FES lecturer Rob Klee offers new ideas for states to curb climate change

Renewable energy collage
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Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) lecturer Rob Klee ’99 M.E.S., ’04 J.D., ’05 Ph.D., has a new online series looking at the steps states can take to mitigate climate change.

Klee is a former commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, which he calls “a job of a lifetime.” In the five-part series, he brings his insights in law, public policy, and academic research together to address one of the world’s most pressing problems: how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%-60% globally by 2030 or face increasingly dire consequences.

One of Klee’s ideas is giving added teeth to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 by including a hard, economy-wide greenhouse gas target. “This was the first environmental law,” says Klee, who teaches environmental law and policy. “NEPA and the other first-generation environmental laws were designed to address egregious in-your-face harms” (think companies dumping pollutants in the nation’s waterways or emitting toxic fumes). Essentially, NEPA require the government to consider the environment before taking any major action or the public can sue, explains Klee, but the law as it stands is just procedural.

The time is right to have a goal locked into that statute,” Klee says. “This could be a vehicle for national climate policy action.” The goals he recommends are ambitious: 50% economy-wide greenhouse gas reductions and 80% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

Rob Klee
Rob Klee

Klee believes this approach will work because he has seen similar hard-coded climate change policies work at the state level. Close to 30 states, including Connecticut, have climate change targets and clean energy standards ensuring that utilities obtain an increasing portion of their electricity from renewables. The great thing about these targets, says Klee, is that there is flexibility in how to reach them. “States have figured it out,” he says. “They get there through fees, permits, markets, and mandates.” Important, too, he says, is that these policies stay steady through the changing priorities of new administrations.

In order for states to reach the ultimate goal of 100% renewable energy generation, Klee says, nuclear and hydropower will have to stay in the mix. But, as he notes in his series, increased renewables also demand an updated national grid and battery storage. Beyond the need to modernize the century-old electric grid — which, he notes, “needs to be lot smarter and better integrate data and information” —Klee advocates expanding distributed energy storage.

In Vermont, for instance, the state’s energy company has partnered with Tesla for the distribution of 2,000 grid-connected Tesla Powerwalls, which store energy from home rooftop solar panels, act as backup when the power is down, and provide additional energy supply during peak demand. In California, he says, home solar panels at times generate more energy than the grid can handle. But electric vehicles, he says, “are big rolling batteries,” and can serve to store and release energy at optimum times as these systems are better coordinated.

We need huge amounts of data and analysis” to better coordinate a renewable energy future, Klee says. That’s where his students come in.

There’s a real focus on renewable energy among students at Yale, Klee says, especially among undergraduate environmental studies majors and students in the energy studies multidisciplinary academic program and at FES, the School of Management, and innovation hubs like the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale. Students are studying blockchain and data management for the smart grid, electric vehicle deployment, and clean energy finance – while also becoming actively involved in decarbonization campaigns.

This generation is speaking loudly to this older generation,” Klee says. He says he encourages his students to pursue public service work. “Working in states and cities provides tremendous opportunity for new graduates to get in the mix on big initiatives,” he says. 

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Media Contact

Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643