A Little Bit of Tina

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The bill is based on the idea that there is no one solution, no one size fits all, that we'll get every part of the country to that goal in exactly the same way. So it starts out by being technology-neutral. It says some solutions might work great in Minnesota that might not work so well at all in Alabama or Montana. And that is really important. It also allows utilities in each of the regions of the country to propose for themselves what is the best way for them to get to that standard. And of course we really do know that we need to have innovation, we need to have lots of things happening in the clean energy sector in the ed as we get to net-zero emissions.

And so we need to create opportunities for innovation. Nobody can say today that they know exactly what's going to solve our problems in 50 or 60 years.

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We need to get past looking for that silver bullet and move forward. What I'm most proud of with this bill is not only does it take a bold step towards getting the electricity sector to net-zero carbon emissions, but it also has bridged the gap that we too often face between those who are focused on environmental protection, and those who are focused on jobs.


The fact that the bill has such a broad array of stakeholders supporting it, from organized labor, to the Union of Concerned Scientists, to some really important utilities around the country. I'm very proud of that work. Kristin Hayes : Yeah, I know that was a big part of the work that your office did as you were building the bill, and also building the coalition for the bill, and I'd love to come back to that and talk a little bit more about that process.

But one question I wanted to ask before that was around your choice of policy instrument. And we have talked to a number of other policymakers and offices that have introduced more economy-wide solutions, like a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade. And there's been a flurry of those bills introduced at the federal level this year as well.

So I'm wondering if you could say anything about why you chose to look at an electricity sector specific bill as the instrument of choice. Senator Tina Smith : Well, there are so many different things that we need to do. So one step in one arena doesn't foreclose other steps in other arenas. It's important to understand that. Also a clean energy standard approach is an approach that many other states have been taking. So it builds on the work—that really innovative and cutting edge work—that is happening in states, and I liked that a lot.

It also, I think, has the advantage of—though there are issues around carbon emissions and getting to net-zero in many, many different sectors—the electricity sector is important. And to make progress in that in that sector is going to have a really, really big impact, particularly as we look at the electrification of other sources of carbon pollution.

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Especially, of course, I think of transportation. As we move more and more towards electric cars, other kinds of electric vehicles—the electrification of that sector is going to mean that the improvements that we make in the electricity sector towards net-zero carbon emissions is going to have even broader benefits. Kristin Hayes : Yeah, we talk a lot about that at RFF too, about the fact that a lot of those reductions that can come from the power sector are among the cheapest reductions that you could get as well.

So if you're going to start with one sector, I think that is certainly a natural choice that a number of people have looked at. This is going to be a big, hard, heavy lift—but it is an opportunity that we also don't want to leave behind. And I always say when I'm talking to people that are needing to be persuaded a little bit about this, that the United States can either lead or we can follow when it comes to moving towards a clean energy future.

And I want us to lead because that's going to mean that the innovation happens here—the jobs happen here, and not in China. Kristin Hayes : Well, you mentioned states as a learning laboratory for policy development, and I wanted to ask you a little bit more. Certainly all senators are here working on federal policy, but they represent their home states first and foremost—in your case, Minnesota.

So maybe I'll take a step back, and ask what you have learned in your years of Minnesota life about the potential impacts of climate change on that state. And we did that in a bipartisan way, with a Republican governor and a democratic legislature, because people could see the opportunity that that created for jobs in our economy. And because people understood that we had a responsibility and an obligation to environmental protection.

So that ethic, I think, has been important to Minnesota for a long time. I will say, it's interesting to me how the conversation has shifted [since] even just a few years ago—talking about climate change would take people in Minnesota to this place where they're starting to think about sacrifice and what they can't do, what they're gonna lose, how much it's going to cost—a conversation that is all about scarcity in a way. I believe that that conversation is changing in Minnesota, one, because people are really understanding that this is a serious threat. They can see that—you don't need to tell a farmer in Minnesota that climate change is happening when they look at their flooded-out fields.

You don't need to tell a mayor of a small town in rural Minnesota that climate change is happening when they are needing to look at major improvements to their storm water system because of rains and flooding, or the dairy farmer whose barn collapsed because of these extraordinary snow falls that we're having, or the timber industry in Northern Minnesota that is seeing a retreat of trees that would have grown in a completely different way 40 or 50 years ago. All of these things, I think, mean that Minnesota, and I believe much of the country, is ready to have this conversation, and wants to see people like me and others taking action and not just talking about it.

Kristin Hayes : Well let's talk about movement then. That's another great lead in, thank you. So process, from everything that I have experienced in working in Washington, process can be as important as policy in really helping legislation move from concept to something more than just a concept.

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And so what sort of process did you and your team, your colleagues, use in both developing and then also in socializing your Clean Energy Standard Proposal? Senator Tina Smith : Well, you're right, it does matter how you build an idea, and then how you roll out an idea. Too many times people, I think, go into a dark room and they figure out what they think is the absolute very best way of doing something, and then they present it to the world and say, here is my idea. Don't you love my idea? Will you come please sign onto my idea?

And I don't know how you feel about that, but mostly people like to be asked and not told. And that's one thing that we really put into action as we developed this bill. We did a lot of consultation, and it was not only because we wanted people to support our idea, but it was also because we knew our idea was going to be so much stronger if we had lots of input and lots of people's ideas.

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And I do think that the bill is stronger because we did that. Now that, I think, is one of the primary reasons why, as I understand it, this is the only climate bill that has earned the support of both environmental organizations and organized labor. And that is a really, really important connection because, this is a … you used the word movement. In order to actually have a movement, you need to have the support of people out in communities. Now, I'll be honest, I'm disappointed that we also haven't been able to get the support of any of my Republican colleagues on this bill.

This bill is based on something that Senator Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico worked on in a bipartisan way on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, way back in, when, , ?

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Right, so even then, Republicans were willing to have some conversations about this kind of clean energy policy. We have got to change that and, from a purely political perspective, they are going to be left behind. Their constituents are ready, I believe, for this. Kristin Hayes : Well as you pointed out, there are states across the country, many states, in the dozens, that already have renewable portfolio standards, and are looking at that as a policy instrument. Tina : I mean, one New York Magazine profile of me about seven or eight years ago began, "Tina Brown has always got ahead by being nice to old Jewish men.

Tina : It's like, what? I mean, I'm sorry, but those were the people who own the magazines that I work with.

It's not how I got the jobs, guys. I got the job because I knew how to do it and did very well at them … The other thing that's very interesting about women is that when they fall, there's no safety net for women in terms of things being offered. I mean, I've noticed again and again that men in jobs who fail swiftly get a board position, or they're offered a big think-tank to run, or they get picked up and they're given a very similar job in a different town.

All the women I know who've lost jobs that were at the top as it were, they're not offered other jobs. They have to kind of go off and figure out something themselves.

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I think it's something women need to do for each other much more, which is to create the kind of network of sort of support and bounce-back that men seem to have cultivated so well for themselves. Want to meet more women like Tina Brown? You can—by joining the Girlboss professional network!

Girlboss is a free platform for ambitious women to connect, ask questions, and level-up, together. We're calling it "professional networking 2. No sliding into DMs, no spam, no mass-connecting. Join fellow founding members and get access to our weekly Digital Fireside chats where you can get advice from entrepreneurs, marketers, creatives and side hustlers from all trades.