EPA advisor speaks at BHC

By Carolyn Bossmann

Opinion Editor

Brookhaven College’s Institute for Political Studies held an event focused on climate change and energy policy. It took place March 25 in Room K234 and the keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Lawrence. Lawrence is a senior energy policy advisor, works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has a bachelor’s and master’s in public administration from Louisiana State University.

“He is responsible for the overall coordination of energy initiatives within the EPA region’s jurisdiction,” Professor Ahad Hayaud-Din, director of IPS, said. The region consists of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, according to epa.gov.

Lawrence discussed the EPA’s steps toward making each state more environmentally conscientious in many different areas, including reducing methane emissions, following the EPA Clean Power Plan, building more efficient fossil fuel power plants using lower-emission sources of power and utilizing more zero to low-emitting energy sources.

States choose how to meet these goals in a multitude of ways, but the focus is on making each state responsible for being more environmentally friendly. In addition, Lawrence said the EPA is taking steps to allow the public to view proposals and comment on them.

Most recently, the Clean Power Plan included four public hearings with more than 2,700 individuals in attendance, Lawrence said. There was also a 165-day period during which the public could comment on the bill, and the EPA is currently going through more than 3.8 million comments made by citizens.

“We want to improve data collection,” Lawrence said, “If you don’t have good data, you can’t make good decisions. You have to have that to sway opinions, to get people to understand the magnitude of the problem.”

The EPA has been encouraging companies, especially those that are not required to, to collect data of how much natural gas they use. “One of the major natural gas companies made about $3 million selling gas that they previously let be produced into the atmosphere,” Lawrence said. “It’s an incentive to capture that gas and use it more effectively.”

Along with encouraging companies to use natural gas, the EPA has focused on reducing methane gas emissions, in which the U.S. is taking a leading role, Lawrence said. This includes the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which is made up of nearly 40 countries and many non-state actors; the Global Methane Initiative, which has 43 partner countries and more than 1,200 private sector participants; and the Arctic Council Task Force, in which the U.S. has been focusing on working with Arctic countries to reduce emissions in those areas.

“There are a number of projects that actually capture their gas,” Lawrence said. “And it’s used as part of the waste treatment facility.” According to the EPA overview of landfill gas, landfills “were the third largest human-made source of methane in the United States in 2011.” The EPA has been focused on removing more gas from landfills and reusing it.

At the end of his talk, Lawrence took questions from the audience, on topics ranging from political lobbying, plans the EPA has to introduce environmental conscientiousness to the younger generation and the recent string of earthquakes that might have resulted from water pressure on formations underground, which the EPA investigated.

Karen Miranda, a Brookhaven student, attended the event for her biology class. “I know climate change is a big deal, and I didn’t know about any of this, so I’m pretty informed about it now,” she said. “I didn’t even know anything about the EPA.”

While the EPA is focused on making more environmentally smart decisions, Lawrence did mention one aspect the EPA could improve on. “It’s embarrassing to admit,” he said, but there is “no incentive to turn the lights off” at his own office. Lawrence said the lease for their office in Dallas included no incentive to limit their electricity use or preserve the energy.