Category Archives: Sustainability

Reflections on Resiliency

Written by Chris Rohner

April 8th, 2018

In April 2018 I got a chance to speak at the The End of the World as We Know It: The Consequences of Extreme Climate Disruption for Business and Democracy, Conference with IGEL at the Wharton School at PENN.  It was a great opportunity to hear an interesting mix of academic and private sector speakers.  From many of the speakers the message was – “change is coming, embrace it, and maybe even benefit from what is happening.” This is a positive message that I try to encourage with my own clients.  I tell them, look at current conditions, this is not the world we lived in 10 years ago!  We need to think and plan differently.

As someone who has worked as a public sector emergency manager and a private sector emergency management/business continuity consultant the goal of my presentation was to introduce my profession to the attendees and participants and make the case that business continuity is an important element of resilience planning.  I also wanted to put some context to the world many communities and businesses are working within – I did this by highlight five “resiliency realities”:

Planning is Critical

The public and private sectors each bring important talents, experience and resources to the table. Coordination and collaboration are key to creating a resilient community and nation. Open dialog needs to start years before the next big event – last minute decision-making does not produce good outcomes.  Many cities have public-private planning coordinators within their Office of Emergency Management – this is a great place to start the conversation.

Personal Preparedness is the Foundation of Resilience

I tell this to anyone that will listen…. Personal preparedness for you and your family is critical – a shelter-in-place plan, a communication plan, a Go-Bag for evacuation (and a pet plan if needed) are the basis for community or business preparedness.  Look for county resources at your local Office of Emergency Management and visit www.ready.gov for straightforward advice and recommendations.

Our Physical Infrastructure is Fragile

Let’s remember that we live in a country with old, fragile and out-of-date infrastructure.  The bridges we need for evacuation are decaying; the schools we need for shelters are old and leak during an average rainstorm. To increasing our resilience, we need to plan smart, think about future climate conditions and rebuild our infrastructure to support our emergency response needs.

Social Justice Raises our Human Resilience

Along with our physical infrastructure the nation must work to increase the resilience of our citizens. We must raise the standard of living for Americans, pay a living wage and seek social equity.  We must have a health systems the promote wellness, fiscal education and financial institutions that help low income people promote savings, public and private organizations that teach and uphold civil discourse – these and many more idea create communities that can better withstand events and recovery more quickly.

Act When the Topic is Hot

And lastly, as we all look to promote the increase in resiliency we need to take every opportunity to push this agenda in public policy and budgeting, and when private companies are impacted.  Unfortunately, these pushes tend to come right after an event has affected the nation – after a hurricane, a wildfire, or earthquake.  While it may see opportunistic – we must seize these times and push the resilience agenda forward.  We know from experience that the public’s attention span is short, and unless action is taken quickly the public’s engagement and interest will fall off, as the news cycle moves forward.

About the Author:

0Chris Rohner is a business continuity program manager for General Dynamics Information Technology (formerly CSRA).  His 25-year background spans emergency management, planning, and response operations, public health, business continuity, community resiliency as well as transportation planning and policy development.  He has extensive experience working with local, city, state and regional government agencies and the private sector to find straightforward solutions to complex problems by focusing on clients’ specific circumstances. In the public sector he has held key management positions with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Bureau of Emergency Management; and the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).  In the private sector he has worked as a program manager within the community resilience space at Ecology and Environment, Inc. and at CSRA, now General Dynamics Information Technology.

 

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Energy Policy Now: An EPA After Scott Pruitt

April 23, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has come under bipartisan fire for an array of ethical missteps that range from lavish spending on travel to the granting of illegal pay raises for select EPA staffers. Over the past week, staunch Pruitt supporters such as Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso have questioned the transparency with which Pruitt has run his office, and legislators from both sides of the aisle have suggested that Pruitt may not be fit to lead the agency.

Could Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA be coming to an end? And if so, what direction might the embattled agency take under new leadership, such as that of recently confirmed Deputy EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler?

In this special episode of Energy Policy Now, Penn Law energy and environment legal experts Cary Coglianese and Daniel Walters discuss the swirl of possible ethical violations that have led to the Pruitt controversy. They explore what Pruitt’s departure could mean for his efforts—and those of the Trump administration—to deprioritize environmental protection at the EPA and roll back environmental regulations.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

Celebrating Earth Day 2018

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April 22nd, 2018

Elena Rohner, Wharton IGEL Communications Coordinator

On Wednesday, April 18th, a fabulous group of interdisciplinary stakeholders came together on the 8th floor of Jon M. Huntsman hall for a day of knowledge sharing and thought leadership about how business and democracy will be impacted by climate change.  Our panelists ranged from a global manufacturer of consumer products, to a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, to one of the world’s largest utility providers, to experts in atmospheric and oceanic sciences, to Navy veterans and business continuity consultants.  Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, concluded the day on an upbeat note – weaving together all of the key lessons from panelists and leaving the audience with the knowledge that, despite the enormous task in front of us, we have experts at all points of a complex system working to adapt, mitigate and build resilience for a future that often seems daunting.

Nothing changes overnight, nor does it happen in a vacuum.  Continued interdisciplinary collaboration and a systems-oriented approach are critical to making an impact.

Thus, today – the 48th celebration of Earth Day – we would like to thank all of our sponsors and stakeholders at IGEL for their commitment to making this world a better place for everyone and everything.

For more information on our 2018 Conference, visit this page of conference proceedings: https://igel.wharton.upenn.edu/2018-conference/

HAPPY EARTH DAY

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Energy Policy Now: Rising Seas and the Future of Coastal Cities

April 4, 2018

Jeff Goodell is a contributing editor with Rolling Stone magazine, where his writing focuses on environmental and climate issues. Last year he published his sixth book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, which earned a Critics’ Top Book award from the New York Times.  

Billy Fleming is research director for the Ian L. McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. His research focuses on climate adaptation planning along the U.S. coast.

As sea levels rise, nuisance flooding is the first wave of assault on coastal cities. Can we protect our coasts from inundation, or is retreat inevitable?

Jeff Goodell, author of the New York Times award-winning book, The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, talks about the impact of rising seas on America’s coastal centers in the decades to come. Will innovative engineering allow cities and towns to be protected, and at what cost? Or, will the seas prevail, leaving some areas abandoned? Billy Fleming, research director for the Ian L. McHarg Center at the Penn School of Design and an expert on climate adaptation planning, weighs in as well.

The U.S. government estimates that sea levels will rise by two feet by the middle of this century due to a warming climate. Already the impact of higher water is being felt in points around the country. In many coastal communities, nuisance flooding has become the predictable norm.  Miami Beach is spending half a billion dollars to elevate roads and install pumps in an effort to stay dry. And Houston, New York, and New Orleans, all cities that are just feet above sea level, have recently seen unprecedented and devastating flooding. Goodell and Fleming look at the political and human costs of taking action.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.

 

The Wharton Green Tracker: A Sustainability Impact Pilot for Wharton Students

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The Wharton Green Tracker, our impact tracking app, launched on March 19th! This is a free app available for iOS and Android devices that will connect us all digitally and reward you for doing good by the Wharton community and the world, and for making more sustainable lifestyle choices. Prizes will be offered to the highest point-earner from the prior week every Monday through April 16, as well as for highest scores at the pilot’s conclusion! Follow this link to download on iOS, and this link to download on Android – or simply search “Wharton Green Tracker,” to get started. Use community code “whartonupenn to gain access and start earning your points now!

The Wharton Green Tracker is a collaboration between the Wharton School and MilkCrate, a mission–driven tech company that empowers our clients to track and grow their impact using a platform that can be customized to engage individual behavior to reveal collective impact.  To learn more about MilkCrate, check out their website: http://mymilkcrate.com

Business schools start preparing graduates for a world of climate risks

February 28, 2018

DURHAM, North Carolina

Risks related to climate change are some of the most significant threats facing the global economy, according to the World Economic Forum, which recently released its Global Risks Report 2018.  In a report that scans a spectrum of economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal, and technological risks, extreme weather events, natural disasters, and failure to mitigate climate change took three of the Top 5 risks likely to have an impact on the global economy in the short term.

Business schools are taking notice.  “Virtually every industry will be affected by climate change in the future in some way,” says Daniel Vermeer, PhD, associate professor of the practice at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  “Climate change will shift what agricultural products can be grown where.  Extreme weather events will disrupt distribution supply chains more frequently.  Energy and transportation infrastructure will need to be more resilient.  Real estate portfolios need to be reconfigured.  If you’re a business school student today, you need to be thinking ahead about where the future risks are.”

Fuqua is one of 16 business schools collaborating to host an event on March 23-24 called ClimateCAP: The Global MBA Summit on Climate, Capital, & Business.  Its speakers will include executives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Bain & Co., Morgan Stanley, Levi Strauss, KPMG, and other big-name private sector leaders.  The summit will be held on Fuqua’s campus in Durham, NC, but will rotate to another business school in future years.

“This summit is not about politics.  It’s not about policy.  It’s about which businesses and investors will successfully navigate a more turbulent future because they’ve identified these risks and adapted accordingly—and which will be left flat-footed,” adds Vermeer.

Statoil, the Norwegian oil and gas company, is one example of a company that’s not shying away from recognizing the risks on the horizon.  “In Statoil we believe the winners in the energy transition will be the producers that can deliver energy at low cost and low carbon. That is why we work to reduce own emissions, grow in renewables and embed climate in all our decision-making,” says Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Statoil.  Sverdrup will be speaking at the summit and hopes to help MBA students better understand the profound strategic challenges and opportunities climate issues represent for companies.

ClimateCAP is not the only climate-related conference to be hosted at a business school this year.  In February, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business hosted an innovation summit to bring corporate leaders and entrepreneurs together with faculty, students, and think tank experts to recommend strategies that inspire innovation to tackle climate change.  And in April, the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School will host an event called “The End of the World as We Know It? The Consequences of Extreme Climatic Disruption for Business and Democracy.”

“It is critical that we empower the next generation with strategic knowledge tools in business and sustainability so that they can lead us into a future with fewer climate change challenges,” says Joanne Spigonardo, senior associate director of Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. “Business schools can be catalysts to innovate those changes so that we can ensure a world of economic and environmental sustainability.”

In 2017, Columbia Business School organized an event on “The Near-Term Impacts of Climate Change on Investors” and Yale School of Management also co-hosted a conference on climate change.

“I have no doubt that we’ll see more of these conversations happening at business schools in the future.” says Vermeer. “The reality is, MBA students can’t afford to ignore the impacts and implications of a changing climate.  There will be winners and losers, and many opportunities to seize competitive advantage.  As current MBAs prepare for their careers, they need to be thinking about how to creatively respond to the strategic, operational, and innovation challenges of climate change that will inevitably grow in coming decades.”

 

Energy Policy Now: The Future of Nuclear Host Communities

Featuring Jennifer Stromsten and Saqib Rahim:

Jennifer is Program Director with the Institute of Nuclear Host Communities and works for the economic development agency that serves the region surrounding Entergy Corporation’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The plant closed in 2014 and is now in the process of decommissioning.

Saqib is a reporter with E&E News who has written at length about Vermont Yankee and the legacy of nuclear plant closures.

February 13, 2018

Nuclear power plants pump millions of dollars into local economies. As the rate of nuclear retirements accelerates, will surrounding communities find a way forward?

A growing number of U.S. nuclear power plants are threatened with early retirement as the combination of rising operating costs, and low electricity prices, have eroded the nuclear industry’s profits. The reactors are often the economic life blood of the mostly rural communities where they’re located.  When they close, many good paying jobs, and generous funding for school and community services disappear. And, unlike most one-company towns, nuclear host communities are burdened with a legacy of nuclear waste that can create barriers to redevelopment.

Guests Jennifer Stromsten, Program Director with the Institute of Nuclear Host Communities, and Saqib Rahim, an E&E News reporter who’s written extensively on nuclear plant closures, discuss community efforts to navigate the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear station in southern Vermont. They also look at the impact that the ongoing storage of nuclear waste at the site is having on efforts to redevelop, and initiatives at the state and national level to give communities more say in the decommissioning process and, by extension, control over their path forward.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society. 

 

Building a Green Empire

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By Julie Spitkovsky, Netronix, Inc.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.  Raising awareness, sharing information and cultivating interest about indoor air quality are important tools for building design professionals to exploit at the start of the design process to achieve optimal indoor air conditions from the start of a project through building occupancy.

Getting people to break habits is extremely difficult.  Paul Scialla, Founder and CEO at Delos explains, “Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.  We spend 90% of our time indoors, and by incorporating a variety of healthy design, construction and operations strategies through evidence-based programs such as the WELL Building Standard, we have a profound opportunity to advance human health, well-being and productivity for everyone.”  

“Our built environments can shape our habits, regulate our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.”

Occupant health is a clear economic incentive. In 2007, a study by Mudarri and Fisk estimated that annual costs of asthma attributable to dampness and mold exposure in homes were between $2.1-4.8 billion. By 2014, studies in the health sector revealed reductions in mortality rates, bloodstream infection rates, and medicine consumption in green hospitals, compared to conventional hospitals, indicating that some of these effects could occur because of improved IAQ. Fewer sick days, reduced employee turnover, and fewer medical errors are compelling incentives to design spaces that incorporate evidence based research findings.  

MATERIALS MATTER

Consumer products and building materials emit dangerous gases like VOCs, Formaldehyde and Carbon Dioxide, influencing indoor air quality.  Many of these types of compounds were not present half a century ago. According to the EPA, examples of consumer products and building materials that are also sources of indoor air pollution include office furniture, flooring, paints and coating, adhesives and sealants, wall coverings, office equipment, wood products, textiles, and insulation.  In 2010, the World Health Organization established guidelines for maximum thresholds of Formaldehyde at .08 ppm, though there are few guidelines for other gases, environmental conditions and particulate matter (the WHO only first identified particulate matter as an indoor pollutant in 2006, explicitly recognizing the limited availability of resources). Indoor air quality (IAQ) is enhanced by using materials that have negligible carcinogenic or chemical emissions, are installed with minimal VOC-producing compounds, offer moisture resistance, and require simple, non-toxic cleaning methods and products. Today, more consumer products and building materials are being studied and certified as low chemical-emitting materials in an effort to control and achieve good indoor air quality.  But is this enough?

ENERGY BUNNIES

One premise for green building design is its impact in the energy sector. Today buildings account for 41% of US energy consumption, with nearly half of that usage coming from the commercial sector. Designers have control over energy consumption and indoor air quality factors such as materials, systems, ventilation, the environmental control scheme, and layout. In 2016, the percentage of firms with over 60% green certified projects reached 18 % and is estimated to triple to 37% by 2018. Under LEED standards, Gold Rated buildings earning 39 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by 50 percent, while Platinum Rated buildings earning 52 points are estimated to reduce environmental impact by almost 70 percent.

VENTILATION MATTERS

Historically the connection between buildings as repositories and gateways of resource flow and air pollution was difficult to measure.  In office buildings, over 1/2 of end use energy expenditures come from heating, ventilating and cooling.  One of the challenges with flushing ventilation, bringing in outside air at night when the building is unoccupied to cool down the building or remove heat, is the re-introduction of outdoor pollutants and generation of new pollutants.  The reaction between outdoor air and indoor materials is a break in equilibrium at the surface of materials causing the emissions of new pollutants, otherwise absorbed by building structures.  Well-ventilated work spaces proved to have lower levels of  CO2 correlating with decreased levels of worker anxiety and increased levels of productivity.  More specific findings in support of the mounting evidence demonstrating the relationship between Indoor Air Quality & productivity tells us there is 61% higher cognitive functioning in green buildings that meet occupant health and energy efficiency standards set by LEED and 100% higher cognitive functioning in buildings with twice the ventilated air rate required for LEED certification (+Green Plus Buildings).  

“…heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effects on children’s developing respiratory system.”

According to Bruce White, Vice President of Airthinx, Inc. “We are starting to see, and have a clearer picture of  the health effects of indoor contaminants like PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOC’s on building occupants. We see from recent studies out of Harvard, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, USGBC & IWBI, what elevated levels of CO2 alone can do to students and building occupants. Specifically, in children, elevated levels of CO2 can cause wheezing and levels over 1,000 ppm can result in a 10-20% increases in days away from school. That alone affects the school not only in lower test scores, but also in funding from the US Department of Education on attendance levels. More importantly, the prolonged exposure to heightened levels of Carbon Dioxide over the course of a school year can have detrimental physical effect on children’s’ developing respiratory system.”

HOLISTIC APPROACH

A poor indoor environment causes occupant discomfort, health problems and poor performance.  Building system performance directly impacts maintenance frequency, equipment life, and energy usage. Understanding the process and possible IAQ endpoints (moisture control, drainage, ductwork protection, HVAC production, use of low VOC building materials, minimum ventilation) encourages improved building design. For example, a life cycle assessment (LCA) addresses the impact of a product through all of its life stages. By executing sustainable design in architecture, there is an opportunity for long-term value through modifiable building systems over the life-cycle instead of least-cost investments.

The impacts of evidence based design, a once value added anomaly, are now a requirement for competitive practice.  Occupants heightened exposure to the availability of data & metrics, conditions them to demand more assured outcomes on expensive building projects.  Architects are in a position to make collective and informed choices that will have a broad impact in the aggregate, such as advising about emission testing protocols to ensure test results can be translated into real world use cases. For example, under LEED, designers can earn up to 15 points for implementing indoor air quality measures.

SMART SENSORS

When considering the options available for indoor air quality management, the exclusive reliance on cleaning the air with filtration systems may not be enough. Air filtration cleaning method results rest on the assumption that ‘dirty’ contaminants are eliminated. Rather, the systems selectively remove some pollutants but not others, and generate new pollutants when the systems are not properly maintained. A reliable counterpart and solution is continuous monitoring of air quality levels in any infrastructure, preserving the integrity of the measurements, producing never before seen analytics and information, and creating better indoor environments, everywhere in the world.  In this way, space planning can be more intuitive and give future projects a greater chance of success.   

Building a collective understanding of the indoor air quality problem and its ecosystem, creates opportunities to make informed decisions and inspires actions to transform indoor spaces. 

Mr. Valentine Lehr, of Lehr Engineering in New York weighs in, “As a consulting design engineer, I am aware that the best intentions and latest technology often fail when needed maintenance and constant monitoring are neglected.  At the heart of this is the cost and effort of monitoring these systems and validating proper operation, both tasks which require human input.  Further, while devices to monitor air content have been available, these are usually singularly specific, expensive and need frequent calibration. In that regard, the Airthinx monitor is a significant development and improvement.  It’s low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The solution, developed by Netronix’s IoT platform, guarantees the highest standards of security, reliability, and scalability of the network, and enables quick deployment of devices in commercial, retail & residential buildings with simple, affordable integration into any built environment. Each Airthinx IAQ device has nine built-in sensors (PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10, CO2, CH2O, VOCs, Temperature, Humidity, & Pressure), measuring air quality with industrial accuracy, at a fraction of the cost, making air quality monitoring financially feasible at room level.

“Its low cost, easy installation, ability to monitor multiple potential contaminants and ease of integration with BMS and specialized monitoring/alarm centers allows for an unprecedented number of devices to be installed, and the original design intent to be fully maintained, assuring high IAQ.”

The advantage of a portable device that fits in the palm of a hand with data available instantaneously from a mobile phone, iPad or desktop is accessibility to information, anytime, anywhere.

Knowledge is power!

 

A Founder With a Vision: Triple Bottom Line Sustainability at Virgin Group

Co-Authored by Joy De Bach (Virgin Atlantic, Regional Commercial Director, East Region), Gabriela Salas (Virgin Atlantic, Global Sales Executive, East Region), & Karen Titus (Delta Air Lines, National Sales Account Executive, Global Sales)

October 18th, 2017

Being a billionaire has afforded Sir Richard Branson many opportunities in life, but after decades of disrupting some of the world’s biggest industries, his latest passion projects have less to do with flying planes and mobile phones and more to do with saving the world.  As employees of Virgin Atlantic and Delta (Virgin’s partner airline), we were fortunate to be able to see Richard at the Authors@Wharton Speaker Series yesterday, and were once again reminded of what an entrepreneurial spirit and compassion for the environment and human rights can do to change the world.

Having recently experienced the devastation of Irma on his Necker Island residence, climate change literally hit Richard, his family, and his employees with the strength of a hurricane.  But rather than dwell on the negative, he spoke of rebuilding infrastructures throughout the islands to come back better than ever before, and views climate change as ‘one of the great opportunities for this world’, encouraging the business sector and entrepreneurs globally to tackle the issues of global warming.

When asked by host, Professor Adam Grant, what his next venture will be, Sir Richard emphasized that he’s setting his sights on the future, focusing on non-profit initiatives to tackle carbon emissions, global human rights, and creating sustainable fuels, just to name a few.  Now, you might think that a mogul with three airlines in the Virgin portfolio which guzzle fuel crossing oceans and continents and saving the environment shouldn’t necessarily be in the same sentence, however Richard and his Virgin Group are achieving just that.  Just take a look at some highlights from the 2017 Virgin Sustainability Report:

  • 8% reduction on total aircraft emissions from 2015 to 2016
  • Continuation of partnership with LanzaTech to create the world’s first commercially viable, low carbon jet fuel from waste carbon gases
  • Installation of solar energy powering an entire secondary school campus and two water systems in Kenya
  • Review and refresh of Virgin’s Responsible Supplier Policy based on international standards of human rights
  • Announcement of a further investment in efficient aircraft with 12 A350-1000s to become part of our fleet from 2019

Yesterday, we were reminded of what a cool boss we have.  We’ve been fortunate to work for and with a man whose vision and compassion could one day further revolutionize the way people travel, consume energy and communicate, as he’s already done for decades.  For the young entrepreneurs of tomorrow, who were able to see Richard speak, we hope some of them heard his rallying cry and will join him in changing the world.

 

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Energy Policy Now: The Future of the EPA and Clean Power

Featuring Gina McCarthy, former EPA Administrator

October 7th, 2017

This week the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy honored former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with its annual Carnot Prize in celebration of her contributions to environmental policy and to securing a sustainable energy future during her tenure with the EPA.  While visiting the Center McCarthy sat down with the Energy Policy Now podcast to discuss the direction of the EPA under current Administrator Scott Pruitt, likely legal challenges to Pruitt’s effort to roll back the Clean Power Plan, and the larger issue of climate denial in Washington.

The Energy Policy Now podcast, now in its second season, offers insights from Penn experts, industry and policy leaders on the energy industry and its relationship to environment and society.