John Shegerian: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and Impact Partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. The find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www. closedlooppartners.com.
Hi, this is John Shegerian. I never could have imagined when we started The Green Is Good radio show back in 2006 that it would grow into a big podcast called The Green Is Good podcast. Now, we’ve evolved that podcast to the Impact Podcast, which is more inclusive and more diverse than ever before. But we did look back recently at some of our timeless Green Is Good interviews and decided to share some of them with you now. So enjoy one of our great Green Is Good episodes from our archives, and next week, I’ll be back with a fresh and new episode of the Impact Podcast. Thanks again for listening. I’m grateful to all of you. This is John Shegerian.
Voiceover: Welcome to Green Is Good, raising awareness of each individual’s impact on the environment, and helping to create a more beautiful and sustainable world. Now, here’s John Shegerian, Chairman and CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome to Green Is Good. Mike, it’s so great to be in studio with you for another great edition of Green Is Good.
Mike Brady: Hard to believe, John, that another week has flown by. Where is the time going these days?
John: I don’t know. Everything becomes more compressed in this digital world that we live in, but it’s great to be here with you.
Mike: You too, sir. When I think about what you just said, I remember reading and I’m sure you did too back in the early 70s, a book called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler.
Mike: Talking about how we were going to migrate. The Western world was going to migrate from a manufacturing age to an informational age and that’s where the new jobs would be. But talking about how there will be this massive shift in what we did for a living, but because of technology, we would have so much more free time. All I want to say is, Mr. Toffler, you’re partially right, but only partially.
John: That is such a great point, Mike. It’s really true. When we were much younger reading Orwell’s ’84 and all those things, who really knew? We are really living in what we thought was The Jetsons’ world.
Mike: Yeah, no kidding. It’s amazing. I think we kind of caught up to the idea that we are writing the future every day, and that’s what brings us to the point of why Green Is Good came into existence because we are really writing our future right now.
John: Mike, that’s so funny you said that. On my last plane ride, I picked up the latest Vanity Fair and I was reading about the new movie that’s coming out, which is, of course, the follow-up to Wall Street, the new Wall Street is coming out, and now Gordon Gekko has gotten out of jail. Twenty-two years later, we are here, Mike, from Greed Is Good, to Green Is Good, and you and I have arrived. Our time is now.
Mike: Who knows? Maybe we can be as successful but in a much better and more positive way than Mr. Gekko. How about that?
John: Exactly. Speaking of pop culture and movies, the issue of sports is so important to what is really now influencing our next generation and our current generation of youngsters and even adults. It used to be when you and I were much younger, the politicians were the real rock stars of our era, the JFK’s of the world, and things of that sort.
John: But now, the Tiger Woods and the Magic Johnson’s, and the Kobe Bryant’s are truly dictating, in so many ways, our social mores, and also our buying habits and things. The importance of sports has really taken hold.
Mike: You know, you’re really right because when we were kids, it used to be anybody can grow up to be president. “What do you want to do when you grow up? I want to be the president.” Now, it’s like, “Hey, I want to play in the NBA.”
John: Or Kanye West.
Mike: Or Kanye West, right.
John: We’ve already had some amazing, great green sports, rock stars on the show. We had Leigh Steinberg.
Mike: We had super sports agent Leigh Steinberg. We had Ovie Mughelli from the Atlanta Falcons.
John: Continuing on that theme today, just a continuum of that, we have the NBA on today. We have Kathy Behrens from the NBA. Again, what a timely subject. The NBA reaches everybody, not only in the United States but around the world. It’s done such a great job of their messaging and things of that such, and also it’s the NBA Playoff time.
Mike: Well, there you go. It couldn’t be any more perfect. I love the synchronicity of it. So let’s get ready to talk to Kathy, coming up and more about the NBA, and their Green DNA on Green Is Good.
Voiceover: If a little green is good, more is even better. Now back to Green Is Good with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to Green Is Good. And today, we’re so excited and honored to have Kathy Behrens on. She’s the executive vice president of Social Responsibility Player Programs of the National Basketball Association. Yes, folks, the NBA.
Kathy, welcome to Green Is Good, and thank you for taking the time.
Kathy Behrens: Thank you so much for having me.
John: Hey, Kathy, tell us a little bit about NBA Cares and NBA Green. I want our listeners to hear about how green the NBA really is.
Kathy: Well, NBA Cares is our social responsibility program. We have a commissioner who not only has made the NBA one of the world’s leading sports organizations but who has a tremendous passion and commitment for making sure that we do everything we can to use the power of our brand, and the celebrity of our players, and the influence that we have with kids and families and communities to make sure that we are doing everything we can to try and be leaders in social responsibility.
NBA Cares is a program that is really built on the relationships that we feel are important in our communities. We partner with some of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations. They help us determine ways that we can be committed and active in our communities, to give back, to roll up our sleeves, and do hands-on service, to do philanthropy, to create legacies in our communities where kids can and families can live, learn, or play.
Over the last couple of years, one of our relationships that has really deepened is with the NRDC and they are a fantastic partner. They have really guided us through, not only creating an awareness campaign that we can share with our fans but also very substantively things that we can do to change the way we do our business, both within our offices, within our arenas, our practice facilities, and at our events. We recognized, thanks to their guidance, that everything that we do, we are certainly not shy about the fact that we know we consume a lot and we have a big carbon footprint. We want to try to do everything we can to lessen the impact that our operations in our business has on the environment. Thanks to their leadership and their guidance, and our team’s commitment, all of our teams making tremendous commitment to understand this issue, and to change the way they operate, we’ve made a lot of strides.
We’re not there yet. I think one of the things that we’ve certainly learned and appreciated is that this is a work in progress, and it’s something where we’re fully committed to. There’s no one thing we’re doing but there’s a lot of small things and hopefully, they add up, and they make a difference.
John: Wait a second, Kathy. Let’s go back to NBA Cares. When did you and the great David Stern start this whole program at the NBA?
Kathy: We launched the NBA Cares in 2005. We have long had a tradition and commitment to giving back to the community. Something that we’re very proud of, the history of the NBA, and the commitment of our players throughout that history, giving back to the communities. Really after Hurricane Katrina, we felt that we had an increased obligation to do more and so we made a commitment when we launched NBA Cares, that we would focus on philanthropy. That we would make sure that our teams, our players, and that the league were supporting great organizations in our communities and around the world. We also made a commitment that we would roll up our sleeves and give our time. The money is important certainly and we know the value that it has for our partner organizations, but we also wanted to demonstrate that everyone can serve, everyone can roll up their sleeves and give back to the community.
We also wanted to create these legacy projects, as I mentioned. So we have worked with our partners all over the world to create over 465 places where kids and families can live, learn, or play. We’ve rebuilt houses with Rebuilding Together or built new houses with Habitat for Humanity. We’ve built playgrounds with Kaboom and new basketball courts. We’ve built Reading and Learning centers at schools and at Boys and Girls Clubs, and other after-school organizations, so that kids have access to the resources that they need, and families have the support and the foundation that they need to be successful, and to not have to worry about a roof over their head or make sure the kids have a fun and safe place to play. It’s been a great program. NBA Green has been a great part of that. A newer part of that in the last couple of years, we’ve really increased our commitment but it’s something that we care very much about.
John: It’s really amazing here, Kathy. I’m on your NBA Green website right now and it is really, really very cool. You’re talking about what you did recently, planting trees for Green Week with some of the players in different communities, about the Memphis Grizzlies, they’re planting with some of the kids. Philadelphia 76ers teaching the kids in the community the importance of recycling. This is really a great website that our listeners need to check out at www.nba.com/green. You can find out just what the commitment is on the league level. It’s awesome.
Kathy: You know one of the things that we have really done is not only the direction and guidance that we’ve gotten from the NRDC but one of the things we really do at the NBA is share information and best practices among all of our teams. We’re, obviously, incredibly competitive when it comes to the game and the action on the court, but off the court, we really focus on the things that we can learn from each other. A lot of what you see on there and the events that you see on there, and the tips that we’re sharing with our fans, and the programs that our teams are embracing are really designed to help educate our own teams as well because that’s where some of the best ideas have been generated. That’s where a lot of the change has taken place with our venues, and our practice facilities, and our office operations. It’s really important for us to share the things that matter, and the things that make a difference. So that’s been a very important part of what we’re trying to do, and the website, we hope, reflects that.
John: Kathy, does every team then have a point person that then works under your NBA Cares and NBA Green program that then you get to use as a consortium, and the best practices are then shared among the point people among each team?
Kathy: Exactly. I will say that one of the best things about the NBA, and this is really a reflection of all the people that we work with, it’s not just one point person. We have discussions about these kinds of issues. Whether it’s NBA Cares or NBA Green with our team presidents, with our owners, with the community relations directors, with the marketing teams. So it’s really something that this sort of message of social responsibility is really fully integrated into all of our businesses. Certainly at the league office but also with our teams. Yes, we do have people that are focused mostly on it or doing a large part of the job, but it’s really a commitment that’s shared across all of our teams and all of our players, very importantly. We’ve got a number of players.
Steve Nash is probably the most prominent one who is very much engaged in the environmental movement and very focused on sharing his story and making sure that his fellow players and other folks in the NBA understand that we can all do something here. Sometimes it’s a little daunting to think, “Oh, I have no idea how to reduce my carbon footprint,” but when you really look at it, you can change a light bulb, you can stop using the plastic bags at the supermarket, you can stop drinking out of plastic water bottles, you can use things that are PBA, free. I mean, it’s on, and on, and on, and that’s really what we’ve tried to share internally as well as with our fans, that this is all something that we can embrace. Small steps and small changes lead to big impact.
John: Well, as Mike and I were talking about on the intro, you do have a huge platform and a megaphone. So your players are really creating the social mores and creating leadership and legacy issues for the generation that exists now and the next generation behind it. You really do have a bigger platform than most and that’s great that Steve Nash and other players are using that platform to help lead the next generation into the Green Revolution.
Kathy: I think what’s so important is we recognize the impact that we can have. Kids look up to our players. They follow the music they listen to. They want to dress like them, play like them, act like them. We want to make sure that modeling is good behavior as much as possible. It’s something that our players care very much about as well. Any time that we can use our website or our national broadcast, our games to present good messages, we really are anxious to try to do it.
John: Does each team then, do you ask for messenger from each team in terms of one of their players, or do all the players get co-opted into the Green messaging in terms of recycling, and reducing carbon footprint? How does that really work?
Kathy: Well, we don’t like to use the word co-opt but they certainly get engaged.
Kathy: Some players certainly have a greater passion for it than others, but it’s something that a majority of the players are participating in these events. We had a number of events as you just referenced where the guys were out in the community doing beach erosion project in Miami or doing tree planting project in Dallas or a home rebuilding project in Houston. So it really runs the gamut of the kinds of events that we’re doing and certainly, it involves dozens and dozens of our players.
John: This is really something that we wouldn’t have thought would have worked but how did the NBA and the NRDC come together? Because this is wonderful that you’re two great organizations are working together. Two of the greatest organizations, we think, in the world.
Kathy: We are huge fans of the NRDC. The commissioner has been a long-standing supporter of the NRDC. Really, I give them the credit though for reaching out and trying to create a movement within the sports community. I think they now work with all of the leagues on this area. Again, this is one of those things where we want to learn what Major League Baseball or the NFL are doing in this area too. We compete for eyeballs, fans, and all of that, but we can learn from each other as well.
So we did, with here, learn from what the NRDC was doing and they helped us. They came to us and talked about ways that they could really help us change our business practices and help our teams change their business practices. It involved a considerable commitment on our part. I would say that it was something that we fully bought into, but it really was their very strong and good guiding hand that helped us identify the things that we could change. They came in and they did audits of our store and audits of our offices. They looked at things like the kind of paper we were procuring and using. They have done audits of all of our large events. When we do something like NBA All-Star, you’re talking about tens of thousands of people, not only at the game but who come to our jam session, which is a tremendous fan experience and fan festival if you will. They have helped us identify, again, small things or big things that we could do that would make a difference in the output. Then also helped us be creative in terms of how we could share that messaging with our fans.
John: Did that start in 2005, also, or was that after you started NBA Cares and started moving in this direction?
Kathy: The NBA Green stuff started in, I think, about 2007, when the NRDC created with us a greening advisor, and that advisor was done for all of our teams, again, to help them look at their various operations, to look at their recycling programs or their waste management programs, their water usage, their energy usage. So that guide took almost a year to develop. Then when we realized what we had with that guide and our team’s fully embraced it, we really started to do even more. That’s why last year, we launched our first NBA Green Week. We did our second one from April 1st through 9th this year. Again, just using that opportunity to highlight what our teams and players were doing, and to share that messaging with our fans.
John: Kathy, even though I know you said and you well said, they share best practices internally, do you compete which team is recycling more, which team is reducing their carbon footprint more? Is any of that kind of competitive stay within the NBA, and the teams, you actually rank them internally who’s doing the most?
Kathy: Not that specifically because the truth is, all of our teams are not created equal. Some of our teams don’t own and operate their own building.
John: Good point.
Kathy: Some do. Some have separate practice facilities. Some have a facility within the arena. It’s not fair to compare apples to oranges. Last year, we had a little competition on who was going to be the first arena to be LEED-certified, and Miami and Atlanta really were going at it for that certification awarding. Atlanta won, I think, by an hour or something like that.
John: How many are LEED-certified now?
Kathy: Well, those two, and then, we just had a tremendous announcement in Portland last week at the Rose Arena, the Rose Garden, which just received Gold LEED Certification, which for an existing building, it’s the first existing arena in the country to receive that certification. It’s a tremendous accomplishment and commitment on their part. Then we have a new arena coming online in Orlando and that is expected to be LEED-certified as well. That building will be open for business at the start of the next NBA season. We have an arena on the drawing board in Brooklyn that we hope will also be LEED-certified, and we have a number of other arenas that are pursuing the certification. Obviously, acquires a great commitment and a change in how you do things, but it’s really been very valuable.
John: Mike and I, a couple of weeks ago, Kathy, we had a wonderful gentleman on, Barton Alexander, who heads up corporate sustainability and social responsibility for Molson Coors. So we said, “Bart, when are you done?” And he said, “John, it’s a process. We’re never done.” So, Kathy, we’re down to the last 3 or 4 minutes here. You’ve done so much already since 2005 and 2007, amazing stuff, what does the future of NBA Green look like in the coming years?
Kathy: Well, we learned from the NRDC that this is an ongoing process too. I would just say that one of the things that we’ve also learned is that our commitment has to continue to increase. We continue to push our teams. We continue to push our players. We’re at our All-Star game, next year is going to be in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, which is a tremendously green facility and waterless urinals. It’s going to be a great location. A great opportunity for us to talk even further about what we’re doing. We already are talking about trying to do some green games and green broadcasts. We’re just going to continue to try to identify the things that we think can have an impact and share our message with our fans as often and as best as we can.
We, too, believe that this is a journey that we’re on and there’s not any one thing that we can do that’s going get us there faster, but there are lots of things that we’re committed to doing, that our teams are committed to doing and that our players are committed to doing. So we’re in it and we’re going to just keep at it, keep trying to improve, keep trying to learn, and keep trying to share. Hopefully, it will continue to matter to our fans and it will continue to raise awareness for a cause. This is all we got. There’s no other planet we’re moving to, so we got to take care of this one.
John: Kathy, we’re down to the last couple of minutes now and you’re amazing in what you’re doing, and what the great commissioner, David Stern, is doing in the whole NBA. We’re really, really thrilled and honored to have you on today. But a lot of the next generation listens to this show. They downloaded on Apple iTunes, they listen to it on the Clear Channel network across America, and they’re listening to you and they want to be the next Kathy Behrens. This is now a new position in Corporate America, in sports and entertainment, social responsibility. This position is really a brand new position. How can they be the next you? Do you have any advice for the next generation behind you?
Kathy: I would just say that the most important thing is to have a passion for the issues that matter and to be lucky enough to work at a place where the CEO is someone like David Stern, where your colleagues or people like Steve Nash and other players, and my colleagues here at the NBA, to be at a place where we’re this is a cause. Not only the green cause but just the issue of community and social responsibility. I’m very fortunate to be in an environment where it’s so important and where it matters to people. My only advice for people always when they ask me about that is if you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, then you’re not going to enjoy it or be successful. I would just encourage people to find their passion, whether it’s a cause or a commitment to a certain ideal, and to do everything they can to follow their dream and their passion.
John: You brought up a quote earlier and we didn’t identify it but it was a great quote, “Everyone could be great because everyone can serve.” That’s Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote. Was that how you were raised or did you get the bug as a professional when you were going through college, and once you landed in your job now?
Kathy: I’m happy to say that it was something that I was raised with and always encouraged by my family. I have a large family and we were all committed and encouraged to give back. My parents were always volunteering for something. We’re always interested in the issues that faced our community, or our city, or our country, or the world. It is certainly been something that I’ve always cared about and focused on. I’m happy and lucky that it’s gotten me to where I am now.
John: Kathy, we’re at the end here, but I just want to say thank you for your time. We’re so impressed and inspired by what David Stern is doing, what the entire NBA is doing, and, Kathy Behrens, what you’re doing, You are truly living proof that green is good.
Kathy: Yes, it is. Thanks, guys. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Voiceover: If a little green is good, more is even better. Now, back to Green Is Good with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to Green Is Good. Mike, wasn’t that inspiring, what the NBA is doing? Don’t you feel better about what’s happening?
Mike: Especially, keeping in mind what we were talking about before we even got on the phone with Kathy, from the NBA, just about how our role models have changed, and especially generationally, the impact that sports stars, in general, but superstars like Kobe and Shaq, the impact that they really have on the generations following, as well as ourselves, really shaping opinions, thoughts, and behavior as well.
John: Absolutely. For teams to be getting behind this and messaging this to all the people that they touch, both on television and in person, that’s really inspiring that we’re moving in the right direction and the NBA is doing their share. They have the NBA Cares program and the NBA Green program. Mike, you pointed out the website is amazing and giving great information. Our listeners can go to nba.com and find the Green section or the Care section, and you could read, again, all the great things that David Stern and Kathy Behrens is doing over there.
Mike: Excellent. Now, we got a second-half that I think you’re going to find exceptionally worthwhile because when we talk about defending our planet and defending nature, nobody does it better than the folks who we’re going to talk to today.
John: The NRDC. We’re so proud to work with them and highlight their great think leaders, their great visionaries, and they’re great writers. They have a great article now that’s just coming out in their onEarth magazine, “Renewable Energy Catches On in Red America.” This is fascinating, Mike, because, again, we live and we work here in Fresno, California. We broadcast our show from Fresno, California, which would be called Red America.
Mike: Absolutely, right in the heart of the Central Valley, Central San Joaquin Valley.
John: Right off the bat, I know that you and I have talked about this before. We’ve had some leaders from the great City of Fresno on with us. We lead the nation as a city in recycling.
Mike: Yeah, that is something that we’re very proud of. I had a conversation with someone just a few weekends ago at a rather large gathering over at Fresno State, and talking about recycling, and just how proud we were here in the City of Fresno that we’re number one in the nation.
John: If all politics are local, that’s what we always talk about, what’s more local? When you and I talked about different things that we can do to be greener and to help make a difference, A, our electronics, which we all are tied to, our cell phone and our PDA’s now, recycling them appropriately when we’re done using them. Then also we’ve talked before about organic food and what we put inside of ourselves, the air that we breathe. We’ve had shows on all of those issues with regards to the localness of these issues that affects all of us.
Mike: You bet. Really, nothing gets more local than what we eat every day in here, again, in the San Joaquin Valley, in the Heart of Central California. We are arguably the world’s breadbasket.
John: We are now, for sure. We know that more of the farmers locally are going organic and things of that such, but it’s still considered Red America.
We have a writer today on from the NRDC, Michael Behar, who’s done a great piece on the renewable energy movement and how it’s catching on here. Actually, the article focuses on Kern County which is right down the road from us. This is going to be a very thought-provoking and inspiring conversation with Michael Behar, so come on back to Green Is Good.
Voiceover: If a little green is good. More is even better. Now, back to Green Is Good with John Shegarian and Mike Brady.
John: Welcome back to Green Is Good. We’re so excited today to have Michael Behar on the phone with us. Michael is in Boulder, Colorado and he’s a writer. He’s written for all great publications like Outside, Wired, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, Popular Science, Discover, and now he has written a great article in onEarth magazine, which of course is a publication of the NRDC, and that article is titled “Renewable Energy Catches On in Red America.”
Michael Behar, welcome to Green Is Good. Thank you for taking the time today.
Michael Behar: Thank you for the enthusiastic intro.
Mike: John is definitely that, Michael. He is one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met.
John: Well, we’re sitting here in Fresno, California, doing the show with you, and you’re sitting, of course, in Boulder, Colorado. So Mike Brady and I have a little experience about living in Red America and being part of the Green Revolution that Green Is Good has broadcast right here in the Heart of Red America. Tell us about your story. What was the impetus for the story and how did the whole thing evolve, and where did we wind up here? What were some of the conclusions? Start about how you came up with the storyline and how it went when you started doing your investigative work?
Michael: Well, I came up with the storyline, my editor at onEarth had heard about some things that Lorelei Oviatt, who’s the director of planning in Kern County, was doing to encourage green investment in Kern County. But we didn’t really have a lot of specifics and so I ended up doing some sort of preliminary interviews, kind of asking around, asking her, asking some other people, what’s going on down there. I could just feel there was a lot of enthusiasm that how they were approaching renewable energy investment was different.
What really intrigued me, you said, you’re right in the middle of Red America. You are and so is Kern, and I am not. I’m in Boulder, Colorado which is the exact opposite. So instituting these programs here is easy. It was really interesting to me to see how it was done in a place. where you would think there’d be a knee-jerk reaction against anything with the green label or environmental label on. As the story unfolds, we find that doesn’t turn out to be the case.
John: Well, first of all, let’s go back to step number one because I want our listeners, politicians, and other folks that listen to our show to get inspired by what we’ve learned here, what you’ve learned, and what you shared in this great article. What kind of specific steps have the planners in Kern done that have inspired and made it easier facilitated these renewable projects to get going and get approved?
Michael: Well, two things. First thing, they take an overarching approach that anything that comes into the county, business-wise, has to be good for the county. All of this is built on something that makes economic sense, that will help the county, that will bring jobs, that will raise tax dollars on property taxes, all of those things. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a green investment, it could be a landfill, it could be a new coal power plant, it doesn’t matter. Whatever they do., they look at it, “Is this good for Kern County?” They’re not interested in helping win[?] energy manufacturers in Spain. They want to make sure it’s good for Kern. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is they’ve really educated themselves on basically, for lack of a better word, the sort of bureaucracy to get things done. California is a very restrictive state, for good and for bad, and they have something called the California Environmental Quality Act. That’s basically a very set of stringent conditions that you have to meet in order to do any sort of development project. Because renewable energy is kind of a new thing and county planners have been around for decades, and a lot of these people have been in these jobs their whole life, they might not know a lot about renewable energy.
In a typical county, elsewhere in the US, if a solar investor comes in, it’s sort of settles the planners and it really slows things down because they have to learn what the technology is, what’s going to happen to the land. They have to gear up in order to even approve a permit. What the Kern people did, this is Lorelei and her team, is they’ve literally almost memorized the California Environmental Quality Act. They could quote it from their heads, but they’ve really good at navigating it. Rather than being a bureaucracy that when a developer comes in and says, “You have to do this and this, and this,” and there’s all these loopholes you have to jump through, they turn the tables. They make them feel very welcomed and they guide them through the process. When you go and get a building permit to remodel your kitchen, it’s like going to war with the county. There’s always a million things and papers you have to have, and you’re always forgetting something, and it’s never smooth. They’ve turned it around. They’re saying, “Why shouldn’t we make this process move? This benefits us.”
John: So you’re saying their education, them, self-educating themselves, make it easier to facilitate when entrepreneurs or business has come to them with these great green projects, they’re able to assimilate and facilitate them at a much faster rate.
Michael: Right. They know a lot about how these different projects work, wind, solar, natural gas, and methane. They understand the technology and the impact that it could have on the land. Then they also understand the California Environmental rules. They try to figure out how to make these projects mesh with those and explain them to the investors.
Some of these wind energy investors, some of them are from California. Some are from Europe. So they don’t know at all how our rules work. Same with the solar. They need to have their hand held and that’s not something that a County Planning Department normally will do. Their job is more to, I’m not trying to criticize County Planning departments across America, but sort of set up roadblocks. The logic of that doesn’t make sense because you want development in your county.
John: How many projects do they have ongoing right now? Give a good example.
Michael: The Tehachapi wind area has been one that’s been developed for many years since the 80s in Kern County. That got stuck quite literally because they ran out of power lines. They didn’t have any way to transmit electricity out of that area. One of the big things they planned is help facilitate a huge upgrade to the power lines so that now we can get electricity to LA County and all over Southern California from this region. As soon as that happened, the wind energy investors started flooding back in. So there’s projects on private land, all around that area, and also further East and what’s called sort of Eastern Kern in Mojave. There’s another project underway, which could be close to the largest solar project in the world. That’s another one that’s happening near the San Joaquin Valley. Some of these are in the article that I mentioned.
Another interesting one is capturing methane from cows. You have a lot of cows in Kern County. There’s a lot of dairy farmers. The methane that comes off a single cow can power an entire house for a year. Think about all that going to waste.
John: Wait a second, Mike. That’s a pretty picture, Mike.
Michael: That’s not even from them passing gas. That’s just coming off the manure.
Mike: Exactly. Really, Michael, as John knows, anybody that’s driven up and down 99, through the San Joaquin Valley. Exactly. That is the smell of money.
Michael: Well, it wasn’t always the smell of money. Most of it went up into the air. Permitting that was a challenge for the Kern County planners because you have to pipe the methane to a central cleaning facility. How do you do that economically and with easements, and across private property? One of the things they did is facilitate this easement process so that all the dairy farmers can link up all their dairies with basically just PVC pipe, and they pump all the methane to one area where it’s clean and put on the PG&E pipeline. That’s totally innovative. That hadn’t been done anywhere else in the country. Without that, you would have to process the methane at each dairy, and at that point, you’re losing money.
John: Now, the strategy that Kern County came up with was self-education. Then self-education led to facilitation. Now that’s it going, what’s going on? What is the evolution been there and how is this paradigm replicable across America?
Michael: Well, one thing we should talk about to understand that is, one, a fundamental theme in the article, and that is developing these things on private land, not public lands. This is private land owned by somebody versus BLM land.
John: Michael, talk about the difference so our listeners, Mike Brady, and I get to understand that.
Michael: The public land is owned by the government. There’s lots of different types of public lands, state public land, federal public land, but let’s just call it public land owned by the government, which just means it’s owned by us, technically. We use that land. We hike on it, we hunt on it, we drive our ATVs on it, we fish on it. It’s used for a lot of things. It’s called shared use land. Bureaucratically, it’s very easy to just build renewable energy on that land because there’s much fewer restrictions and it’s not private property. You don’t have to buy the property to put anything on it. We already own it. At first, it seems “wow,” we should just put everything on public land because we don’t have to deal with private landowners, sale of land, and all the stuff but it turns out that we have a public land for a reason, for that shared use. We don’t want to give it all up and it’s also home to a lot of endangered species, forests. There’s important reasons why we can’t just put everything on public land. That’s one aspect of the story.
The other story is now when you go to private lands, you’re enriching landowners and landowners like to make money. Especially in the Central Valley, there is a lot of what they call marginal private land. These are people that own ranches, own farms that may not be producing anymore. The lands dried up because there’s no water. A lot of our produce, farming, agriculture has been outsourced. We buy our grapes from Chile now. We don’t buy them from the Central Valley. What are these people doing with this now? Well, right now, nothing. So when you go to a landowner and say, “You’re not growing anything on your land. I can put a wind turbine on it and pay you money every single month.” How are they going to refuse that?
John: Sounds like a good deal to me.
Michael: It’s a great deal for the landowners. It’s really, literally, free money.
John: Walk us through this. Private versus public. Where is the majority of this development being done down in Kern as the paradigm that we’re going to be looking at?
Michael: It’s really all over. In the Tehachapi Region in that valley, there is a lot of patchwork. It’s mostly private land, in Eastern Kern, which is I think the town is called Ridgemont, or it’s sort of Eastern Kern. It’s borders of the Mojave and the Sierra. There’s a lot of private land up there that is was used for ranching for cattle ranching, which isn’t a big industry in that area anymore. Families owned this land and they pay taxes on it, property taxes, but it’s not earning its keep anymore. It’s sad because many families who had lands for generations can’t afford the property tax, so they have to sell it.
John: That’s a great point, Michael.
Michael: So what are they going to do? Well, in my story, there’s a great example of a woman named Susan Hanson who’s had this land in her family for four generations and it hasn’t been making money. They were close to having to foreclose on it because of the high property taxes, and then a wind energy company came to them and said, “We’re going to put up 88 turbines,” on her land. Her family will never have to worry about money again. They can keep the land. They don’t even have to farm on it. Although they do. They still raise some cattle on it, but they go out for recreation on it, and it stayed in their family. There is a huge benefit to that to private landowners. When you talk to them about why to be kind of shallow, it’s all about money. Most of the people I talked to could care less about global warming and the environment, and these kinds of things. They’ll read about it but it’s not why they made the decision.
Mike: We have often talked, Michael, John, and I, with our various guests, that money and environment can actually go hand-in-hand. There’s the green side of the green movement. As you point out in your article that I’m reading right now, when you were interviewing Lorelai, she said, “This is a red conservative based county,” and we’re not Berkeley. We are embracing renewable because they are practical and what is essential to Lorelei Oviatt and her bosses, the five elected members of the County Board of Supervisors, is that renewable energy investments are creating jobs and boosting tax revenue. If the icing is grain, she says, “Okay, that’s even better.” It is good for the private owners, it is good for the bottom line, and it’s great for the county. Again, this looks like, to use the old hackneyed phrase, a real win-win.
Michael: It is. A little fine-print thing to know that I learned in this process is that if you have a ranch and so you’re paying property taxes on it, the fixed amount, based on the value of that land. If a company comes and puts a solar project on it, to create solar electricity or wind project, it raises the value of that land. It makes it more valuable because now that land is earning money. The interesting thing is the difference in the property tax value, the landowner does not have to pay. The company pays it as an investment.
When I say it’s free money, it really is free money. The landowner has spent not one cent more, and gets, in some cases, a huge income, six figures or more from these things annually. Because I was confused by that a little bit too. Well, isn’t their land going to cost more and they’ll have more in property taxes now? The investors pay that difference.
It really does actually add to the tax base. The tax roll, I think, is the term they call it, of the county, which then they can use for their schools, and the police department, and the fire department, and all of the things property taxes pay for.
John: Mike Brady, I think Michael Behar has hit upon the true meaning of green is good.
Mike: As we mentioned, Michael, at the beginning of our show, we’re talking about the old movie about Wall Street and Gordon Gekko saying, “Greed is good.” Well, now, this is a confluence of both green is good and greed is good at all. It all comes hand in hand.
John: Tell us a little bit about what other projects like the wind projects that you mean, are a lot of these projects, if you were to look at 100% of the projects, what percentage is on the public land, what is on the private land?
Michael: I don’t think I know the exact breakdown, but I would say well into the majority. There’s very little few projects on the private land.
John: I got you. You mean the opposite?
Michael: I may get the facts a little fuzzy but Senator Feinstein has actually introduced a bill, I think it was last year, and it actually was putting more restrictions on green energy development on public land.
John: It’s really all moving towards the private. This is what you’re seeing.
Michael: In California, yes. Comparatively speaking, Wyoming which is another windy place, has tried to do the same thing. They’re trying to do it a lot on public land and they have hit a lot of roadblocks.
John: Is it possible, are there farmers and other states now, even in Red America, that land is gone fallow because it doesn’t make sense to farm and they’re in the same tax or other financial crunch?
Michael: Absolutely. The problem, obviously, if you take the Midwest is that there’s no wind. You need wind and you need sun. There has to be certain factors. Sun, obviously, is everywhere, so there’s definitely potential for solar. Cows are everywhere, so you have the methane potential. So there is that option.
John: Michael, we’re down to about 5 minutes left. You’d put a lot of work into this. What did you learn that you were expecting? What did you learn that you were not expecting?
Michael: That they’re related. One thing that I wasn’t expecting was that these landowners truly weren’t really in it for the environment. I hate to say that but I really press them on it. You know, they would sort of shrug and say, “Yeah, you know.” Some of them don’t believe in global warming. “Yeah, I’m concerned about the environment.” What’s interesting to them is they call themselves “stewards of the land.” What was important to them is keeping their land, preserve, but for reasons that are a little bit different than the way we think about preservation.
That was something very interesting to me. That surprised me. I think what I learned was that how much these incentives really work, getting people to make these deals. One thing that’s tough is you have to deal with everyone in the county the same because when you put up wind on one person’s land and not on the other, they get jealous, and the other person starts to object because suddenly your neighbor is making a fortune and you’re not. So one thing that I learned through this is how Lorelai and her department was really good at trying to play that juggling act, and having to appease everybody in this process, and make them feel that they’re all a part of the process. That wasn’t something really that I expected to find as much.
John: Mike Brady and Michael Behar, who cares about what people’s real intentions are, even if it’s money-motivated, but if the result is the same, and they are netting out to be as green as the real tree huggers of this world, as stewards of the land. The result is still the same. So it’s good for them that they’re that honest about why they were doing things. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily.
Michael: Not at all. This philosophy really should be applied to almost all our energy policy [crosstalk] because there should be penalties for energy pollution or energy waste, and not penalties for the other way. In that way, we’re incentivized to actually do that, and go that route. Rather than just telling us, “Yeah, you should do this because it’s good for the planet.” Well, I believe that but not everybody does.
John: Is it becoming more of the trend than what you’re seeing from writing this article and other things that you’re doing, being that you’re in the media world and you’re a writer, Michael, that green or blue Democrat, Republican, independent, doesn’t matter, it’s good politics to be green now?
Michael: That’s a hard question. I don’t think you can make that case sweeping across the whole United States. I think it’s here and there. I think our president is trying to make that case, from a federal level, but once you’re on the ground and you go county to county, from coast to coast, it’s a checkerboard. It’s very different. Some people object to it. There’s a lot of profit in the oil and natural gas industry in some states and people benefit from that. They’re hesitant to make that shift because they’re already making good money on this industry, why do we need to go another direction?
Kern is a great example because Kern makes a ton of money from oil and gas. They didn’t really need to do all this, but they just saw another opportunity because they have the wind and the sun resource, and that was a resource that was going to waste.
John: This is really great news. Your article is very inspiring and you are very inspiring on the work that you’ve done. We hope you do more green or more investigative articles like this for the Green Revolution. I think this can only make us a better country and get the information out better, Michael. I want to give a shout-out to the NRDC. For our listeners, go to their great website, nrdc.org, and also see Michael’s article online at www.onearth.org. Michael’s great article is there.
Michael Behar, we are so thankful that you spent some time with us today and you are truly living proof that green is good.
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