What Stands Between Louisiana and a Resilient Electric Grid?

Hurricane Ida was the most recent storm to wreak havoc on Louisiana’s electric grid.  A legal expert discusses the struggle to provide resilient power in the state as weather and climate risks grow.

The year 2021 has seen an unprecedented number of large-scale electric grid failures driven by extreme weather. Over the winter, severe cold led to the collapse of Texas’ electricity system, while in California an aging electric grid has sparked wildfires in a state that has endured two decades of drought. Most recently, Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas knocked out electric lines along the Gulf Coast, leaving tens of thousands of residents without power, many for weeks.

What all of these electricity system failures have in common, apart from the lives that they have cost, is that they are likely to be repeated unless the electric grid can be made more resilient.

Robert Verchick, a professor of environmental law at Loyola University in New Orleans, discusses the challenge of making the electric grid resilient in Louisiana, a state that arguably has the longest record of combating climate-related natural disasters and the electric grid destruction they cause.

Verchick explores why Louisiana has so far failed to adequately address the threat to its electric grid, and discusses recent initiatives in the state to develop a more robust, and greener grid even as resistance to such efforts continues.

Andy Stone: Welcome to the Energy Policy Now podcast from the Climate Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m Andy Stone. The year 2021 has seen an unprecedented number of large-scale electric grid failures driven by extreme weather. Over the winter, severe cold led to the failure of Texas’s electricity system while in California, an aging electric grid has sparked wildfires in a state that has endured two decades of drought. Most recently, Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas knocked out electrical lines along the Gulf Coast, leaving tens of thousands of residents without power, many for weeks. What all these electricity system failures have in common apart from the lives that they have cost, is that they are likely to be repeated unless the electric grid can be made more resilient. In today’s podcast, we’ll explore the challenge of making the electric grid resilient in a state that arguably has the longest record of combating natural disasters influenced by a changing climate. The destruction that Ida brought to Louisiana’s electric grid in August in many ways mirrors the damage caused by Hurricane Laura just one year ago, and damages due to a string of major storms that have hit the region this century. In the podcast, we’ll explore why Louisiana has so far failed to adequately address the threat to its electric grid, and we’ll look at recent initiatives in the state to develop a more robust and greener grid, even as resistance to such efforts continues. My guest is Robert Verchick, an environmental lawyer at Loyola University in New Orleans and President of the Center for Progressive Reform. He is also a member of Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards’ Climate Initiatives task force. Rob, welcome to the podcast.

Robert Verchick: Thanks very much.

Stone: Louisiana has suffered a number of weather-related disasters over recent decades, of which Hurricane Ida is the latest. It’s also a state whose economy is tied to the fossil fuel industry and the petrochemical industry, and I imagine that this fact hasn’t made it easy to find consensus around strategies to prepare for natural disasters, particularly where this implies a shift away from fossil fuels. So Louisiana sounds a lot like our country as a whole. And my question for you is, would it be fair to say that the state is in fact a microcosm of the broader national struggle to confront climate risk generally and risks to our electricity systems specifically?

Verchick: Oh, I think so. I think you have made the connection. Louisiana is on the front line of a lot of tremendous climate impacts, including subsidence of coast, including these super storms that we’re seeing, and warmer waters and so on. And what we are seeing in Louisiana is a taste of what other states, particularly on the coast, are going to be seeing. And our electric grid is connected to everyone else’s electric grid. We have basically three large grids in North America, one in the East, one in the West and one in Texas. And they are all susceptible to the same kinds of issues related to climate impacts.

Stone: As has been widely reported, Ida knocked out eight electric transmission lines that feed New Orleans, in addition Entergy, the utility in the region stated that over 30,000 utility poles were damaged, and that’s nearly double the number that were damaged in Katrina. And the resulting power outages, not wind or flooding but the power outages themselves, have been the main cause of death as people have lost air conditioning and have died of heat exposure. So hurricanes are a fact of life in the area. So given all of this history, and I know this is a really big question, why is the grid still so vulnerable?

Verchick: I think there are a couple reasons. One reason is that we still even nationally don’t have a process of inventorying, if you will, the resilience or the robustness long term of the grid. And that is simply because we haven’t been looking at that. We have expected our electricity in the United States to be affordable, to be widely accessible and to be reliable in the short-term sense, but we haven’t added resilience, that is long term, what I would call long term reliability to that list, and that’s a national project. We have to start inventorying that and even find out what the vulnerabilities are. The second problem is most of our grid is — well, it’s privately owned. And that’s not necessarily the problem, the problem is that it is regulated in a way and the rate structure is built in a way for the most part in the United States that does not create the right incentives for grid operators to invest heavily in resilience efforts that will pay off in the very long term, as opposed to something that pays off in the short term. And so we’ve got to fix that. There are ways to do it, but we can’t just let that sit by as business as usual anymore.

Stone: So who’s being held accountable? Is that Entergy? Is that kind of the policy makers, the regulators? Who’s being held to task for this?

Verchick: Well, see, this is the thing, because the grid is arguably the largest machine in the world, that’s what some people have called the grid in the United States. And it has lots of parts all the way from production through transmission, through people consuming the electricity and large businesses consuming the electricity, too. And so we don’t always know where to look, where the problem is. Now, the particular problem that happened after Hurricane Ida in Louisiana was a problem of transmission of high voltage electricity coming into essentially the Greater New Orleans area. And for that, the responsibility lay with a private company called Entergy, which has subsidiaries, one of which serves New Orleans. And there are lawsuits now against Entergy. and the allegation is that they have knowingly refused to spend the kind of money, the prudent amount of money, that would normally be needed to make the grid more reliable. They obviously are challenging that allegation, but the truth is, this is a company, Entergy in general, that made over a billion dollars last year, and has stated to regulators in the past that it thought that its grid was strong enough to endure the expected weather-related disasters. That of course turned out not to be true, and what we know nationally is that many utilities are not adequately planning, I don’t think, for the kind of future problems that climate change will bring.

Stone: Well, Entergy has spent, per my research, about $4 billion to strengthen the grid since 2014. This is apples and oranges, but post-Katrina, the state spent about $40 billion to reinforce the levees. Are there any estimates out there for the amount of money that would be needed to achieve resilience in the region?

Verchick: Well, yeah, there are estimates. Let me say nationally, engineering groups have pointed out that they think we have about half a trillion dollars of deferred maintenance on the nation’s grid. That’s a huge amount of money. And that is just trying to get the grid up to kind of modern standards, where it’s got computer switches that allow for a so-called smart grid that allows the system to understand when there is a portion of the grid that’s down so it can immediately reroute and prioritize energy, so that it goes to the nursing homes and the hospitals and these sorts of things. There’s also a need for greening the grid, getting more solar and wind turbines on the grid, because they’re actually more resilient during many of these kinds of storms. And then the third thing is something called hardening or armoring, which means elevating certain structures like substations, or fortifying or replacing utility poles and transmission towers and these kinds of things. All of that takes a huge amount of money and it really is the federal government, I think, at the end of the day, that has to foot the bill for that, the same way they foot the bill for highways and airports and other important parts of infrastructure.

Stone: More at the local level, have there been any notable legislative proposals or actions from regulators such as at the state’s public service commission, or in the City of New Orleans to address grid resilience?

Verchick: Well, the answer I think is really no. And what we have are regulators in the City of New Orleans, it’s the city council that serves as the regulator, and then for the rest of the State of Louisiana it’s, as you point out, the public service commission are a regulatory body, and they ask questions about is the grid up for the next storm and so on. But they haven’t really done the kinds of investigations that are needed. Now everybody’s really upset that we see the result of that kind of thing, and I think that going forward, it’s going to be really important for either the public service commission or for the city council in New Orleans to hold Entergy responsible; but I think that’s going to be hard, in part because the people who serve on the commission, not just in Louisiana’s public utility commission, but around the country, people who serve on public utility commissions are often very sympathetic with the needs of energy companies, because they know a lot about them and in some cases they’ve served on them and so on. And so it’s hard to get people to think outside the box. If I can just give you one example of sort of what I mean by that, the CEO of Entergy recently was talking about how strong this storm was, and it’s true. Hurricane Ida is one of the strongest storms we’ve seen in over 100 years here in Louisiana. And he said something like, well, this storm has been so powerful, and it was unprecedented, sort of suggesting that there’s no way that Entergy could have known that it needed to be robust enough for a storm like this. But first of all, it’s not unprecedented, right? Because as I just said, we have had storms this powerful before, although they have happened a long time ago. But second, and the most important point, I think, about this, is that everything we know about climate breakdown is that you can’t rely on past records to predict the future danger. Climate impacts, warmer waters, more water in the air, more vapor in the air, all of these things are juicing up storms and making them more intense. The wide consensus of climate science is that that is the case. And so if you were running or in charge of an energy company, thinking about what you have to prepare for, the very last thing you should be doing is looking backwards and saying well, I’m going to prepare for the precedented storms. You need to be looking specifically at the unprecedented dangers, which are plausible, perhaps even probable, in the new era of climate change.

Stone: You touched on it a little bit earlier briefly, but one of the possible solutions here is more distributed energy, right? So if the grid — for example these eight lines that were feeding electricity into New Orleans, if they’re out of commission, electricity can be produced and consumed more locally.

Verchick: Yes, I think it’s an interesting thing. Our grid has to be both more integrated and more self reliant. And let me explain what I mean by that: by more integrated, it would be very helpful to have transmission lines that would have allowed, for instance, in the Texas situation, electricity to come from outside of Texas easily, right? To have sort of provided more electricity. But because the grid is rather isolated in Texas, for a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. The other thing that’s important is that you build redundancy and self reliance within communities. So what happened when those eight transmission lines failed during Hurricane Ida is the greater New Orleans area essentially became an island. A blacked-out island. No electricity was coming in and there was no way, really, to generate electricity at any scale. Now, that could have been different, right? If we had had what some people refer to as community solar, right? If we had had smaller solar generation plants that were attached to schools or that were attached to other public buildings, operating within the city, then they could have spun out electricity to those in need, maybe hospitals, nursing homes, cooling centers, these kinds of things. And so what you’re looking for is a system where when you become islanded, you have sources of power that can provide lifelines in an emergency. And there are all kinds of incentives we can build for those kinds of things to happen. We know they work. The solar energy production within the greater New Orleans area, even though it was very small, continued to operate and in fact did provide lifelines for people, and we need to think more about it, I think.

Stone: Well, it’s interesting, because what happened in the couple of years before Ida hit is that Entergy actually invested in a natural gas plant that was supposed to provide that kind of back up or safe capability, as opposed to provide black start capability, which meant if the whole grid was knocked out, it would be able to start on its own. That did not work out, and it’s interesting as well we’re talking here about renewables, but as we see, there are two problems here, right? You’ve got to get the grid resilient in the near term, and also, optimally you want to address the issue of what’s causing all these more severe storms, which is ultimately climate change and carbon emissions, in the long term. But then Entergy puts in a natural gas plant in the city to solve this problem. What is the decision process that allowed that to happen?

Verchick: Yeah, that was a very controversial situation. So this particular plant, natural gas plant, it’s called a peaker plant, which means it was intended to provide electricity during peak times of demand, mainly in the summertime, for instance, and to sort of top off the electricity supply when it was needed. And one of the issues with peaker plants is that they don’t even operate all that often. Arguably, there might have been ways to eliminate the need, simply by other incentives created to reduce demand or increase efficiency in people’s homes and things like that. But at any rate, the public was very much against it, at least in the area where this was going to be built, which was in a predominantly African-American, Asian-American community that was lower-income. And so they pushed against it. And so what Entergy did in this case is that it sort of went back and re-drafted its argument in favor of the plant, and said this will actually be a plant that could help us when we get islanded during power outage. And you know, that wasn’t the first mission of that plant, but that’s what they used to defend it, and then Entergy actually, in a very unsavory move, were found to have actually employed actors to pose as real citizens in public hearings in order to advocate in favor of this peaker plant. But the bottom line was the peaker plant was built, it’s causing air pollution, right, in that neighborhood, which is not a good thing, and it wasn’t able to do these black starts, as you say. In other words, it took several days for it to get turned on, and once it did, the amount of power that it provided was rather — well, and another problem was it wasn’t hooked up properly, so that the electricity couldn’t be distributed immediately where it needed to be. So all of this, it was backwards engineered to begin with, it seems to me, in terms of the policy, and if you’re really concerned about resilience and self reliance, there are much cheaper ways to go about building something like this. In Arizona and New Mexico and Nevada and other states that have incentives for solar power, there are solar plants producing the same amount of electricity that this peaker plant does much more cheaply.

Stone: And I understand Louisiana does not have a renewable portfolio standard that would help to incentivize that clean energy, is that right?

Verchick: No, we don’t. We could, and in fact that’s one of the things that I am working on the Louisiana climate initiatives task force. The Governor, John Bell Edwards, has committed the State of Louisiana to going net carbon neutral, that is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the State of Louisiana, to a net zero amount by 2050. And one of the ways to do that, a primary way of doing that, is bringing more green energy into the grid, more renewable energy into the electric grid. And we are looking at a number of policies right now, we on the task force, a number of policies, ideas, actions, that various entities in government might take in order to get us to that goal, and one of the ways that I think is very promising that we’re looking at is what you call a renewable portfolio standard or a renewable energy standard, and that would be basically legislation that would require a certain amount of our electricity coming onto Louisiana’s grid to be from renewable sources of up to 80% or 100% down the road. And many states have such a thing, and it tends to work really well and move the market in the right direction.

Stone: I want to go a little bit deeper into that. So Governor Edwards has issued an executive order, if I have my facts right?

Verchick: Yes.

Stone: To drive the state towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As I’m thinking about that, Louisiana joins a number of states where governors have issued similar executive orders to address climate change. California and New Jersey come to mind. And I don’t know that much about Louisiana politics, but it doesn’t appear to me, at least at first glance, that Louisiana has the kind of legislature that would necessarily support the governor’s climate goals. And I know that in Congress, the House and in the Senate, the Louisiana delegation has generally been opposed to the bipartisan infrastructure package, the $1 billion infrastructure package, which by the time this podcast is live we may know more about the fate of, and that package would presumably provide some money to Louisiana to reinforce its grid. Can Governor Edwards count on legislative support at the state level? And if not, what teeth does this executive order actually have?

Verchick: Well, I think that’s a really good question. And it’s a question that’s important not just for Louisiana but for many states that are positioned like Louisiana is, right? We’re here in the South, there are only two states in the South that have a net zero pledge, Virginia being the other one. And obviously, our politics are different here. The other thing is that we are a state that produces a lion’s share of fossil fuels and petrochemicals for the rest of the country and incidentally for the rest of the world, right? You know, Texas also falls into a category like that. So that makes us different, but it also is a compelling reason for us to be doing something and figuring out how to do it. So the issue about the legislature, we will have to see what members of the legislature think about all of this. What we are doing on the task force is we are looking for — I mean, we have dozens of policy options and actions on the table right now that we are discussing. Some of those are things that would have to be passed by the legislature. Some of those are policies that would have to be crafted and imposed or implemented by our public service commission, the regulatory body of Louisiana. Some of those things could come from the governor’s office, in terms of other executive orders or even directives. And then there are things that we need from the federal government, and we can lobby for those kinds of funds or for those kinds of policies. So one thing that we definitely think is on the table is a renewable energy standard that would require more green energy to be used on the grid with the goal of 100% renewable energy being on the grid, or at least 100% net zero greenhouse gas energy being on the grid, by 2050. That would be something that the legislature would have to do. Resource planning for the future that would make things more robust and renewable, that’s something the public service commission could do. There are different kinds of economic incentives that the public service commission could develop that would encourage this. One point that I want to make, though, is that I think that the legislature and the citizenry of Louisiana understands that in order for Louisiana to continue to be a global energy state, it’s going to have to move in the direction of renewables. That’s where the economic growth is globally, that’s where the jobs are, and frankly, that’s — you know, that’s where the security of the nation lies as we try to tackle climate change. One of the things that I point out that I think is really interesting is, because we are a global energy state with a very proud, rich history, we invented so much of the infrastructure that we enjoy today, including offshore drilling, in Louisiana. But a lot of that technology and know-how is now being used, for instance, for offshore wind. And so we have an offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island called Deep Water Block Island. The decks of those platforms, the steel legs, the lift boats that assembled those wind turbines, all of the things I just mentioned, they were designed and manufactured in Southern Louisiana. And we are designing and manufacturing boats and technology that are being used in the North Sea by developers off the coast of Norway. So we have right here the technology and the workforce to bring offshore wind anywhere in the world. We just have to do it here in our back yard. And I think that that’s exciting and I think that a lot of members of the legislature and the citizenry of Louisiana are excited about that.

Stone: Well, it brings up an interesting point. I would imagine that, again, the fossil fuel industry and the petrochemical industry in Louisiana carries quite a significant political weight. What has the industry’s reaction been generally, and to the Governor’s net zero target?

Verchick: Well, I think that we are still finding out. There are representatives, people who work closely with the oil and gas industry, who are on our task force, and as they should be. We also have people associated with advocacy groups related to environmental justice, related to tribal issues in Louisiana and so on. We have representatives representing those interests on the task force. And so we’re all coming together at this moment to learn from each other. One of the things that we are learning from the oil and gas industry which is really important is that, unlike most states, Louisiana’s greenhouse gas footprint, its carbon footprint, is mainly related to heavy industry. Either refining or chemical production. That’s different from most states. It just happens to be that we have a very large footprint in that industrial area. And so anything we do is going to have to address the way of reducing greenhouse gases specifically from heavy industry. There are various ways to do it. One way I think is going to have to involve reducing production over the long haul in some of those areas. The oil and gas industry is also talking a lot about another technology which would be in addition to that, and that would be carbon capture and storage, a technology by which some of these manufacturing processes continue to go on as usual producing greenhouse gases, and then the greenhouse gases would be scooped up, that is, filtered away, and then stored somewhere. Perhaps stored under the ground. If that happens, we’d have to store it there, infinitely. You know, for an infinite amount of time. Because as soon as the CO2 comes back up it becomes a greenhouse gas problem again. So you know, there are technologies, there are people who are exploring that, and we on the task force of course are exploring that kind of technology, too. But it’s not a silver bullet. It’s something that could be used, maybe in addition to a lot of other things, and it’s not without controversy and it’s not without its own risks. So we have to study that very carefully.

Stone: And all of these solutions obviously would cost significant money as well. And I think in just a minute or so, I want to get to this whole bipartisan infrastructure bill, the budget reconciliation bill, and see what that might mean for Louisiana. But before jumping to those budgetary and policy issues, I want to just take a step back one moment. You know, we talked about Entergy a little bit earlier in this podcast, and I want to go back to that for just a moment, because Entergy is the utility that is at the center of the situation right now. It’s Entergy’s infrastructure that has gone down as a result of Hurricane Ida. And it’s interesting, because Entergy is regulated in a very unique way in the State of Louisiana that I think we probably shouldn’t jump over here. It’s regulated, at least the New Orleans portion of Entergy is regulated, at the city council level. I just wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about what that means and what the significance is for the ability to push forward some initiatives to, I guess, encourage Entergy to maybe invest more in its grid?

Verchick: Yes, it’s an unusual situation, perhaps. So the subsidiary of Entergy that runs the grid in New Orleans as you say is not regulated by a utility commission but it’s regulated by elected members of the city council. It’s run by the city council. Now, there are good things about that, perhaps, right? So an advantage of that might be accountability. We’re electing council members. They feel accountable to the public when they make decisions. They are more removed, one might say, from the energy industry, and so perhaps less subject to capture, that kind of thing. But the other problem with that is that they’re not experts in energy the way that you would expect members of a utility commission to be, and they’ve got a lot of other things on their plate, obviously, including storm water management and running the sewers here in New Orleans. You know, keeping an eye on all of that, too. So I guess what I’ll say about that is there are discussions now about is there a better way to organize energy distribution and supply within New Orleans. So one idea, right, would be to continue for Entergy New Orleans to be managed or at least supervised by the city council and we’ll see how that goes. That would be the status quo. Another idea that people have talked about is that maybe what we need is not a private company like Entergy New Orleans but maybe we need some kind of publicly owned utility, the way that some cities have publicly owned utilities and that the city itself would run the operation. Or you could imagine a situation in which Entergy New Orleans continued to perform its work but that it was no longer supervised by the city council, but was instead supervised by the state’s public service commission, the way that all the other energy utilities, electricity utilities are managed in the State of Louisiana. And there are pros and cons to that, and I think now, there’s a lot of discussion in the city, about what would work better, something publicly owned, something privately owned, under the supervision of the state, or something privately owned under the supervision of the city council.

Stone: Thanks. So let’s jump forward now. So we’ve got the bipartisan infrastructure bill as I mentioned earlier. Today is the 28th of September, we’re recording this. This week, a whole bunch is going on in Washington about the fate of that bill. But you know, there is I think $27 billion in that for grid hardening, grid development, what would this mean for Louisiana?

Verchick: Well, it would mean a lot for Louisiana. It would be a down payment on modernizing the grid structure in Louisiana because there — within that bipartisan infrastructure bill, there is $65 billion at least of investment in power infrastructure. And that includes more resilient transmission lines to support renewable energy. Those transmission lines are really important in Louisiana. One, because obviously we want them to endure storms, but also, we need new roots for transmission lines to move electricity from green energy plants onto our grid. In other words, the solar and the wind is not necessarily going to come from the current plants that are burning natural gas or something else. And we need to be able, if we want to, to purchase renewable energy all the way up, from the states up far North, in Minnesota, Wisconsin and so on. And the only way that works is if we have a robust system of energy transmission that is resilient.

Stone: You mentioned a few minutes ago that the natural gas plant that was built by Entergy a couple of years ago was built in a minority area of New Orleans. Environmental justice is such an important issue as we think about what’s going to be the future of the electricity system, the energy system generally, in the country, in general, also obviously in Louisiana. Now, I know that you have been involved at the grassroots level on climate and energy issues. Really getting people involved. How do you see ordinary citizens having an impact in the process within Louisiana of making necessary changes?

Verchick: The first thing, I think, is for people to become more aware of where their energy comes from and how they’re billed for it. When you get your bill, I think most people, my students, anyway, when we talk about it, have no idea what they’re being charged for, why they’re being charged, where the energy is coming from or those kinds of things. There are a lot of equity issues involved in our energy because we all have so many different kinds of choices. If you have some means, you can build solar panels on your roof, you can take advantage of the cost savings, you can get a tax credit, you can, if you have batteries associated with it, be more resilient during a storm, all right? But if you don’t have the money for all of those upfront costs, you’re not getting any of those benefits. So we need to think, for instance, about policies that would allow communities to get tax credit benefits to build that kind of capacity even in low income areas or areas where people are less wealthy. The key, I think, is for communities of whatever size and whatever type to be more aware of how they can have control and participation in their own energy markets. So I’m just going to give a call-out. There’s a wonderful national organization called the Initiative for Energy Justice, which has a whole workbook on how communities can identify ways, local ways, in which they can push for policy changes, either of their own utility commission, or within their counties, or within their cities, that would allow them to develop, let’s say, community solar, for instance, or to get different kinds of tax incentives arranged to help with nonprofits or public schools to become more resilient. If you get a school — this has happened in some states, you get a school that’s got batteries and then solar; not only is it contributing to the reduction of climate change emissions, but it could also be used as a cooling center during a blackout. And you could keep the school going during a blackout. So there are lots of things going on. There’s another super book, I’ll just do a call-out, a great law professor friend named Shalanda Baker has written a wonderful book called Revolutionary Power. And it essentially is a kind of activist guide for creating more equity within this. And the last thing I’ll say about it is, it’s tremendously important for everyone, because as you mentioned in the beginning of the show, it is possible after many disasters that the worst thing that happens is the power outage, and in some cases, it was true in Ida, it leads to the highest number of deaths, for instance, right? And the people who are most harmed by power outages, it won’t surprise you to learn, are the poor, the socially vulnerable, the disabled, the very young and the very old. And so energy accessibility is enormously important as an equity issue. I will just say it. During Hurricane Ida, I was lucky enough to have a whole house generator attached to my house that was running my air conditioning and running my refrigerator and the lights and everything else in my house. It was scary to winter the storm in my house during the hurricane, but I had electricity the whole time, and I was lucky enough to be able to share that with my neighbors and so on who had to store medicine and charge their computer batteries and all of that kind of thing. But not everybody has that, and you shouldn’t have to rely on your own personal investment to keep the lights on during a disaster.

Stone: How optimistic are you that in the foreseeable future, in the next few years, Louisiana will have an electric grid that is more resilient in the face of storms? Will we get that in the state or will politics and other forces get in the way?

Verchick: I think it will be more resilient than it is now. There is no question. I mean, for the same reason that when Hurricane Katrina flooded the city because of failing levees, we fixed that problem. We put it as a top priority. And I think we can do that, and I hope that we do it again. I think we’re going to be more resilient. The question is how much more resilient? Is it going to be incremental and piecemeal, where we have to wait for a disaster to fix things and make them better, and then wait for another disaster to make another part of the system better? Or are we going to look at the whole thing at once and say we’re going to do a complete overview and spend the money that it takes to make this reliable? We have to do that, I think, because with a half a trillion dollars of deferred investment, our gross domestic product is going to increase less, our productivity as a nation is going to increase less, unless we invest in our infrastructure. We’re going to lose jobs over the long run in the United States if we don’t fix our infrastructure. It’s the same with your house. I mean, people don’t want to spend money on the roof. They’d rather spend money on the bathroom or the kitchen. But you have to start with the roof, because if you don’t have the basics in line, then nothing else follows. You can’t flourish. You can’t thrive. And your productivity goes down.

Stone: Rob, thank you for talking.

Verchick: Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Stone: Today’s guest has been Robert Verchick, a Professor of Environmental Law at Loyola University in New Orleans and President of the Center for Progressive Reform.


Robert Verchick

Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law, Loyola University New Orleans
Robert Verchick is the Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans and president of the Center for Progressive Reform. He is also a member of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edward’s Climate Initiatives Task Force.

Andy Stone

Energy Policy Now Host and Producer
Andy Stone is producer and host of Energy Policy Now, the Kleinman Center’s podcast series. He previously worked in business planning with PJM Interconnection and was a senior energy reporter at Forbes Magazine.