last thing I'll say is, I think when we're thinking about policy, not only are we thinking about, again, that this is an addition to incredibly aggressive mitigation, that this is, we need to be really strategic about what we're talking about when we're saying carbon removal. It's going to help hard to abate emissions. But I think it's also a really exciting thing to work on in policy, because it's an area in climate policy that is pretty nonpartisan. And I think, in large part, that's due to the fact that it has a bunch of co-benefits, that really you can come in and see something that is for you, for your constituents, something for you to like about carbon removal, whether that's if we're thinking about soil carbon sequestration and the sort of co-benefits that come with that, in addition to climate benefits, or again, being from Southern West Virginia, if I think about places in my hometown, or near my hometown, where you might want to think about how can you use retired coal plant infrastructure for direct air capture? And how do you think about those being high paying union jobs? And how do you think about using US-made, US steel that is creating the sort of really robust domestic supply chain? So I also think, coming in, there's an opportunity to not only do this in a way that is right for climate goals, but it also comes with all of these additional benefits for these communities that are going to host these projects.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
I think, yeah, absolutely. I completely agree with everything you said. You touched on a lot of really good points I do want to make sure we kind of tease out. Because while you and I might be very familiar with carbon removal technologies and techniques, and even the full kind of roadmap, that that many of these policy options are exploring and laying out, I think a lot of people this is pretty new to them. Let's actually kind of break it down. I think an easy framework for carbon removal strategies is to think about them, as you kind of alluded to, the technical carbon removal strategies, like direct air capture carbon tech, and then the kind of biological, if you will, strategies for carbon removal, aforestation, soil carbon, and of course, these are highly technical as well areas. But if you could kind of just maybe use that as a framework to talk about some of the policies that the Carbon180 is exploring into making sure that we have kind of a full solution set, if you will, available for achieving carbon removal priorities in the given area where it makes sense, kind of the biological side and the technical side.

Erin Burns
Absolutely. And I think it's really important to break this down, because carbon removal isn't a monolith. And the policies you need to incentivize them are very different. I have to then plug, on our website we have a big federal policy blueprint that we released earlier this year called "Zero. Then Negative," and our policy and just I'd have to say, again, like thinking about being a policy person, and using the ideas and turning ideas of our team into bills and laws, when we started this process of drafting this roadmap, we created a spreadsheet and said, policy team and throw all of your policy ideas, like there were more than 150 policy ideas. And it's just really exciting to work with that kind of team that has all of these really amazing ideas. There aren't, it's not as long as that, there aren't 150, we cut back. So, first of all, on the biological side, we work primarily on soil carbon sequestration, and aforestation, forest management, reforestation. On the soil carbon side, one of the things that we think is most important is- and actually let me step back. We had a report called "Leading with Soil" which was a combination of multiple years of work, working with farmers and ranchers on the ground in the Mountain West to understand their barriers to implementing practices that are going to increase carbon in soils. And we found sort of three buckets. One is around science and education. One is around incentives. And I want to dig in actually, around that science and research piece of it, it's really important when we're thinking about how carbon removal is going to fit into climate goals, that we're able to monitor and verify how much carbon we're pulling out of the atmosphere and storing into soils. On that front, we think there's a really important role for the federal government to play in laying that really strong foundation of science and technical information, so that we can do that work. The incentive piece is very important, but making sure the science piece is there. And so you will see and some of our recommendations from the past and some things that are going to be coming out over the next few months, that in the upcoming farm bill, through appropriation and federal funding, we think there are opportunities to really jumpstart a lot of that work. On the technological side, there are a few things - and you're gonna learn very quickly that that, again, is my background, and so can talk about this for a very long time - but there are a couple of things, we now have a lot of incentives for direct air capture. But I think one of the most important things and something we're starting to see more attention on is what I kind of refer to as enabling infrastructure. Obviously, very timely conversation. But if you think about a direct air capture project, you have to, there's a lot of focus, and I think this has been the case in point source carbon capture on, it's expensive, that in per ton, it costs a lot of money. And we need to bring down that cost. Definitely true, right? Through innovation, we're really excited. We got the first ever dedicated carbon removal program at the Department of Energy last year authorize. We saw that reflected in the President's budget. Funding for this has been a huge priority for us. But the other piece of this is, once you capture that carbon dioxide, you need to transport it and you need to do something with it. And the primary thing that's going to happen if you're talking about doing this in lab with chemicals, is you're going to store underground in saline formations. We have really great geology in the US for this. There's a huge opportunity to do that, but if you're a project developer, you're going to look and say, Actually, that's not been done very much in the US, not because it can't be or that we don't know the science, but because the permitting process isn't particularly well-funded or well-resourced at EPA. And so if we start to look at the whole lifecycle of a direct air capture project and how you're going to get it deployed, you see that, yes, let's invest in R&D, and that's a huge priority for us, but also, we need to think about the role of the federal government and things like permitting these sites and developing and deploying infrastructure in ways that are really aggressive and robust, but also ways that have really strong community engagement and are in line with a lot of environmental justice priorities. And so a big a big thing that we're focused on is actually around those pieces of infrastructure. How do you improve the - it's called a Class VI permit if you want to pump CO2 underground - how do you do that really well? And so I think that that's one of the primary ways that federal policymakers in the near term can really jumpstart this industry.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, absolutely. You know, we're really lucky in the United States that we have agencies that have been operating for decades, if not hundreds of years, at this point, collecting all of this base level data about our geology, about our land, structures. We have NASA, NOAA, USGS, keep going, it's like 17 different agencies that have a role in Earth observations, not just in the United States, but globally. And so we have this treasure trove of data and information on our local ecosystems, on our local geography and hydrology, and you name it. And so it's really important that we take advantage of this level of data, and then ensure that we're actually able to utilize the fact that we've mapped the majority of our geology in the United States for these types of projects. I really like to called it enabling infrastructure and US infrastructure in kind of this broader term, to also include permitting, and to include political infrastructure or policy infrastructure, not really political. Because those are critically enabling pieces of this. There are of course, enabling technologies, right. You're talking about the storage component, once you've gotten it, you've captured the CO2 and you want to do permanent storage. Of course, there are private sector efforts to look at ways to actually monetize you use or utilization of carbon dioxide and I wonder if you wanted to kind of speak on some of those efforts as well.

Erin Burns
Yeah, we're really excited about the opportunities around what we call carbon tech, which is, when you take that carbon dioxide and create products and goods out of it. I mentioned my - apparently I'm just gonna talk about Rory a bunch - but Rory helped lead a report a few years ago around the total available market for carbon tech goods and found that, in the US alone, it's about a trillion dollars. And so there's a huge economic opportunity here. And there's a huge- and I think that's important for all of the reasons we care about economic opportunity, but also because when you're thinking about the capture cost, when you're pulling out CO2 from the air, if you can sell it, somebody is going to create a product. That's another way to think about financing your project and to deal with some of those really high capture costs, especially in the early stage. I also think there's a really cool opportunity where you can think about captured CO2 as not just this way to deploy direct air capture, help the deployment of direct air capture, and this way to build markets, but also as a way to replace higher carbon intensity products and materials. Something that's been getting a lot of traction is the role of CO2 embodied concrete cement, and building materials more broadly. Huge economic opportunity and we have companies doing it today. There have been efforts in New York and California and Hawaii. And there's actually some early federal efforts on this as well. And I'll mention my former colleague, Dr. Shuchi Talati, who's now Chief of Staff of the Office of Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy, wrote a paper at the end of last year looking at what federal policies could look like to incentivize these building materials. But it really goes beyond that. Chemicals, fuels, looking at, there's a company called Lanzatech and they partnered with Virgin Airlines and flew a plane from - I'm going to get the direction wrong- from Orlando to London, or London to Orlando, one direction - I think the latter on - with CO2 based fuels. And so there is this opportunity to think about, again, the vast majority of the CO2 capture. You're going to store it underground, but there are these really cool opportunities around carbon tech. And the last thing I'll mention is, when you look at the companies, you could have dozens of these companies working today. And I'll mention, we had our entrepreneur in residence program, including some of these companies, and others that that folks are aware of, like Heirloom, but there's just so much really cool stuff happening and I think it's actually the carbon tech space is a really good example of sort of how we work at Carbon180, where a lot of the companies are really small, they're entrepreneurs, they might be, they don't necessarily have a lobbyist or government affairs department, but our science and innovation team and others on our team are working with them really closely and we're able to talk to them and say, What are the policy barriers? And how can we help make sure that the policies that are being drafted in DC, are ones that are not only helpful for bigger companies that have government affairs staff, but are also really thinking about enabling and supporting this larger sector? So it's really great. And it's also just selfishly, really exciting to spend all day talking about policy, but to go and meet the folks who are just building the things, it's really great.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think carbon tech is absolutely one of those. It's just almost sci-fi level of excitement kind of spaces, right? Because, of course, when the private sector takes ownership over a sector like this, really, they're incentivized by very different things than the government would be, and one of those is to work within the constraints of our modern economy, right? They're thinking about, how can I take this, what could be considered a waste stream, and turn it into a valuable product? And what's amazing about what they're doing is that input stream becomes something that, the more you capture and the more you utilize it, and then the more you consume it in other products, you're actually helping to solve the climate problem. You're actually sequestering carbon in things like building concrete, and, and even plastics one day, right. It's a really amazing kind of private sector effort, because there is this use case for these types of things that can really work within the current systems that we have set up globally. And it's really exciting to see the United States government starting to support and get behind some of these smaller efforts. But that can one day be a really large part of kind of the climate friendly economy. And it's amazing that you guys are kind of at that forefront of enabling works for the policy front, because without that government support at the start, we all know about the valley of death, right, these small innovators really wouldn't be able to do that R&D, to have those first grants, to make sure that they're actually able to test and demonstrate their products, and then find their market niches and go forward. That's really amazing work that you all are doing.

Erin Burns
It's really exciting. And it is funny, because I mentioned that a lot of the companies here maybe don't have government affairs staff, but not because they don't realize the importance of policy They're really interested to talk about policy and to talk to policy makers. I think about companies like Opus 12 and Etosha Cave, one of the co-founders, and the experience that she has is really amazing, compelling story about the way she was able to interact with federal R&D infrastructure and thinking through support that the Department of Energy has provided, and access to equipment and things like that, that have helped accelerate their success. And they're getting government contracts, and they're navigating that space. And so, even if we're talking about - this is something that the private sector is interested in - that if we're talking about one, scaling it up two, scaling up quickly, that the innovators, for the most part, in my experience, are also recognizing federal policy is this really necessary ingredient.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, absolutely. Let's take it a step back a little bit in terms of that enabling infrastructure. We've all heard that carbon capture is expensive, especially when you're trying to do it not at the point source, right so direct air capture. And the main piece of that expense that people point to really is the energy cost. I wonder if Carbon180 has done any work around looking at energy costs, and how we can enable and ensure that these future direct air capture systems are powered by clean energy, that is not as expensive and can actually lower down those costs.

Erin Burns
Yeah, I think that's so important. And a couple of things I wanted to mention around that. I think there are sort of two things when policy folks at least talk about - so non-technical experts - talk about lowering costs. One is through sort of innovation and scale, and then the other is through sort of learning by doing. One thing that I always want to share about the kind of cost around direct air capture is, back in May of 2019 I think, there was a report from the Rhodium Group called "Capturing Leadership," which was a set of policy recommendations, a whole bunch of policies - really fantastic report, would strongly recommended it, they have such an amazing team - but they walked through different policies. One of the things they looked at was, just through that learning by doing, where could direct air capture costs go, even without innovation, which is obviously super important. And I want to say something like the lowest number was like $56 per ton or something. I think that there is a really big opportunity where we're thinking about remembering that this is a really new industry and that, as we scale up, that that piece is really important. The other thing as well, we don't do sort of like, really in-depth original research at Carbon180. One thing that we are really excited about is, at the end of 2018, the National Academies put out a report, a roadmap for negative emission technologies, and there was a lot of focus in particular on the R&D funding and kind of recommended R&D provisions for direct air capture. And this got a lot of attention on the Hill. And something that we have spent a lot of time doing and our policy shop is work with federal policymakers and the Department of Energy to scale up that R&D. Before 2018, 2019, there were sort of like maybe, I think our calculations are something like 11 and a half million dollars ever for direct air capture in federal money, and some of that went to - like two or 3 million, I think - was for that National Academies study. So they weren't really investing in a lot of those really important questions around energy costs, and around how this is going in particular to be deployed, and making sure that we're thinking about with renewable resources, and how do we manage sort of the energy demands of something like direct air capture. And what we've been really excited to see is a huge change in the federal investment, huge increase in federal investment, where we're seeing more on a scale of 60, and then $90 million a year for negative emissions technologies. And we're seeing actually even more money being invested and folks looking at the infrastructure package and reconciliation and the appropriations process and the President, it was in the President's budget. I mentioned that Dr. Shuchi Talathi went over to the Department of Energy and their Office of Fossil Energy management, which is where basically all of the carbon capture, carbon management research happens. But that's also Dr. Jen Wilcox is over there and this is something that she has been thinking about, more than probably any other single person. And so what we're really excited to see is actually, for that federal research infrastructure, federal research agencies, the Department of Energy, the National Labs, to be able to invest in questions like that, and to think about it because I think this is the other thing is, they're thinking about, they're not working in a silo. They're thinking about this really holistically. They're working with the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. They're working with the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Science, and they're seeing that the funding sort of spread throughout the Department of Energy. They're thinking about all of those really important questions around integrated energy systems and bringing down the cost of direct air capture and what that deployment is going to look like in the real world.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, absolutely. Another amazing resource, I think that the US has, and a number of countries have around the world, right? But having this really incredible National Lab infrastructure where we can have organizations like yours really focus on ensuring that Congress is appropriating funds to the right places, those funds go to organisms, like the Department of Energy, that have been thinking about these things for a long time. But then they're able to disperse those funds directly to our National Labs system, which is not just thinking about energy in a silo, and then direct air capture in a silo, but has world class researchers, actually, literally from all around the world, who are coming together to think about these problems in a holistic manner, as well as spin-out commercialization efforts, right? The National Lab system is not like a university lab system where you have kind of the ivory tower, and ideas go, and they might not ever become company spun-out or whatnot. But there's a lot of effort specifically, especially in this current administration, to ensure that a lot of these really great innovations, and these great ideas are actually given to the private sector. They're supporting through, even in the energy space, which I'm more familiar with, with organizations like GAIN, right, that supports nuclear energy and looking at having similar systems like that for integrated energy systems, specifically INL, I know a lot of great work being done there. Actually, I think that you've probably touched on it a bit, but I'd love to kind of hear a little bit more of your thoughts on the executive branch side, and the role the executive branch really can play in taking the leadership role. We've been working with Congress, they're on board, it's bipartisan, thankfully, it's a really great sign. There's money being appropriated, but now it comes to how can our agency infrastructure really help to support this type of innovation work?

Erin Burns
Yeah, we're super excited about this opportunity. I'll say, GAIN, in my former job I worked on - I'm not a nuclear expert - but I did work and met Dr. Todd Allen and Susie Baker and folks on GAIN. I think there are so many interesting lessons to learn from the work that they did with GAIN and thinking about, how do you change something like the Office of Nuclear Energy, where they're focused so much on large light water reactors, and they're focused on, how they might have worked decades ago and how do you change that to support a really new innovative sector, like the advanced nuclear sector? And I think, not the exact same thing, but there's a similar and something that's led by this administration is similar shift to think about what is- so at the Department of Energy, they have the different offices, right, Office of Nuclear Energy, but they have the Office of Fossil Energy, which is where, and the vast majority of their work there, is on point source carbon capture, historically. And I actually think there's a really interesting parallel to think about, because with Jen, with Shuchi there, and what you've seen in the administration's budget was, if you spend all of your time like I do, digging into like old FP budgets, it was I don't know, it was so exciting because this administration, in the President's budget laid out priorities where instead of the Office of Fossil Energy being focused on point source carbon capture exclusively, on being in particular point source carbon capture for coal, which I think the large expectation tends to build a lot of, or any point source carbon capture on coal right now, right. You're going to be focused on natural gas and most importantly, I think, point source carbon capture and the industrial sector, that you had updates from Congress at the end of last year to the Office of Fossil Energy, but this administration stepped in and really ran with that said, first of all, the rename that they had in there, I've been going back and forth between the Office of Fossil Energy and Office of Fossil Ennergy and Carbon Management, that that was something they added. You saw really big support for carbon removal in there as well as in the Energy Act. But also you saw a shift in how they talk about carbon management technologies, and they talk about them in terms of climate goals and how do you how do you make sure that the work that they're doing is in line with those climate goals and the role that these technologies can play in meeting them and in particular, again, things like direct air capture and things like industrial point source carbon capture, and I think that is huge. And I think that is such an important thing that this administration can do. But I think there are several other things. They just came out, CEQ, came out with a really great CCUS report, led by Jane Flegal and Sarah Forbes, who have been thinking about these issues for so long. And I think what you see is really across the board in this administration, people who have been thinking about the role of carbon management and climate for a long time, are suddenly empowered to not just work within their sort of like agency, but really across the board. And I think that's a huge opportunity. One is, I think, the Department of Energy changing what their focus is and how they work on these technologies, which we're already seeing, which is, again, really, really exciting. And we can see the White House playing this really important role of laying out a vision for carbon removal, of playing a coordinating function, because even though earlier in the conversation, we were saying that there are different policy needs for each piece of carbon removal, there are shared means. And when we're talking about nationwide and international climate goals, that coordination can be really important, so thinking about how the Department of Energy works with the USDA works with the Department of Interior or works with the EPA. Again, going back to things like permitting for salient storage, that's something we're going to need really robust engagement from the EPA. And I think that that's a really important role that that they can play. Then I think the other thing is, you also see this at the international level. You see John Kerry talking about this. There are efforts like Mission Innovation, where the Department of Energy is coordinating with other energy research agencies globally to invest in these technologies and to share learnings and I think, looking at technologies like carbon capture and direct air capture, there is such an enormous opportunity to think about what deployment globally looks like. I think that's something else that this administration can play a really important role in.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Absolutely. Again, couldn't have said it better myself. I think one of the things you highlighted is, just like we're kind of breaking down silos - excuse me - kind of across technology spaces we're also breaking down silos with government leaders, right? We're seeing not just people in Department of Energy, or even in the White House, who have been empowered to think about climate across their portfolios, but even in places like Treasury and DFC, and that's just so incredible to see the US kind of take that leadership role, especially on the world stage by showing as an example in our own government how important we're taking this climate issue.

Erin Burns
Absolutely.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. I think I would love to kind of hear you talk a little bit more about the future and kind of where you see Carbon180 playing a role, maybe in the policy space, maybe in the private sector space - I'll let you take it wherever you'd like to go - but kind of where you see being the most excitement for your organization, and for the broader kind of carbon removal mission going forward in the next few years.

Erin Burns
Absolutely. I'm always defaulting to policy. That's my background and what I spend all my time thinking about. There are a couple of things that we're excited about, in particular around policy. One is around the role that carbon removal can play and not just sort of avoiding, not just addressing emissions, but also in the context of issues like environmental justice. My colleague, Ugbaad Kosar, who's our Deputy Director of Policy leads our forestry and our EJ work, so she has launched our EJ initiative. And I think it's really important for us that, again, this is something that can be a really important tool for climate, but we want to make sure it's done in a way that is equitable and just that is helpful to frontline communities, that is deploying in places that want it. And is deployed in ways that don't just avoid sort of repeating the harms of the past, but also redress a lot of those environmental injustices. And we think that's possible and we think it's really central, both to the success of this, but also, frankly, just it's the right thing to do. And so we're really excited about that. I think this is something that is not, to say it's not easy is maybe an understatement, but it's something where we're seeing a lot of interest from climate advocates and thinking about this. Obviously, there's been such a groundswell around Green New Deal and I think, Sunrise Movement, and a lot of those folks, there's so much credit to them about not just raising climate as an issue, but in how we think about climate policy, right? Is it something that is not just about, again, not just about emissions, but as something that can be just or unjust, right, can be equitable or not. And so we want to make sure that the work that we're doing furthers carbon removal in a just and equitable way. I'll mention we are coming out with a big environmental justice report in the coming weeks, I want to say coming out later this month, with some really specific ideas around this and some learnings from the work that we've done, and we have some materials on our website, as well. So I think that that is fundamental to the success of this field. The other thing, another thing that's really exciting about carbonable policy in the future, I think is the role of the federal government as a customer for carbon removal. Sometimes we hear procurement in terms of carbon tech, and in particular building materials, which we are very excited about and you've seen some kind of hints. There was an amendment from Congressman Malinowski that was introduced around procurement, again, you've seen activity in the states in New York, and California, Hawaii, others, but I think there's a bigger role that government can play, not only in those sort of materials, procurement of materials, but in procurement of carbon removal directly. I think one of the many reasons that we're excited about this opportunity is that it also gives you the ability to think about how this is deployed, and for the federal government to have a sort of stake and say in how its deployed, so thinking about environmental justice. Thinking about, there was that really great Rob Meyer article in The Atlantic on solar, but thinking about how you also build domestic supply chains in the US for, again, steel production, for example. How do you support strong labor standards, so that these are Union construction jobs and the steel is produced in Union factories, and you're thinking about that full chain. Then again, you're thinking about, there's an opportunity to think about community engagement in this and to deploy these in places that want them and in ways that are helpful to communities. And if the government is a customer for this, they can think about that really thoroughly. I think, I'll also mention back to the conversation about enabling infrastructure, I think it can be very easy for the federal government and federal policy to focus on, for example, just bringing down the cost of the technology, because of how policy development advocacy works. If you are the customer for this, if you are the federal government and you're purchasing this, I think it also gives you a different perspective on that full project development cycle and that you can say, Oh, actually, we're having trouble purchasing this or we're talking to the companies who are purchasing from an understanding that, actually, the permitting process for saline storage is a huge challenge. And I think we've been very lucky to work with Stripe and Shopify as they have done all of their amazing work in purchasing carbon removal, and Microsoft, and we're really excited about the impact that that's had. But it's also just been really amazing to hear from them about their experiences and what they've learned through that, I think because it further stoked our excitement about the opportunity for federal procurement of carbon removal.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah, I think that's so, so critical. Essentially, I heard three kind of major things. One, if we're able to focus on environmental justice aspects, government being the intelligent customer at this type of program, then we're also kind of able to help localize it and make it something that is desirable for local communities, and something they can actually envision being something that, yeah, there's the wind farm, and then right next to that is the direct air capture plant, and I'm so proud that I live in a place that prioritizes our environment, and that I'm not breathing smog, I'm actually in a place like this. I think that really helps to make these products more realistic. And other thing helps them become more realistic is when you actually have that dialogue between the private sector and the people who are actually enabling that technology, when it is still in in a relative state of kind of infancy - or not infancy, but it's still relatively new. And so the earlier we can have dialogue between those two kind of sides of the coin, the better we'll actually be able to be at A) having a product that is market fit, that is right for our local needs, and our global needs, but also something that can actually be deployed quickly and at scale, because it's addressing a very specific need. Microsoft and let's say their data center need, that's a very specific need that can help inform the way that these projects are rolled out and the way they're funded even by the federal government. And of course, it's helped to attract private financing. All of those things are so important to already start to think about and that's really what Carbon180, I see you're doing. You're trying to think about this from the roadmap perspective. Where are we at now? Where do we need to be? And what are all the things that we need to enable in order to get us there quicker, and more efficiently? I think that's just such incredible work and I'm very glad that we have organizations like yours out there who are taking that future-proof stance, and really thinking smartly and strategically now, and coordinating all of these disparate stakeholders to get on board, and start to think about how they have a role to play in ensuring that we have a clean and equitable future that is not disrupted by climate change.

Erin Burns
Absolutely. And it's such an exciting time. I mentioned, I kind of sprinkled throughout, we had this change, we got more money. John Kerry is talking about carbon removal. This is a really exciting time to work on carbon removal policy and you feel the pressure of it, and making sure that we do this really quickly and really well. But this is something where, again, thinking back five, six years ago, when I met Noah, as somebody who even worked on point source carbon capture, learning from him about direct air capture, and sort of making sure that it was like, Okay, this is legit, to seeing millions and billions of dollars in federal funding going to these really important solutions that we see, members in this administration and you see, on the, I'm President-Elect Biden's transition website, you see negative emissions technologies called out, you see in the budget, you see the skinny budget, which is like the early document that has just higher priorities. So you see all of this interest, you see all of this amazing action in the private sector and the support from companies like Stripe and Shopify and Microsoft, and you see all of this really amazing research coming out. It's a really exciting time and I think we have this opportunity now to make sure that we get it right and do it quickly. I think federal policies are a really important piece of that.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Amazing, amazing. Well, thank you so much, Erin. This has been a really amazing conversation. I certainly learned a lot. I hope that a lot of our audience also learned a lot about carbon removal and sees this as a really important piece of the future that I think we're all building together. So thanks again for your time. We really appreciate having you on.

Erin Burns
Thank you.

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