Author: Doug Gavel
CAMBRIDGE MA. – Vicky Bailey, who has held high-level national and international corporate, executive, and government positions in the energy sector for more than 30 years, shared her thoughts on energy policy, climate change policy, the impacts of COVID-19, and systemic racial injustice in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here. A transcript of the interview is available here.
Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
Bailey, who served as a commissioner on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, president and CEO of PSI Energy Inc., and Assistant Secretary of Energy in the George W. Bush Administration, explained that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way people work and live, and thereby having profound effects on energy demand.
“Working from home will change energy demand. We can plan for some things but this is something probably we hadn't planned for but we're seeing energy demand come back. Things are coming back but it's very slow and coming back in a different way,” she said.
Reflecting upon what she thought might be the most significant change in the energy sector that she has witnessed, Bailey responded that discussions about energy, the environment, and climate change are much more politicized today than they were 20 years ago.
“The words ‘climate change’ seem to now conjure up positions or sides. That wasn’t the way it was for me coming along.” She cited the important work of late Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, a moderate Republican who saw the threat of global warming through the lens of a farmer. “He was a strong supporter of climate actually because he recognized that the environment can cause stress on crops, which then has an issue as it relates to feeding, getting that produce, and getting that out to feed people.”
Validating how times have changed, Stavins cited the fact that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 passed with the support of approximately 97 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Bailey also spoke of the national turmoil and introspection caused by the tragic death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police brutality in May in a violent confrontation that was taped and later viewed by millions of Americans.
“You can't unsee that,” she said. “And you have to say, you know, why? I mean, why is that happening? Why did it turn into that? … But it's like, ‘Well, doesn't he at least get to make it to the jailhouse?’”
Yet Bailey also remarked that she has faith that America will fix the problem of systemic racial injustice, but only with strong and effective leadership.
“I am optimistic. I believe in America. I have said that through my own public service. I've demonstrated that and I believe in humanity. I do. And I believe we always aspire to do better but we need our leaders. We need our leadership, to help us with that,” she stated. “We are a great country but we continue to strive to do better. And that's what I want to appeal to. I want to appeal to that – that better side of us.”
Bailey’s interview is the 14th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.
“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”