Michael Crabb [00:00:57] Welcome to another episode of the Energy Impact Podcast. Our guest today is Jeanette Pablo, the Director of Climate Equity Initiative at the Clean Air Task Force. That's a fancy title for a fancy lady. Welcome to the show.
Jeanette Pablo [00:01:13] Well, thank you. I'm really delighted to be here. I'm a big fan, actually, of your podcast.
Michael Crabb [00:01:17] Well, that's awesome. Well, yeah, now you get to share your story with all the listeners. So before we get into all of the great work you're doing at the Clean Air Task Force, tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from?
Jeanette Pablo [00:01:29] Actually, I'm from Washington, D.C. My family's been here for a number of years. And it's a little bit unusual because a lot of people are coming for Congress or the government.
Michael Crabb [00:01:42] You're a natural. You've been here the whole time.
Jeanette Pablo [00:01:44] Right. they call us the cave dwellers, right?
Michael Crabb [00:01:48] Did you always know that you wanted to sort of be involved in policy and government or is that just sort of a stereotype that's not fair?
Jeanette Pablo [00:01:56] No, I wasn't interested in that at all. In fact, I studied Soviet and Eastern European affairs at UVA in college. And I was just completely fascinated by what was going on behind the Iron Curtain and how 1917 came about. There was actually very little information at that time. And so I decided that, "Okay, I'm just going to go see it." So, I decided to backpack through Eastern Europe from Poland to Yugoslavia by myself, and it was a really incredible experience. I learned so much. And none of the information that was even available then was related to what was going on.
Jeanette Pablo [00:02:41] And then, a few years after college, I actually went to Russia and went to Uzbekistan to see what was going on with the Afghan war, which was really interesting. Because we were reading that... There was just a paper that... It wasn't really working to have Uzbekistan soldiers because they were actually sort of collaborating with Afghanistan. And so, they were being White Russians. And so, there we are like having the tea, and we see all these trucks of European, Russians. So, confirmation on that one.
Michael Crabb [00:03:19] Wow. Well, so tell us a little bit how that came about. Like, you're just in middle school and you're like, "Man, I'm fascinated by Eastern European studies?" You went backpacking and then you decided to major in it? Walk us through that.
Jeanette Pablo [00:03:33] No, no. I was actually really interested in Nazi Germany in high school. And I think it was really because my father's half-Filipino and grew up in the Philippines. On the way back from Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed the Philippines. And so, he lived under occupation from fourth grade to eighth grade. And I think a big part of this interest was just trying to understand how these things could happen. And then, I just became really fascinated by it.
Jeanette Pablo [00:04:06] So actually, a few years later I went to China to see what China was like. I went with a friend backpacking in southern China in January. And it was utterly fascinating. And again, not necessarily portrayed accurately in the very limited literature. And then I thought, "All right, well, now I'm going to go see Israel and Egypt," two countries that are always in the news and how that was going.
Jeanette Pablo [00:04:36] So, what I would really say about that is these early experiences of understanding a range of cultures has been actually really useful in my career because understanding why countries make different choices in terms of policies, it's very profound. And they make these choices differently from, say, the US, and we can't really understand why people don't do things the way we think they should be doing them.
Michael Crabb [00:05:06] Yeah, what a fascinating range of of cultures. And maybe I would layer on an opinion of mine too, which is maybe poor etiquette here. But I feel like they do it differently at different points in time, right? Because so much is influenced by the last decade which is sort of influenced by the previous decade, right? Sort of the echoes of history and culture sort of swirled together. So, fascinating.
Jeanette Pablo [00:05:30] Absolutely.
Michael Crabb [00:05:30] Yeah. Okay, so you had the book knowledge. You went and saw it in person. What did you do with it?
Jeanette Pablo [00:05:40] Well, I went to California because I thought, actually, "I know a lot about Washington, DC, I don't really know... I mean, I've been to all these countries around the world, so what's California like?" And so, I went there and I got my first career job, which was a fact checking internship at Mother Jones magazine. And Mother Jones, I actually learned... I think, two of the best skills for my career, as it turned out are the ability to talk to anyone and to verify information that I was going to use or convey. Because people will give you information they think is accurate, but a lot of times the nuances are wrong. Let's say you're in the White House talking about clean air policy and regulations. You have to have really accurate information. You can't blow that. So, that was really useful.
Jeanette Pablo [00:06:37] And I mostly did the crime beat. I interviewed criminals. A lot of survivors of crime. And actually, the reporter who traveled with Benigno Aquino when he flew back to the Philippines and was assassinated on the tarmac. That was a really special project for me. Because I've already mentioned that, the Philippine connection. That was just an incredible experience. But at Mother Jones, I decided that, "I want to go do policy now." And that's when I kind of made that shift.
Michael Crabb [00:07:15] Okay. Well, I'm sure we can spend a whole other podcast on your Mother Jones experience, but walk us through that transition into policy.
Jeanette Pablo [00:07:24] Sure. Well, one thing that was interesting about Mother Jones was I realized that it took about four years for a Mother Jones article to get into the conventional press. Now, that's not the case now with the internet, but I would see these articles that I worked on and I'm like, "Good God, we talked about that four years ago." So, it was a great organization.
Jeanette Pablo [00:07:51] So anyway, I went back to DC and I got a Master's in International... Well, I studied international policy and then I got a law degree. I was so far along passed real jobs that I needed. I felt like I needed a law degree to kind of get back in the swing of things.
Michael Crabb [00:08:17] But that's not an easy lift. You sort of said that like, "Oh, I just went and got a law degree." That's like a big... That's a big effort.
Jeanette Pablo [00:08:25] Well, I would have gotten a business degree, but I'm terrible with math. I know enough... Two years and three years you have business and law so I was like, "Okay, got to do the law." It turned out to be a good idea. So after clerkship, I joined these mouthy law firms. I mean, Verner Liipfert Bernhard McPherson & Hand, they're a bunch of Lyndon Johnson guys, literally. And I worked on electricity issues including the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.
Jeanette Pablo [00:09:00] That was also a time when pro bono work was becoming really popular for law firms to do. And Rich Glick, a good friend, persuaded the law firm to adopt the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. And I spent four years representing women, almost always with children, who were being evicted from short and long-term housing for literally spurious violations. I had a perfect record of success, but had nothing to do with any capability on my own part. It just really was a demonstration of how inequitable it was for these families.
Jeanette Pablo [00:09:38] Another pro bono project... They really jumped on board the pro bono scene... I worked on was representing the survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Boston. And it was all coming out at the time. And our goal was to have Congress pass a law to extend or eliminate the statute of limitations for survivors, because a lot of times they were like in their 50s before they were ready to deal with that publicly. But many of them were children so young that the two or four year statute of limitations... Like, they were still children.
[00:10:16] So, we weren't successful. But actually, pretty soon after our effort, a number of other states started picking up on the statute of limitations issue. I just looked it up this morning. This work is still going on. They're still working on making it a better situation. And I've actually been a supporter of SNAP since. I mean, that was like '92. And they're a great advocacy and support group for... They've expanded it from priests to all religious and institutional authorities. They really are amazing.
Jeanette Pablo [00:10:59] So after leaving the firm, I continued with the legal clinic but on the board. And frankly, I really preferred the actual advocacy work. And I do want to do a shout out to Rich. He opened the doors to both young attorneys and many women and children without homes in DC. He's probably a little bit more recognized as the former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2017 to 2022.
Michael Crabb [00:11:32] Yeah, you say the firm jumped in, but in my experience it's always like an individual... The firm may have guidelines or requirements, but it's always the individuals. Do they have something they're passionate about? Are they willing to spend that time diving in? And it sounds like, yeah, you were two feet in the deep end from day one.
Jeanette Pablo [00:11:53] It was great. I probably had too many hours.
Michael Crabb [00:11:58] But I'm sure it's really rewarding. You're dealing with a lot of corporate litigation or corporate policy or policy papers to then have a more tangible near-term impact on someone's life. I can see why that would be so powerful. And I'm extrapolating a little bit, so stop me if this is unfair. But it seems to be sort of an escalating theme in your career over the preceding decades.
Jeanette Pablo [00:12:24] Yeah. I think that's the case. We'll get to that maybe a little bit later when I talk about my current work.
Michael Crabb [00:12:31] Great. Okay, well sorry to jump ahead. I don't want to cut off all... Okay, so from there, you're working in a law firm, you're doing this pro bono work, and you're getting exposure to energy and electricity policy at this time. Was it different from what you expected? I mean, you'd read some about it. You obviously saw these different cultures. Were you like, "Holy cow, this is how it actually gets done?"
Jeanette Pablo [00:12:54] Well, I have to say, I was very lucky because I didn't have at our law firm some of the issues that women had in other law firms, some of my colleagues, etc. They were a great group of people and even fun. The two heads of the energy practice were big bicyclists. So, we did a lot of that. I picked the energy group because they were pretty... I was at that age. Pretty young, very innovative. They did their own legislative work and they did a really wide range of energy work. And I thought, "I can really find a place for myself here." And it was serendipitous. I mean, I really wasn't thinking energy was my thing, but it became that.
Michael Crabb [00:13:45] Yeah. Well, and to be fair, timing wise, the deregulated market was still figuring out what the heck it was going to be when it grew up, right?
Jeanette Pablo [00:13:54] That's right.
Michael Crabb [00:13:54] I mean, you were doing the first of this and first of that, probably, left and right.
Jeanette Pablo [00:14:00] Yeah. It was a great time. I left the law firm. I decided I wanted to go in-house. Being from Washington, DC, I was never going to get a job on the Hill. So, I actually got a position with the Tennessee Valley Authority in their Washington office. I was covering the air space and it was just an incredible time. So, TVA was restarting their nuclear plants. Al Gore, who was from Tennessee, was vice president, and climate change was garnering more and more attention. This was 1995. And on Earth Day in '93, President Clinton announced... I think it must have been the first program to reduce greenhouse gases by 2000 to 1990 levels.
Jeanette Pablo [00:14:53] And climate change was my jurisdiction. And the first event I had was a pledge of all the major utilities and public power as well as corporate power and TVA, which is a government corporation. And that's when I met Dirk Forrister, who became my climate mentor. A couple of months later, he became the Chairman of the newly-formed White House Climate Change Task Force in the Clinton administration. So now, climate was front and center in the White House which elevated it. And it just became a really exciting time on climate.
Michael Crabb [00:15:37] Yeah. What was the reaction like at TVA on all of those things you just described in what is maybe stereotypically a little slower, less dynamic business? Did people listen to you? Did you face some pushback? How did you navigate those waters?
Jeanette Pablo [00:16:01] No, it was just the opposite. I can only speak for the time that I was there. TVA was incredibly innovative. They were one of the first major companies to have a trading floor. Back in the day, you had like a big screen of TVs and it was all the weather because you could decide where you were going to need to sell or buy power based on the weather patterns; hot, cold rain, etc. It was great because I tended to work mostly with the operations folks. I got training on trading power. We had monthly meetings and I got to see everything that the company was doing. I spent a lot of time actually trying to get Bellefonte Nuclear Plant restarted down in Alabama. And that actually was a really interesting experience too because you would say there were economically disadvantaged communities down there. That plant would have made an incredible difference to northern Alabama.
Jeanette Pablo [00:17:11] That was also when the US government was running... This is not the official description, but running out of tritium, which you need for nuclear weapons, and a natural byproduct depending on how you design it. I should say this a little differently, but there's a way to change your fuel tubes so that you can produce tritium with a nuclear plant. And so, we negotiated that with the Department of Energy.
Jeanette Pablo [00:17:45] And I brought people down for tours of the plants. They ranged based on what status they were. So, we could actually go into containment and see what it was like. It was a really innovative, dynamic time. And I think the leadership at that time... It was a Democratic and the president was Democratic, so there was a good relationship there.
Michael Crabb [00:18:19] Yeah, definitely a unique relationship. Really unique across almost every US business and certainly of the utilities. TVA as a government corporation has sort of a unique status in the space. So, it must have been a really cool time to see that. I love hearing those stories that you brought people in and were able to take tours of nuclear plants because it's such an easy, low-hanging fruit way to just sort of bring people in and show them that it's just a steam cycle, right? It just seems like such an easy thing, but instead it's... Yeah, I don't know. I wish we did more of that. But maybe we'll talk about that as some of your Clean Air Task Force work here later on.
Jeanette Pablo [00:19:03] Maybe.
Michael Crabb [00:19:04] Okay, well, a little foreshadowing is always good. So, before we get there... So, you're at TVA. What caused the next iteration, then, of your career?
Jeanette Pablo [00:19:17] I decided to leave TVA and do some consulting. I will confess I parted ways not with TVA but my new boss. And sometimes you just have a difference of opinion. So, I decided to go do more work consulting with other electric utilities on Clean Power Plan. A lot of, again, clean air and and climate change work. And then about three years later, I got a call... Not in the middle of night, but let's say 11 p.m. And it's like, "Hi, I'm from PNM Resources. I want to interview you for a job." Okay, my friends are always playing practical jokes on me and they know that one of the things I want to do is open a Washington office. And I'm like, "Is this a joke?"
Jeanette Pablo [00:20:14] So, of course you can't take any chances. I call him up and he's like, "Yes, we want you to come to New Mexico and interview." And it was apparently on the recommendation of somebody I had worked with. And so, I got the job and opened the Washington, DC office. And that was an incredibly pivotal time. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was just enacted and energy and climate was really hot. And soon thereafter, Jeff Sterba, who was the CEO at the time, he was a huge proponent of mandatory greenhouse gas reductions as well as the need for new technologies to reduce the carbon footprint. Now, does that sound a little familiar, like these days even, right?
Jeanette Pablo [00:21:10] So, somebody from GE came to my door and said, "We want to start a coalition of environmental groups and companies, and the CEOs of each group are going to be the leaders." And I was like, "Yeah, okay. Sure, let's do it." And that became the US Climate Action Partnership, which I think was the first time any environmental groups and corporates, certainly at the high level, developed a coalition. It was launched in 2007 with A Call for Action, which publicly committed to mandatory climate reductions.
Jeanette Pablo [00:21:49] And two years later, in January of 2009, they published a blueprint for legislative action which became, to a certain extent, the Waxman-Markey Bill. And I know a lot of people were very disappointed with the results; I was as well. But I'm completely convinced that US Cap was a huge mover of climate policy action going forward. It accelerated what was going to happen.
Michael Crabb [00:22:21] Yeah, I think people often... We're prone to resulting, right? And it's like, "Oh, well, the thing we wanted to happen didn't happen," but nothing really happens that way, right? It's like a trickle of momentum, and then all of a sudden everyone's like, "Well, we always knew that would be the case." And that's almost never true either, right?
Jeanette Pablo [00:22:40] Right.
Michael Crabb [00:22:43] Well, fantastic. Okay, give us a little more context on this time. So, this was pre-shale gas. Sort of coming out of Clean Tech 1.0 just prior to the Financial Crisis of '07-'08. And here you were opening an office and creating the first climate change sort of impact in the US. That's pretty cool.
Jeanette Pablo [00:23:06] Well, a lot of people were doing this, but it was a great opportunity for me. I loved working with Jeff Sterba. He was a real visionary and not afraid to take chances. I mean, there were no guarantees. You know, one difference I think between back then and now is that a vision was there, but the technologies were not in the pipeline to achieve the kind of goals that we need. And now we do have a big number of technologies in the pipeline. I'm not saying you flip the switch and they're going to start, but we have a lot of, as they say, tools in the toolbox or about to get in the toolbox that I think we have a better chance at being successful because of that dynamic.
Michael Crabb [00:23:57] Well, yeah, it's interesting zooming out over the last 20 years to see how that's evolved in the US. And to see how some of those things have evolved and maybe caught up or leapfrogged the US in other countries. It must be fascinating for you to think about how those cultures react to different drivers in different ways, right? Because I almost feel like we may have more technology options, but I feel like we're sort of... We just have so much more bureaucracy then than we did maybe 20 years... I feel like we're also strangling... Like, our right hand is holding back our left hand a little bit. Maybe that's unfair. I don't know if you agree or disagree with that statement. Whereas other countries maybe are still a little more open and others are trying to become more open but are struggling for other historical reasons.
Jeanette Pablo [00:24:49] It's just... It's different. Different systems can do different things. What the US has achieved in the current administration with the legislation on climate change and infrastructure is, I think, not literally, but close to being unprecedented, certainly in recent times. At the same time, the major carbon capture deployment has taken place in a number of places outside the US. There are a couple of examples here maybe, but we do have the limitation associated with the market going up and down and determining whether something stays or doesn't stay. There's another country that has done a really interesting situation with nuclear which incorporates, if I recall correctly, nuclear waste management associated with the plant. I've been to Yucca Mountain three times, beginning, middle, and end, and we still don't have a solution.
Michael Crabb [00:26:03] Yeah, well, I have a whole other set of opinions on that. Maybe we'll have time to get to that. Mostly around what we mean by "solution" and what we're trying to accomplish.
Jeanette Pablo [00:26:17] Good. I look forward to it.
Michael Crabb [00:26:18] Yeah. At some point we can take it offline and have drinks and sort of debate on that too. But okay, so you have this policy view. You then are working with a couple of different utilities over a pretty dramatic change in the macro environment. You had this initial setback. How did you move forward from that?
Jeanette Pablo [00:26:44] Well, I was at PNM for 10 years. I loved the people, I loved New Mexico. It's a great company to work with. One night in May, I didn't get a phone call, I got a text; an email. Melanie Kenderdine, who I'd known since the Clinton administration. She's at DOE. She was now the Executive Director of the newly-created Office of Energy Policy and System Analysis at DOE. So, she sends me an email and says, "Can we talk?" Like, it's 10:30. I said, "Sure. Talk tomorrow." She says, "How about right now?" I said, "Sure."
Jeanette Pablo [00:27:32] And she says, "I'm about to start work on a major electricity project and I need an electricity expert. I'd like you to come join me." And I always have the same answer no matter what. I said, "I'm really honored and I'd love to hear more." And then, I got off the phone and I'm like, "Really? Am I going to do that?" And all my mentors and friends were like, "Why would you go DOE? You're mid-career." And I just thought about it and I said, "You know what? I'm going to do it."
Jeanette Pablo [00:28:08] And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I was started as a senior advisor and then I was Acting Deputy Director for Energy Systems which included electricity policy, North America energy policy and security and critical materials. It was really hard, but it was really wonderful as those things often can be.
Michael Crabb [00:28:37] What made it hard?
Jeanette Pablo [00:28:41] There was so much we wanted to do and not enough time to do it. I had never really managed a team. Driving up... It was like a 45-minute drive. And so driving up, I listened to these podcasts on management. It was very specific; I did that for two years. And it made a huge difference. So, I stopped hiding from my staff and started having productive meetings. And they were great, amazing people to work with. So, that worked out.
Jeanette Pablo [00:29:20] And I also got to be involved in the 2017 US-Mexico Electric Reliability Bilateral Principles. Sort of a mouthful. But basically, that was the framework for the first cooperative relationship between Mexico and NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. Because now we're starting to think about the transmission lines a lot more. And we're riveted on them now. It was fantastic.
Michael Crabb [00:29:59] It must have felt a little more holistic, right? Where before you were sort of coalition building. Now here you were really at the front of the ship a little bit, which I guess is the terrifying part, right? You've got this team steering the boat that you've got to point and direct.
Jeanette Pablo [00:30:21] You know, you saw and learned things. I mean, I don't have a Ph.D., but I imagine it would be like a Ph.D. The conversations, the briefings in the morning, the range of people and expertise that was there. The leadership of Secretary Moniz, it was just extraordinary. I've loved all my jobs... Not every minute of them, but I think that was my favorite, not including my current one, obviously.
Michael Crabb [00:30:57] Yeah, key disclaimer on the bottom. Well, okay, a great segway. So, you were at the DOE for a couple of years. And then, what brought you ultimately to the Clean Air Task Force?
Jeanette Pablo [00:31:16] So, the administration changed and my term was up. I was actually then invited to join the Energy Futures Initiative. And that was founded by Ernest Moniz, 13th Secretary of Energy, Joe Hezir, who was the CFO at DOE, and Melanie Kenderdine. Talk about the "Dream Team." And so, I went there and I was the General Counsel for four amazing years. We worked a lot with clean energy startups, a lot of analysis and possibilities associated with technologies, and it was great. But then, there came a time. The current president was elected and I thought, "I want to go back into policy."
Jeanette Pablo [00:31:59] So I thought, "Well, maybe I'll go to the administration. The Secretary supported me on that." And Armond Cohen, who is the Executive Director of the Clean Air Task Force... I've known him for a million years. And he's like, "I know you want to go to the administration, but I'd like you to come work for me." And I'm like, "Oh, I've never really done work for an environmental organization." I have like 20 letters from my applications when I graduated from college to NRDC, everybody. I have all the rejection letters up in the attic. And I thought, "Well, maybe here's my chance."
Jeanette Pablo [00:32:44] And he invited me to lead an entirely new initiative, which was to explore how climate organizations and environmental justice organizations can work together to address common concerns even though there's many, many opposing views between the two parties. I felt like Clean Air Task Force was really suited for this venture. They're a global climate organization, but their origins are in air pollution, which is central to many of these communities' challenges. And Armond... It's going to sound a little ridiculous, but it's true. He's just a fearless visionary. He is not afraid to take on and try new policies. Clean Air Task Force has never been... And this is a compliment... It's never been mainstream or conventional. It's a real strength for the organization. So, I was like, "Well, okay."
Michael Crabb [00:33:48] It's your chance to be a little bit of a pirate.
Jeanette Pablo [00:33:51] Yeah, exactly.
Michael Crabb [00:33:53] That's amazing. Okay, so you saw this opportunity. And a little bit of a callback to some of your pro bono days, right? This sort of climate equity concept is still relatively young. Tell us about what's your role specifically and how have you sort of shaped that aspect of the organization?
Jeanette Pablo [00:34:17] The first thing I would say is I am not an environmental justice leader or expert. I'm an analyst; I'm sort of a fixer. But I really I really wanted to do this work and hopefully at least make an impact with a running start. And the motivation for the initiative is that there's a huge divide between climate organizations and environmental justice communities. They're just really different. And so, a lot of times climate solutions are developed without any consideration of impacts to communities and residents' lived experiences. And what that really means is then the policies lack critical success elements. And sometimes the climate projects fail. And a lot of times it just perpetuates injustice, which is already historic. So, I was very inspired and hoping to make some kind of contribution.
Jeanette Pablo [00:35:30] I actually spent four months sitting at my desk trying to figure out like, "How do we approach this challenge?" And I came up with a cluster or a starting place. And I decided that we would do lit reviews on environmental justice communities, the federal and state policies associated with it, and then the impacts of conventional air pollution. We needed a baseline where the whole team, which was me at the time, would have a common understanding and then we could all grow together.
Jeanette Pablo [00:36:17] So also, I was going to incorporate interviews. And this isn't going to sound super fascinating, but I watched a lot of webinars. With COVID, a lot of public meetings became webinars. And listening to those meetings was highly instructive. And then in September, I invited three just incredible people to the team. Kara Hoving, her background is state and federal policy. Grace Linczer is a human rights expert, I would say. And then, Pargoal Arab is an atmospheric science and air quality person. So, it's like a perfect combination.
Jeanette Pablo [00:37:00] We did about 50 interviews; probably about 50 webinars. You know, you learn things. There's a federal agency, they have a webinar which is a public meeting. They're trying to portray something with a PowerPoint. A lot of people actually are on the phone because they don't have internet access. I mean, there were just some really interesting observations.
Jeanette Pablo [00:37:31] And we also commissioned a survey of residents in environmental justice communities with BW Partnership. They're the ones who do the annual US Energy and Employment Report for the Department of Energy. A huge step was creating the Climate Equity Advisory Committee. And this consisted of environmental justice leaders and experts as well as a couple of progressive clean energy members.
Michael Crabb [00:38:09] Reporting into the Clean Air Task Force? Or, is this for a government organization or a separate NGO group?
Jeanette Pablo [00:38:16] No, this was just us. This was just the four of us. And then soon thereafter, I would say, Desmond Johnnie joined us. He was already at Clean Air Task Force. And he actually is an environmental justice leader in his own right. And so, we went down this road.
Jeanette Pablo [00:38:44] So, the survey was the first thing that we got a draft of and we presented it to the advisory committee. And they're like, "This is really helpful, but what you need to do is not just continue to research, you need go into communities." And we were like, "Okay." So, we chose three communities to work with. We actually chose seven, but I underestimated how much of a commitment you were making to working with the community. And so, it was three. One in Louisiana, rural. Two communities in Cancer Alley. And one was in New Jersey, an urban community with 100 toxic waste sites in four square miles. And then three chapters in Navajo Nation near Shiprock, New Mexico. So we had a tribal, a rural, and an urban. None of which would be emblematic of a large group within that category, but we're trying to see what similarities might be, what possible solutions might be common or not.
Jeanette Pablo [00:39:58] And so, we're releasing five papers this year including the survey. Three of them are on community benefits plans and agreements, which are really hot topics now. It's a relatively new concept at the federal level and for many companies. A lot of interest in like, "Okay, I'm an energy company. I've got jobs. I'll do a jobs thing." But one of our surveys coming out at the end of the month indicated that actually a lot of communities or some of the communities are not really interested in solar panels or EVs or clean energy jobs. There's not a lot of familiarity with that. What they really want is they want green spaces like playgrounds and recreation centers where communities can get together. They want senior citizen centers. There's a lot of health related needs associated. A lot of times there's not even a hospital in the area. So, we've all learned an enormous amount.
Jeanette Pablo [00:41:28] And then next year, we'll be publishing the community reports. In these communities, the three of them, we've done a lot of focus groups, interviews, street engagement. So, it sort of offsets... It gives you a broader range when you're just talking to people. And observation, what does the environment look like in this area? Are the trash cans filled? All kinds of stuff.
Michael Crabb [00:42:02] Amazing. And where can people go to find all of these papers? Will this be on your website?
Jeanette Pablo [00:42:08] Yes, all the papers will be on the website. We did one.. It's actually kind of a sequence. We start with a survey to learn a little bit. Then, the next one was just earlier this week, on Tuesday, Understanding Disenfranchized and Underserved Communities and the seven attributes and compounding. You may be in an environmental justice community, but you may be an elderly person, a senior citizen. You may be someone who identifies as disabled. You may be LGBTQ+. And that compounds your already difficult challenges. The three Community Benefits papers are going to be launched on November 28th. One of them was actually with a collaboration with the Columbia University Climate School. We work with some students there who wrote that paper, so that was a really exciting experience. And then, the rest next year.
Michael Crabb [00:43:19] That's awesome. Does it feel like you're creating... I mean, I'm sure you're focused very much on the daily work and there's a lot to get done, but do you ever step back and sort of think, "Huh, I'm kind of creating..." I mean, this is a bit of a theme in your career, but you're sort of creating the blueprint for what this conversation looks like a little bit.
Jeanette Pablo [00:43:39] Yes. We've learned a lot. I think probably community engagement is not very well understood. You're working with communities who have no reason to trust you based on their historic experience. We have this protocol. So, we all start with a dinner when we meet with communities. No PowerPoints, no agenda. Just sitting around and talking to people and we go from there. We're transparent about the technologies that we support at Clean Air Task Force, which many of these communities are not in favor of. And so, we're just upfront about it. I mean, these communities are very sophisticated, very smart. They have a lot of victories, just not enough victories to clean up everything that's going on in their community. And it's really an honor to be able to work with them.
Michael Crabb [00:44:44] Yeah, awesome. We're lucky as a nation that you're putting that work in as well. Maybe tell us a little bit about what other activities you are looking forward to over the next two, three, five years as you continue to shape what this climate equity effort looks like.
Jeanette Pablo [00:45:05] Well, first, I have to say my team does almost all the work. They are fantastic. I'm learning from them more, I think, than they are learning from me. Okay, so this is kind of a nerdy thing, but it's top of mind. I really want to talk more about the concept of clean electricity. It's used as a synonym for carbon-free, greenhouse gas free. But I personally believe this is deceptive and insulting to the communities who are dealing with the health impacts of SOx, NOx, mercury, PM, etc. And as long as we use that as a synonym, we're just not going to move forward. It's not accurate and it's not respectful.
Jeanette Pablo [00:45:48] I think I'm going back to maybe what you were thinking about on nuclear, but the next term I want to talk about is clean energy. This is very problematic. There is no such thing as clean energy. Every source of energy has challenges, especially when you think of cradle to grave. Limiting our greenhouse gas emissions accounting to just the electricity produced by a given technology ignores all the greenhouse gas emissions associated with development, construction, and decommissioning. If we're not counting those, it's going to be harder to meet meet our goals.
Jeanette Pablo [00:46:32] Supply chain, that's another one. Not only is it really important for energy security... I mean, you could talk all afternoon about the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impacts energy-wise on the EU. So, supply chain is really important. And there's a lot of equity and human rights issues there. We need to be aware of things like child labor. I'm looking at my computer and cell phone and electric vehicles driving down the road and I'm like, "Did the cobalt in these devices come from a five year old in a mine?" You can't really walk away from that.
Michael Crabb [00:47:24] Yeah. Well, and there's different levels. You sort of hit on two just very different themes in supply chain, right? Because I think people confuse fuel security, anything with a just-in-time type delivery, versus equity within that supply chain, which is more of a nuclear or a wind or solar or battery problem. Those are two very critical problems around supply chain and energy security, but they're two very different problems.
Jeanette Pablo [00:47:53] It's always complex. Just surrender to that reality. It's always complex. But if we don't know it and we don't acknowledge it, we can't do anything about it.
Michael Crabb [00:48:03] Even going way back to your time at Mother Jones where you said it was a four-year delay cycle... I think the cycle is maybe a month where it's like Scientific American, The Economist, and then mainstream news. But have we lost the ability to have nuanced and detailed conversations about something so complex?
Jeanette Pablo [00:48:26] I don't think so. I think instead of things coming our way back in the day, so to speak, we have to make a choice on what kind of information we access and what we're going to follow up on. I'm not anti-AI, but I do notice... I'm on my phone and somehow I get dragged into the hiker lost in the mountains. And then the next week, I'm like, "Oh my gosh, all these people are getting lost in the mountains." And I'm like, "Nope."
Michael Crabb [00:49:09] Yeah, right. Right.
Jeanette Pablo [00:49:11] It's not that at all. It's that I indicated an interest, and so now I'm getting more of these and maybe the ads think they have a better chance of me being interested in them. But I would say we really have to make and be very conscious of making choices.
Michael Crabb [00:49:40] Yeah. No, I agree. And that's sort of where I was going on the nuclear front. People say, "Create a long-term solution," but that's a policy solution, it's not really a technical one. It would be better to spend money on shark proof underwear than it would be on additional... You know what I mean? From a relative perspective.
Michael Crabb [00:50:00] Knowing that it's so complex and so enormous too... People, I think, woefully underestimate the size of what we're talking about, right? How do you keep waking up and attacking that every day? I mean, knowing that you're sort of hitting at different points. How do you manage knowing all of that and knowing that you can also make a really concrete near-term difference with some of the work that you're doing?
Jeanette Pablo [00:50:37] Well, it's just so rewarding to be working in a space that you think will be beneficial to a broader good. You can get overwhelmed about everything, right? Like, your laundry or something. Climate change is a little bit like building a cathedral back in the olden days. It's multi-generation, it's a constant commitment, and the end is worth it.
Michael Crabb [00:51:15] But I'll pick on... I'll use your own words against you. It's actually not climate change, it's sustainability. It's actually like three times larger than climate change. The rest of your comment, I think, is still absolutely true. I'm picking on you a little bit because the point you made, I think, is really profound. We almost always are using the wrong language. It almost always causes us to focus on the wrong problems. And we're never going to get the right solution if we haven't defined the right problem.
Jeanette Pablo [00:51:48] Right. I mean, sustainability is a tricky one too, because a lot of times sustainability is associated with specific technologies.
Michael Crabb [00:52:00] Yeah, maybe. I think renewable is assigned to specific technologies. Which is really a holdover of peak oil from the late '90s? Renewable is like a totally wrong problem, a totally old problem that we were trying to solve. I think about sustainable as being at least a systems description for how much can we get out for the least amount of stuff in.
Jeanette Pablo [00:52:31] You really have to count everything associated positive and negative with your supply chain and cradle to grave.
Michael Crabb [00:52:38] Yeah, for sure. And the supply chain, at least, is like a technical thing. What you're talking about is even one derivative harder, which is that broader sort of equity component. Which like, how the hell do you measure? It's got to go somewhere, right? The infrastructure has to exist in some physical point in space that will disadvantage some. It'll maybe advantage a property owner and then it'll be a windfall. It maybe disadvantages someone else; they have to look at it. I don't know how to balance and weigh these measures. I'm fascinated to read how you interpret all of these things in the reports that you describe.
Jeanette Pablo [00:53:16] There's no perfect... I guess the perfection, gently defined, is going to be through collaboration between policymakers, clean energy startups... We already know we don't like that word... And communities because we all navigate compromise. What we don't like is being the only one to have to make the compromise. And I think that's something worth talking about.
Michael Crabb [00:53:52] Yeah, fascinating. I think we just got our tagline for the episode. That was excellent. Totally right. Totally right. Well, there's probably 100 different ways we can take this, but being cognizant of time, I do want to sort of wrap up with giving you the opportunity. Anything that we didn't talk about that you wanted to make sure to hit?
Jeanette Pablo [00:54:16] Okay, so I love the federal government in a normal kind of way. One of the things coming that I would like to spend time on is I would like to do an examination of... We didn't have time to do it this year or last year; it's too big. But do an assessment of federal programs designed to help vulnerable populations writ large and figure out what's the low-hanging fruit we can fix.
Jeanette Pablo [00:54:48] This is anecdotal, we haven't confirmed all of it, but 911 does have contractors for a wide range of languages, but actually, one of the criticisms we heard is, "You have to use the word of your language in English to get connected." So, you have to say "Spanish," not "Español," in order to get connected. And that's just the beginning. Another language issue is food stamp application. And Spanish is the second most widely... Imagine any other language, right?
Michael Crabb [00:55:26] Yeah, sure.
Jeanette Pablo [00:55:26] So, the instructions are available in Spanish, but the online form is only in English. As somebody who just worked on getting a visa to Dubai, I have an even better understanding of how frustrating... And mine was easy... How frustrating that is for food stamps.
Michael Crabb [00:55:56] Yeah, interesting. The first thought that popped into my mind is just add the number of words... Like, at least for 911, add the number of words that would get you to that line. But the second thing that popped into my head was almost like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or something. You could probably use artificial intelligence to do real-time translation, right? Like what they use at the UN or something like that. And then, you wouldn't have to have separate or duplicative call centers to actually receive those calls.
Jeanette Pablo [00:56:30] If they even have that contract.
Michael Crabb [00:56:33] Right. Well, yeah, it's a separate...
Jeanette Pablo [00:56:35] No, I mean, some of these solutions are actually pretty easy. Not to be glib, but there is a future where these solutions will be able to be addressed.
Michael Crabb [00:56:48] Yeah. Well, on your point, there's some low-hanging fruit that doesn't require a lot of activity. Let's just do those things first. Yeah, that's awesome. Wow, you've really got a lot on your plate over the next few years. I'm excited to see what you come up with.
Jeanette Pablo [00:57:05] Yeah, me too.
Michael Crabb [00:57:08] Well, amazing. Thank you again so much for coming on. And I'm looking forward to supporting your work moving forward.
Jeanette Pablo [00:57:16] Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking to you.