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Earth Promise “21 in 21″ Interview Series: Leslie Drogin - Government Affairs Analyst

Leslie Drogin - Government Affairs Analyst at the law firm, K&L Gates, and former Senior Advisor for Policy and Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy

Ms. Drogin is currently a Government Affairs Analyst in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. She focuses on energy policy. Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Drogin worked as a Senior Advisor for Policy and Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). In this position she advised the Assistant Secretary on policies to strengthen America’s energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality in public-private partnerships that serve to enhance energy efficiency and productivity, and bring clean, reliable and affordable energy technologies to the marketplace. She also worked for the White House in the Office of the Staff Secretary and for the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President.

Earth Promise: What changes, or Earth Promises as we call them, have you made in your lifestyle to be more green? Changes in home, travel, work, with your kids and community?

Leslie Drogin: In an effort to be more green I have made simple changes in my lifestyle over the past few years. I recycle plastic, cans, glass and paper, and I try to limit the usage of plastic bags when shopping. I unplug my computer when it is not being used and I have changed all the light bulbs in my home to CFLs to conserve energy. I also walk to and from work or take public transportation on a daily basis instead of driving my own vehicle.

EP: What was your first, ah ha! Green moment?

LD: For three weeks in October 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy hosted the Solar Decathlon—a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students competed to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon is also an event to which the public was invited to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design. I toured each of the houses and remember being “wowed” by all the small changes I could make to be more energy efficient in my own home.

EP: You are currently at the firm, K&L Gates, and your focus is on energy policy. Can you tell us about the firm and your involvement in this area? Who do you interact with in your role?

LD: K&L Gates, LLP is a global law that comprises 1,900 lawyers who practice in 32 offices located on three continents. The Policy Group is one of the largest lobbying practices in the United States. Within the Policy group I am a part of the Energy Policy team. We help clients on all aspects of energy research, technology development, production, transportation, pricing, taxation and regulation. We work several projects every year in the annual energy-related appropriations bills and closely track the Department of Energy budget process. Our experience in energy issues includes all aspects of nuclear power, renewables (such as hydropower, solar, hydrogen, and biomass), coal technology, oil and gas, electric utilities, and advanced storage and transportation technologies. We are actively engaged in promoting energy policies as part of comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. Most of my clients are companies in the renewable energy or energy efficiency space that are looking to maximize and benefit from federal opportunities.

EP: Prior to your job at K&L Gates, you worked in the George W. Bush Administration and was the Senior Advisor for Policy and Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). What was your role in policy and who did you interact with?

LD: Prior to joining K&L Gates I worked as a Senior Advisor for Policy and Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). In this position I advised the Assistant Secretary and other senior staff on policies to strengthen America’s energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality in public-private partnerships that serve to enhance energy efficiency and productivity, and bring clean, reliable and affordable energy technologies to the marketplace. In this capacity I interacted with DOE officials, industry stakeholders and executives, finance community members, and state and local government representatives.

EP: What was your #1 accomplishment during your time working with the White House?

LD: As a political appointee in DOE my greatest professional accomplishment was the establishment and facilitation of the CEO Outreach Program. This goal of this program was to match energy industry executives with their counterparts in the federal government so as to make DOE a tangible resource and a “one stop shop” on how to navigate the federal government. During the two years I led this program we met with over 400 company officials and helped many of them find innovative ways to work with the federal government. Companies received information regarding funding opportunities, annual conferences, program reviews, and mechanisms for working in foreign nations, which proved to be valuable sources of business acumen. On the flip side, DOE officials learned about challenges facing energy companies and market trends.

As a political appointee in DOE my greatest personal accomplishment was being asked by the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden to represent DOE and participate in a Cleantech Trade Mission to Sweden and Denmark. Additionally on this mission, I was asked to be a panelist at the World Bioenergy Conference in Jonkoping, Sweden, to discuss DOE’s work on second generation biofuels.

EP: Cars are one of the major problems when it comes to the environment. Our dependence on oil, our gas guzzling cars, our resistance to change. What are some of the changes you would like to see regarding the auto industry?

LD: I would like to see our transportation system electrified. The United States currently spends $2 billion a day to pay for imported oil, and in 2007 the United States borrowed and spent nearly $319 billion to meet its dependence on foreign oil. The percentage of imported oil consumed by the United States has continued to increase, rising from 34% in 1974 to 60% in 2007. This dependence on foreign oil has led to a fundamental shift in the public policy surrounding oil. There is a growing recognition that oil currently fails to meet the three essential tests as a fuel: 1) is it affordable? 2) is it secure? and, 3) is it environmentally clean? Installing an infrastructure of charging stations across the country for consumers with electric vehicles to replace or charge their existing batteries is a prerequisite before mass development and sales of plug-in cars can begin.

I would also like to see second generation biofuels (fuels made from non-food feedstocks) scaled up to penetrate the market. There has been a lot of innovation in the biofuels area with feedstocks such as algae and jatropha and I am hopeful that we will find alternatives to gasoline that will help to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

EP: Renewable or reusable energies are such an unknown. Wind, solar, natural gas. Yet we’ve been researching them for years. Why does it take so long to make this change when we know it can happen?

LD: There are a few issues preventing renewables from becoming their own sustainable industries. The first is cost. Many technologies are still expensive and only when the price to is lowered will they be able to be scaled up, commercialized, and purchased by consumers. The second is variability. Most sources of renewable energy—solar, wind, and tidal power—have a pretty significant limitation: the energy source is variable. The sun isn’t always up, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the tides come and go, all of which leaves those running the energy grid with the challenge of evening out the power supply. The third issue is storage. With the need for renewable energy contributing to the electric grid on a national scale, additional energy storage facilities need to be created to store intermittent power and make it available on demand. Technologies that have storage capacity such as batteries, compressed air and thermal storage are still being researched and developed before they can be deployed. Finally, the economy in its current state contributes to the delay because many projects are stalled due to a lack of funding. While technologies have been developed they are facing the commercialization “valley of death”. Basically, there is not enough capital to get them off the shelf, scaled up, and into the market.

EP: In what ways will green awareness and green initiatives help us, both as a country as well as individually?

LD: Energy independence is essential for our national security. Being “green” is no longer associated with being red or blue but rather, it is widely accepted that changes regarding our energy policies need to be made.
The cleantech revolution has forced the federal government to lead by example and be first consumer of many new technologies. The federal government is the largest single consumer of energy and green awareness and green initiatives have become the forefront of energy policy.

The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides many opportunities to make a difference in that there is a lot of focus on “shovel ready” green projects and green collar jobs that can stimulate the economy.
EP: One of President Obama’s environmental goals is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Another is to ensure that 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. Do you think these goals are achievable? What are some of the road blocks from that happening?
I do believe that President Obama’s goals can be achieved. However, in this market there needs to be considerable federal funding available to those companies that are on the verge of commercialization but do not have the funds to scale up their projects.

With comprehensive energy and climate change legislation expected to be addressed in Congress this spring/summer, I think we will see new policies and programs that are put in place in an effort to realize this Administration’s goals. We are already hearing talk of a cap and trade system and this legislative cycle may very well be the session that it gets passed and implemented.

EP: Were you “green” as a child?

LD: Growing up my parents encouraged us to recycle and always asked for paper bags at grocery store instead of plastic ones. I was instructed not to run water unnecessarily and to turn off the lights when leaving a room. I was also told to shut off the television or other appliances when I had finished using them so as not to waste energy needlessly.

EP: What is the one Earth Promise you are going to make in the future that you have not done yet? Feel free to answer this as Leslie Drogin the person or the professional.

LD: I am going to make an effort to wash more dishes by hand so that I cut back on the amount of times I run the dishwasher. Considering I tend to hand wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, I could save some energy by letting them air dry.

I also planning to bring my own reusable shopping bags when running errands in order to try and zero out the number of plastic bags I receive and bring home.

EP: Thank you for your time. Greatly appreciated

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