RFF is releasing the second episode in its new Policy Leadership Series Podcast, which highlights conversations with leading decisionmakers on environmental and energy issues at RFF’s flagship Policy Leadership Series events. This week, RFF president and CEO Richard G. Newell and the Honorable Mary Landrieu discuss lessons Landrieu learned over her nearly two decades serving in the Senate, her passion for restoring the coastline and protecting energy jobs in her home state of Louisiana, and the detrimental impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on dealmaking in the new Congress.
Visit the event webpage to watch a video recording of this conversation.
Listen to the Podcast
- Mary Landrieu: “We have to figure out where we can drill, and [control] our methane issue, which the industry is ready to do … There might not be any such thing as clean coal, but I promise you that there’s extraordinarily important technologies for carbon capture and utilization that can create jobs, that are at the cutting edge of research … that can be part of the equation.” (19:36)
- Mary Landrieu: “Different regions [in the United States] geographically have different assets. Some have high winds, some have high solar, some have gas, some don’t have any gas … [We should] try to come up with regional plans that make sense, that create jobs in the region, and that get us greener and cleaner every month and every year. I think Joe Biden will respect the governors, and listen to them, and encourage them to come up with some of these regional plans that might work, instead of having a one-size-fits-all [approach] from Washington.” (27:34)
- Richard G. Newell: “[This conversation] reminded me again just how important places like Louisiana are, as a bit of a microcosm of the challenges we face, both in terms of addressing the impacts of climate change in a very serious way, but also paying attention to the existing [industries] and where people are employed. We should all have our eyes on places like Louisiana to navigate the future, because so many pieces of this puzzle are encapsulated in places like that.” (32:15)
- Mary Landrieu: “I hope this coronavirus is over soon, because I do think it negatively impacts the ability of members [of Congress] to really get to know each other. Those moments of standing shoulder to shoulder together on the train, where we would all crowd in together and whisper in each other’s ears … None of that’s going on, because people can’t even get close to each other to whisper those things. And that’s a problem.” (33:41)
The Full Transcript
Elizabeth Wason: Welcome to the Policy Leadership Series podcast, new from Resources for the Future. Every month, leading global decisionmakers speak to RFF President and CEO Richard Newell about big environmental and energy policy issues. In this episode, Richard speaks to former US Senator for Louisiana, the honorable Mary Landrieu. Ms. Landrieu is a senior policy advisor at Van Ness Feldman and a member of RFF's board of directors. Their conversation took place on November 20th.
Richard G. Newell: Senator Landrieu, thanks so much for joining us. You've been in public service for four decades. You're one out of nine children from Louisiana; you know every mile of it. And you've dedicated your career really to representing the people of Louisiana. But you also know Washington, DC. You grew up watching your father navigate politics of Louisiana and the nation as mayor of New Orleans, later as a member of President Carter's cabinet. No doubt that influenced your path and becoming a national figure as Senator and leader on energy climate and other important issues. So please tell us a bit about what ultimately led you to pursue this path. And also, what advice would you have to others who are earlier in their careers and considering public service?
Mary Landrieu: Well, thank you so much, Richard, for that question. First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this. You know I'm a big fan of RFF. I'm a board member, but I'm a board member because I believe in the mission of what RFF is trying to do, which is to find the nexus and common ground between the economic interest of the United States and our environmental interests. I just think that's very, very important—to keep an eye on both of those, as we try to clean up the atmosphere, cool down the atmosphere and have a prosperous future for our country and world.
So I really, really respect the work that RFF does and am happy to be a part of the panel today on public service. Yeah, it was really exciting to grow up in a family with my father, having stepped into public office really in a sort of an unusual situation when he was quite young in his 20s. He and my mother have been married for 66 years and have nine children, 37 grandchildren, and multitude great-grandchildren. They're still happily much in love. But my father didn't come from any kind of wealthy family or any kind of status whatsoever. And it's just kind of extraordinary that he even stepped into politics. And he did it because he was educated by the Jesuits out of Loyola University.
And out of just a passion of justice and driven by his faith with no money, no name, no status, no nothing. A degree from Loyola Law School from Loyola, where my sister is now Dean of the Law School. So we're extremely proud of that, one of my sisters. And he forged his own way. I was his firstborn and was five years old when he was first elected. I grew up in the kind of household where my father was at the dinner table every night of our entire life, which is very hard for people to believe. But it's basically true. Maybe he missed one or two dinners, but not many because my mother wouldn't allow it.
But we just grew up in a family that just really respected public service and respected the role of government. And did not disrespect the role of business or the role of faith. So it's a little disheartening for me today to see all of the criticism about how government is the problem and how government never works. It's just hogwash, because actually a good government with good people with good intelligence, good morals, and good character really make a difference. Let me give you three quick examples. I thought about this, this morning and I want to share, to be very specific and I could pick a million. My dad was the mayor when the Superdome was built. Most of you know where the Superdome is. It would not be where it is today.
The location of it—it would've probably been built out in the suburbs, but my dad was so smart and so good. And he just sort of navigated the politics of that to get that dome stadium built, right where it is on Poydras. And as a result, the entire Poydras corridor and the city grew because of that in large measure. Number two, when he became mayor, literally the only people that had jobs at city hall that were African-American orHispanic were either janitors or they opened the mail. And my father just made his own decision and of course was encouraged by others to say, “I'm opening up a city that has 40% African-American because we need the talent.” So he's legendary in the 1970s for becoming mayor and having the first African-American CEO of the city, and you could go on and on and on.
A little thing that nobody knows about, because those are big things written in books, but leadership makes a difference. He did some changes to the pension system at city hall. He got no credit for it, but it saved the city millions and millions of dollars, which made it more resilient. So when Katrina hit, we didn't have much money, but we had more because of what he did. So I could give you a hundred examples of things my father did, I've done, and what my brother and others that I've worked with on both sides of the aisle have done. And I want to assure everyone here that the character of leaders makes a difference. And their philosophy and their commitment and their respect for the government of the United States is so important.
That is in some jeopardy now. And it seems to be just kind of the rage to be disrespectful and demeaning to the government at every level. I can just tell you that in current time, is the last thing I'll say about being from a political family, I could not be more proud of the clerks, the vote counters, the secretary of state of Georgia, some of the canvas workers who don't have big, fancy public jobs, but their jobs are important and they're doing it well. So let's all remember going forward to stop beating up on the government. It is not the problem. It is part of the solution. And we have to build partnerships with our faith-based community and our business community, to make this country stronger. So that's the kind of family I came from, really as sure about this as my name is Mary Landrieu. Hopefully we can get back on a more positive, respectful posture about how important government and the people that serve can be.
Richard G. Newell: Excellent, Mary, and I really appreciate the recognition that you're giving to the public sector, but also to the other really important parts of society that when working together make it all tick and run as well as possible. Now, one of the things that you alluded to was the Superdome, and I want to turn to something else which is maybe like a little bit of a more negative moment for the Superdome, but a very important moment in Louisiana history. You were elected to the Senate in 1996, and you really became a focus of national attention in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005, which really devastated the Gulf Coast. You successfully navigated a plan for resilience for the city of New Orleans post hurricane Katrina. And you helped secure provisions that led FEMA to forgive hundreds of millions of dollars in loans for local Louisiana parishes.
So what did you learn from that disaster? And you know, what does the rest of the country have to learn from that that's still relevant today? I suspect you touched on a little bit about that in your earlier remarks, but maybe specifically around what happened during Katrina, and what we can learn from that afterward.
Mary Landrieu: Well, Richard, that's a very broad question and I learned so many things—like hundreds and thousands of things. So, I mean, I just have to kind of hit the highlights. One thing I learned is that it's just so important—before the government sets out to address any problem—is to really understand what the problem is and to admit it truthfully and fully, and not try to fudge or not tell the whole truth for whatever. The big lesson I learned was that even though the press was in New Orleans and did a good job—not a great job, but a good job—of explaining what actually happened because they stayed in New Orleans. Sadly, they didn't go to Jefferson Parish very much or St. Bernard Parish, even though we begged them to. They didn't really do too much in the outlying areas, but we begged them to.
They just were so focused on Orleans Parish that it sort of gave the wrong impression to the country, both good and bad about what actually happened. Then of course you had President Bush who was, I think, shocked and overwhelmed at the devastation and was trying to protect himself politically from the same fate that his father had gone through after the devastation of Florida. The politics of this got so tough that it was shocking to me, because I just felt like we all had to roll up our sleeves and go to work, but I couldn't even work on the problem because the press was saying one thing, and the president was saying something else. I was kind of caught with one microphone, not a lot, one microphone, one staff trying to explain as best I could actually the truth about what was happening, which was that the entire city of New Orleans—except for the West bank, those of you that are familiar with it—was virtually underwater.
The entire city. We lost almost every neighborhood except the French Quarter and except Downtown, which wasn't 10 feet of water, but was two or three. And that water stayed. That visual, which people never really got because they couldn't get away from the Superdome, which was the tragedy going on of the a hundred thousand people that never could leave. We got into a big skirmish about that, but also the size of the devastation was greater than Great Britain. It was all the way from the Mississippi coast all the way up the Mississippi coast, over to our part of Louisiana. Trying to explain the scale of the damage was a challenge… And if it wouldn't have been for National Geographic, and I want to say that, because I can remember just begging God one night, “please let somebody explain it the way it's supposed to be.”
I'll never forget picking up National Geographic and saying, yes, these are pictures I can use to show people what's actually happening. So that's number one. I also learned as a leader that you can get overwhelmed because to be very honest, at times I express probably more emotion than I should have, and it was overwhelming. So I had to learn how to be a leader and rest myself and, I mean, I was working 30 hours every day, seven days a week. So I had to learn personal things about leadership, but I also just learned how generous and gracious so many of my colleagues could be to be helpful and how undermining some people could be to our female governor at the time, who was the only Democrat. Of course we had a Republican governor of Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.So, Kathleen Blanco, who's deceased, stood alone in Louisiana.
She took a huge amount of bows and arrows she didn't deserve. Part of it was gender, part of it was the politics, which was really pretty mean and hateful and undermining. Despite all that, we did do some extraordinary things because I just wouldn't give up. I mean, I just don't take no for an answer very easily. So I just stayed focused on it and yes, the recovery is pretty extraordinary except for COVID. If you went now, it looks kind of quiet, but New Orleans came back more resilient. We all learned a lot. We went to the Netherlands, we learned how to do all sorts of things differently. We built our new public housing, the best in the country, thanks to Shaun Donovan and Barack Obama. We've built a whole entirely new school system. $1.6 billion rebuilt every school, rebuilt the whole healthcare system. We forgave all the loans lent and then forgiven, which was important to do for the region and built the best levy system that we've ever had.
So I'm very proud of it, but I'm telling you, I have the scars, mentally, emotionally, thank goodness not physically. But it's just leadership matters. I have to say my colleagues on the Democratic side, Robert Byrd was amazing. Never would have happened without him. He literally looked at me. I said, "Robert, I need $3 billion." He said, "You do?" I said, "Yes, I do. And I can explain and justify this request to you by what the president has given Mississippi. And he gave them too much per capita. He gave us too little. If we don't correct this, we will never be able to recover." He just put his signature to the bill and gave us $3 billion. That is the truth. If it wasn't for Robert Byrd, I don't know where we would be, because we weren't going to get it from President Bush, but he led the committee and he had the power to do it. And thank God he did.
Richard G. Newell: So you served in the Senate for nearly two decades and you've seen—up very close—the contours of the policy process. You've often sat at the intersection of conversations where energy and environment meet, given Louisiana as a large energy producer and also it's the great environmental resource of Louisiana, and also being on the coast. So where we are now with the election and all we've seen in 2020, do you remain optimistic that something can be done specifically on climate? And where do you see the barometer? How far can it realistically be moved in the next Congress?
Mary Landrieu: That is a great question. And that is the question of the hour, because this is the most important issue facing our whole world right now, as you all know listening in. I'm sure you're all in your own way, your own experts and knowledgeable about it. That's why after leaving the Senate, I joined the Van Ness Feldman team, which is a well-known firm here in DC that does this kind of work. Some of you are very familiar with it. I did that purposely, not by chance because I wanted to help stay leading in this space. I chaired the Energy Committee. I was on it for 18 years. I kind of felt like I was a bridge between the Rs and the Ds, trying to keep that centrist part together. Of course, I'd get beat up on both sides, which is sort of what happens when you're in the center, but I've gotten used to it.
So that's the work I do now. I'm following it very, very, very closely. So I will say this: I am optimistic because the business community is really stepping up and it's business writ large. Yes, the energy companies. I'm going to say the fossil fuel companies, the oil and gas companies, the electric utilities, the car companies, the transportation sector. There's some manufacturing, some interesting techniques in cement and steel going on. There's the tech sector and the airlines and Big Ag. I mean, there are exciting opportunities. And I say that because it's going to take the business community—the leaders inside of the business community, who are Republicans, many of them but not all—to really push and meet halfway. We couldn't really do anything with Donald Trump. I won't even talk about that because it was a disaster—an ongoing disaster, but it will be over soon.
With a normal president, if you could really work with any other president, you could really fashion—and with Joe Biden we’ll be able to do it—a possible compromise. We might not get everything that we absolutely have to have, to exceed our Paris agreement commitments. Even though the paper today said we're doing better meeting our Paris commitments, but that's because of the economic slowdown, which is not the way you want to get there. But I do think that there is an exciting group emerging in the Senate led by Senator Coons and Senator Braun, which has 14 members, seven and seven Republicans and Democrats that are really committed to try to find a path forward. We'll have to see how the House shakes out, but we know that the difference between the House and the Senate, I mean, the difference in the numbers is tighter than what the Democrats thought would be.
So it's going to be very important for this Problem Solvers Caucus in the house, along with the center in the house. The center has been formed up in the Senate to really work with the business community and the White House, because Joe Biden is very practical on this. Being from Louisiana, we both consume a lot of energy. We produce a lot of energy. I'm very proud of Governor Edwards, who just issued our own challenge for net zero emissions, even in the state of Louisiana. We want to find a greener path forward and our utilities are leaning better that way. So Richard, I'm very optimistic, but I will say that I don't think it's going to be huge leaps, but I think if we just take strong strides forward with Joe Biden at the helm, we can make a lot of progress. I really hope the business community will really lean forward and push some of the Republican senators and House members.
Elizabeth Wason: Each episode of RFF's Policy Leadership Series podcast is made possible by listeners like you. This series provides thoughtful conversations with leading experts to better connect and inform our community on the latest environmental and economics issues. And you can help us by supporting RFF. You join us in our mission to improve environmental energy and natural resource decisions through impartial economics research and policy engagement. Learn more about contributing to RFF today by visiting rff.org/support.
Richard G. Newell: I just want to go a little bit deeper on some of these aspects. So I think about some of the contours of past energy and environment fights for lack of a better word, or disputes, in Congress. You have things like the production in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, you have things like the Keystone XL pipeline. Do you think that the discussions and debates and conversations that'll be happening around climate specifically, do they have the same contours? Is it bigger? Is it fundamentally different? How do you think about the politics relative to some of the past energy and environment battles?
Mary Landrieu: I think it's bigger. I think it's broader. I think those kinds of skirmishes and debates and fights were because there wasn't a clear vision for how to move forward. So everybody was kind of down in the weeds, fighting over this pipeline and that pipeline, and this project and that project. I think Joe Biden is smart enough to realize that we need a framework or he's going to try to build a framework, where the left won't get everything they want. The right won't get everything they want, but there could be a deal. We can't stop drilling everywhere in America on public land. We're just not going to do that. And he's not going to do that because of Pennsylvania and Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin, let alone the Gulf Coast.
We have to figure out where we can drill, get our methane issue set—which the industry is ready to go and would have done it, had Trump not pulled back regulations—and figure out how to get our gas as clean as possible. There might not be any such thing as clean coal, but I promise you, as you all know, there's extraordinarily important technologies for carbon capture and utilization that can create jobs, that are cutting edge research. Some of you are doing that research; you know how powerful it can be. That can be part of the equation. Trying to reset our whole trade so that we can export some of our technologies, thinking about upgrading our nuclear fleet, which is important for the world. Repositioning ourselves with China and India. Helping India, particularly, stop building these coal power plants that are being built in China.
I just think there's so much opportunity, but you have to have intelligence, patience, and humility to do this. Those things are absent from the White House at this moment. It is impossible to do this kind of work without that kind of leadership. Thank goodness we're going to have it. And if the Senate will do its job and the House will do its job, there's a real possibility. And so I'm pretty optimistic and yeah I'm not Pollyanna-ish about it. You know, we could run into some brick walls. But I think Joe will make this a priority. Now he's got a climate, he's got immigration, he's got a horrible deficit which he inherited because of recklessness. But if he focuses on climate, which I hope he will, and the economy, think about the nexus there is really kind of exciting. There's all sorts of wind energy going on in Texas and solar projects going on in our part of the world.
So Richard I'm hopeful and I really do hear positive things, not just from the NGO side, but from the industry side. There are many bills—you can look at them—there are hundreds of them. But Joe Manchin is going to be in a key position. Shelly Moore Capito, in the Senate, Barrasso and Carper. You've got those. With these Senators in leadership,coal is king, which I know the environmentalists hate to see that, but you've got to understand these leaders, they're going to need some solutions for the coal country and we've got to help them find it.
Richard G. Newell: Yeah. So Mary, you started touching on something I wanted and I don't know if you want to go a little bit deeper on this. So it's not exactly clear what the control of the Senate will be. We have of course the runoff elections in Georgia that will determine the control of the Senate, but it is starting to be clear regardless, who will be in the leadership positions potentially, what the different committees, particularly in the Senate side, how they'll be comprised. Senator Murkowski is moving to a different role. So do you have thoughts? You've already alluded to a bit about the potential importance of coal because of the people who will be in leadership positions, both on the Republican and the Democratic side.
How do you think that those positions and others that might be in these committees. How do you think that's going to affect the conversation over the next two to four years?
Mary Landrieu: Well, Richard, let me be clear. I'm obviously hoping the Democrats win Georgia and doing everything I can to make sure those two seats are won by the Democrats. But even if it is, it's going to be 50/50, and whether Barrasso is chair or Manchin is chair, or whether Carper is chair or Capito his chair or ranking member, those four are still there. I mean, that's the leadership, it's just a matter of which one of them is the chair and which one's the ranking member. So you can understand the politics of that by just looking at their States and where they're coming from.
I'm not as familiar, to be honest, with the specific leadership of the House and that may be changing, but I am keeping my eyes firmly on the Senate. So it obviously has to be some kind of compromise, and I'm not talking about watered down. Everybody hears that word and they're like, well, we're really going to do window dressing. No, but I'm talking about some real deals. Like, okay, this is where we're to drill for the next 50 years. And this is where we're not, and this is how much we're going to produce and using this way to do it. This is how our export strategy is going to look to X amount of countries, because we want to keep Europe from being too dependent on Russian gas. We want to make sure that we're a big player in the Indochina arena, the Pacific arena.
We want to maintain our strength in that way, but we also want to move, in solar technologies, wind technologies, offshore wind. That bill is being debated now. The whole electric sector, the electric vehicles—if we don't get moving even more on electric vehicles, China's going to be the king of that. And we most certainly could do that in an exciting way for Ohio and Michigan and in the South, where there are a lot of plants, not in Louisiana, but in Alabama and Mississippi and in Tennessee and that area. Joe Manchin, I can tell you, is really keen on this gas hub in West Virginia and Ohio. So are Portman and Casey, they're really talking about a redundant gas hub, because the big one we have is in the Gulf Coast. We need to keep that, but we need to build another one.
I don't even want to get into the whole ethanol and fuels and all that. There are deals to be done and getting a price on carbon in a way that we already kind of have it through the tax code, as you all know. I don't know. I just think if we work together and not try to score political points, but really focus on the suffering of the world and try to provide a solution, I think we can get there.
Richard G. Newell: Yeah. What I hear you saying in part is that there is still an important role for our energy policy.
Mary Landrieu: Yes.
Richard G. Newell: Even if climate is an increasingly important part of that, many of the issues you raised were kind of classic energy policy questions that are still out there.
Mary Landrieu: Yeah. But environmental too. I mean, I'm saying that we have to continue to produce energy, and there's low carbon or no carbon. Think about it, in a close Senate, the people that Joe Biden would want maybe originally to put on his Cabinet, he's going to have to think about who can be confirmed and who can't be. That's just our system. It's just the checks and balances that some people like, and some people don't. I've been disappointed that there wasn't a much stronger check on President Trump's corruption, but that's a whole nother story. That's just the way our system is. No matter who wins Georgia, it's just a tight Congress.
Richard G. Newell: Yeah, exactly. So you brought up along the way some specific states, and I'm hoping you can say more about the States and what role they have to play in moving clean energy and climate policy forward. How do you see their role vis-a-vis, let's say federal?
Mary Landrieu: Well, I mean, the good news for California is they'll have a president that respects them and listens to them, because California has a lot of good ideas. I mean, they might not have every great idea, but they're a big, big state. I think they're the seventh largest economy in the world. They should not be spoken down to like this current president does. I think Joe Biden will listen and that will be good. He'll get some good ideas from California.
I think New York—I don't know where they're going to get their energy from if they don't want to put pipelines in the ground, because I'm not sure they can put enough solar and wind up, but maybe they can. But I think the president is going to be respectful. I started thinking about this when I was the chairman of the committee. That maybe it would help us instead of talking about just one policy for the whole nation.
If we would break the nation down into like four or six regions. You think about the Northeast, Northwest, the center, the South. Because those different regions geographically have different assets. Some have high winds, some have high solar, some have gas, some don't have any gas, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And try to come up with regional plans that make sense, that create jobs in the region that get us greener cleaner every month, every year. I think maybe Joe Biden might respect the governors and listen to them and encourage them to come up with some of these regional plans that might work, instead of having one size fits all solutions come down from Washington. I think there are different ways politically to get there. Thank goodness, Joe's a skilled hand and he can figure it out or with help, he can figure it out.
Richard G. Newell: I want to turn for a minute back to a particular state, Louisiana and talk a little bit about climate impacts and natural climate solutions, and how they affect particularly the state of Louisiana. As I mentioned earlier, there's often a tendency to focus on energy production there, but there's also very important effects of climate change on the coast, on agriculture, on tourism. I was wondering if you see signs of that becoming more of a concern for the electorate in Louisiana? Or maybe it already is a concern.
Mary Landrieu: Oh no, absolutely. Our state started and it's been amazing. And I'm proud of this, that whether we've had Republican governors or Democratic governors or Republican legislators or Democratic legislators, we have had a strong march forward on coastal restoration and an acknowledgement that we have a severe issue along the coast. Now, part of it is because of the impacts of the oil and gas industry and the drilling of the canals and through a very delicate marsh. But part of it, and the larger part of it really is the levying and the channelization of the Mississippi River, which is to the benefit of the whole nation. We shipped 70 percent of the grain out of the mouth of the Mississippi River to the world. So thank you, people in Kansas can say, thank you and Iowa, because they could grow a lot of corn, but they can't get the hell to the market unless they come through the Mississippi River. So we provide that.
When we do that and keep this big channel of the Mississippi going, it doesn't let the river overflow to replenish the delta that it originally built a thousand years ago. So that's really our problem. And it's a big problem, not just for this big delta, which is I think the seventh largest in the world, but for deltas everywhere. So the Netherlands is sort of in my view, the lead nation that understands this and our Corps of Engineers is getting smarter. So we have this master plan; we just need some funding. We need to share and recognize the impacts. Louisiana sends to the federal government every year—about $6 billion. That's a lot of money for a little state like ours with a lot of poor people in it. We get so little back.
New Mexico gets a lot, Wyoming gets a lot, Colorado gets a lot, but we get virtually nothing and are sinking and drowning. So my view has been: share a little bit with us, and help us support our restoration. Now, can we cut down on drilling some places? Yes. Should we move away from oil and gas and coal more quickly to other more renewables? Absolutely. But there's a positive way to do that. I think that can really help. So that's kind of where Louisiana is. And let me just say Richard, it's not just the oil and gas drillers’ exploration. It's the petrochemical industry that uses natural gas as a feedstock. So you think about all of these petrochemicals, whether it was Dow and Delaware, or whether it's these big companies in Chicago and the Midwest, or whether it's along the Gulf Coast, which is a huge corridor or outside of Baltimore, these industrial bases. We need to make sure that we're supplying enough gas to keep that going or help them convert to a different fuel that gives them the intensity they need to continue to be competitive.
Or we will further erode our manufacturing capacity, which has been eroded by automation—not by immigrants, by automation. And so I'll end there, but Louisiana with this governor, who's a Democrat, is really pushing us to be part of a greener future. And I'll tell you for Texas, let me just say for Governor Abbott, who, I don't know him personally, but Texas is doing some really amazing things with wind. And I'm really proud of them to be talking about, not just the old fashioned oil and gas, but more solar, more wind. And I think you'll see that obviously Florida is doing some good things as well.
Richard G. Newell: As you were talking about this Mary, it just reminded me and instruct me again, just how important places like Louisiana are, as a bit of a microcosm of the challenges we face, both in terms of addressing the impacts of climate change in a very serious way, but also paying attention to the existing industrial place where people are employed, the importance of different products, energy and chemicals as well for the economy. So, I think we should all have our eyes on places like Louisiana to navigate the future, because so many pieces of this puzzle are encapsulated in places like that. I want to turn back to the Senate for a moment. And one of the things that is very different now in the way the Senate operates during COVID specifically is that, the members who have historically been together, they've worked together sometimes to travel together.
They're not able to do that now in a remote environment. The same opportunities to connect and to get to know each other don't exist. You've also got a new crop of House freshmen. They can't have their dinner in person. All the normal spontaneous interactions and opportunities to just talk and build relationships across the aisle are just not there. There may be other things that weren't possible before that now facilitate better communications. But I want to maybe have you reflect on whether you think this has any implications for bipartisanship and compromise in the Senate? And is this just a fleeting thing or could it have lasting consequences?
Mary Landrieu: Excellent question. I've heard a couple of people comment about it. And I think I fall in the camp that says: I hope this coronavirus gets over soon because I do think it impacts negatively, in terms of the ability for members to really get to know each other and those moments of standing shoulder to shoulder together on the train, which we would all crowd in together and whisper in each other's ears: “Look, call me at three o'clock. I really think I have a solution to your problem,” or “I need to get you on the phone with so-and-so that might be able to help you with your bill.” None of that's going on, because people can't even get close to each other to whisper those things. And that's a problem. And we had so many good conversations, informally people have no idea. Lots of people that work in the Capitol know, but many people don't.
But it's those informal hall conversations, I'd catch one of the senators and say, “Hey, can I walk back with you to Dirksen for a minute? I really have to ask you something about what you're thinking about this.” So we'd walk for five minutes and I'd learn more in that five minutes than I could learn in a hundred years on that subject, because I'm getting it right from the Senator, and that's gone and it's really sad. It has to come back. Now, can we make it until the end of this? Yes, but we couldn't continue like this. I mean, I don't know how our government would function like this for a long time. But if we can get to the end of this virus and get back to normal, yes, we can make this bridge.
That's why getting this vaccine and vaccinations into people's arms is so vitally important. Not just for the politics and the general health of our whole democracy from the government, but for business they're probably feeling the same way. The boards that I serve on and all the companies that I know are saying the same thing—we're making it work. Our people are great and they really stepped up. But this cannot be the norm going forward. I mean, we have to get our kids back in school. We can't work with fireworks going off behind us, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, I really worry. It's important for Joe Biden to be able to call these guys and girls and say, “come over for dinner.” We need to talk about it and have that kind of comradery. That's not possible because of the virus.
Richard G. Newell: I have time, Senator, for one more question. You have a grandson now. I've seen pictures and you've talked about spending time with him. I want to hear a little bit about your aspirations for your future, for your grandson's future. How does this inform the work that you're doing now?
Mary Landrieu: Well, thank you so much. Yes, he is the joy of our life. He calls me Nana Landrieu and he says, "Nana Landrieu, when are you coming to see me?" So it's a joy. But I grew up on a road called Carr Drive in Slidell, Louisiana. My grandmother bought this camp for the 19 of us. It was a 1000 square foot camp with no air condition. There were 19 of us. We slept on the floor. We crabbed and fished all day and rode up and down on little skiffs in the marsh. I'm building a camp just like my grandmother built for us for him right now. So we can keep skiing and crabbing and fishing. I've watched this marsh deteriorate around me, and doing everything I can to try to help protect it and rebuild it for him. And so the work that I'm doing on climate is for him, for us.
I'm really glad to be joined by an amazing group of people listening in and thousands of people, millions of people all over the world, working on it. It's really the most important issue of our time. So let's just keep doing it. Hopefully the coast of Louisiana will still be there when Maddox is my age, which is getting a little scary because we're losing so much of it. But again, part of it is the oil and gas impact, which we can mitigate against. But part of it is just figuring out what to do with the river. The Corps of Engineers really has to put their head to this because if we don't, this delta, just by nature of it being starved of the sentiment that it needs to rebuild, will really disrupt the living and livelihoods of millions of people on the mouth of the river, and extend well beyond New Orleans. It will hit Mississippi hard and parts of Texas.
Richard G. Newell: Well, thank you so much Mary, we've reached the end of the session. So finally Senator Landrieu, my sincere thanks to you for a very thoughtful, enjoyable conversation.
Mary Landrieu: Thanks, Richard.
Richard G. Newell: Thanks so much.
Elizabeth Wason: That was Richard Newell, President and CEO of Resources for the Future in conversation with former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. If you like what you heard, remember to like or favorite RFF's Policy Leadership Series podcast on your podcast platform of choice, we will release new episodes every month with leading environmental and energy policy decisionmakers. You also can find recordings from our Policy Leadership Series events at rff.org/pls and receive updates about RFF's events and podcasts at rff.org/subscribe.
This episode of the Policy Leadership Series podcast was produced by John Taylor Williams. The live event was produced by Hillary Alvare, Libby Casey, Justine Sullivan, and Sarah Tung. Music is from Blue Dot Sessions. RFF podcasts are managed by me, Elizabeth Wason, and made possible by you, our listeners. You can contribute to RFF today by visiting rff.org/support. Thank you for joining us.