Make or Break: Transforming U.S. Infrastructure to Meet Climate Goals

Buckle up. The transition to cleaner energy is speeding up and a pair of recent climate laws promises to really put America’s foot on the accelerator. But how these laws are implemented at the local, state, and national level will determine whether the U.S. can meet increasingly urgent climate goals as well as benefit communities that historically have been left behind.

The UCLA Emmett Institute’s 2023 symposium explored the laws that are driving the clean energy transition. We focused on implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Leading lawyers, energy experts, environmental advocates and architects of climate legislation shared their visions for how to build up our infrastructure using both laws.

Playlist of all symposium videos.

UCLA School of Law is a State Bar of California approved MCLE provider. Each panel session is approved for 1.0 hours of MCLE credit.  

Keynote Speaker:

David J. Hayes is Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School and a Senior Fellow at NRDC. Hayes is the former Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and recently served in the Biden Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy. He assisted in developing and implementing climate-related provisions of the IRA and IIJA. He’s an expert in the consideration and permitting of energy projects on public lands and waters.

Panel 1: Dreaming Big: How to Build an Infrastructure for the Future

Our first panel of the day was a chance to think big about the main energy and transportation goals behind these two laws and the key provisions in each to achieving those benchmarks. What are the most important implementation decisions that must be made to meet the moment? What are the biggest obstacles? This panel puts the IRA and IIJA into the context of existing environmental laws and ask how to facilitate implementation.


Sylvia Chi, Senior Policy Analyst at Just Solutions Collective. 

Kimberly Clausing, Eric M. Zolt Chair in Tax Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law

Dustin Maghamfar, Federal Program Director at Energy Foundation

Jim Salzman, Donald Bren Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law at the UCLA School of Law and UC Santa Barbara

Moderated by: Cara Horowitz, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Executive Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment  

Slide presentations for this panel available here and here

Panel 2: Transmission Case Study: Remaking our Power Grid for Renewable Energy

This panel explores what a grid that is fully equipped to support our transition to clean energy looks like, and how to achieve it. The IRA and IIJA provide loans and funding for the improvement of transmission, grid flexibility, and resilience. How can we implement these laws to best meet our transmission goals?  Are there regulatory and other impediments to the construction of critically important energy transmission infrastructure and, if so, how can we overcome them? In rapidly expanding our transmission grid, how should we incorporate community input and respond to local concerns? 


Jennifer Chen, Senior Manager, Clean Energy at the World Resources Institute

Karen Douglas, Commissioner at the California Public Utilities Commission

Jeremy Hargreaves, Principal at Evolved Energy Research

Moderated by: William Boyd, Michael J. Klein Chair in Law at the UCLA School of Law; Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute; Professor at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability  

Slides presentations for this panel available here

Panel 3: Transportation Case Study: Decarbonizing Planes, Trains, and Automobiles 

Transportation is the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in California, so it’s important to electrify the transportation sector quickly. This panel asks what changes we should be seeking to achieve with these investments and how to achieve those goals.  Which transportation programs could or should see the most funding?  How much should we redesign American infrastructure away from the automobile, versus prioritizing a transition to electric vehicles? How much leeway will cities, states and local communities have to shape their transportation infrastructure improvements? And how do we ensure transportation development serves communities that have historically been left behind? This panel drills down on the intersection of electrification and urban planning.  


Hilary Norton, Chair of the California Transportation Commission and founding Executive Director of FAST

Beth Osborne, Director of Transportation for America

Regan Patterson, Assistant Professor of civil and environmental engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

Moderated by: Jonathan Zasloff, Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law  

Thanks to all our panelists and participants who made the symposium a success. 


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