Q&A with Energy and Environmental Law Scholar and New Faculty Member William Boyd

20180727 WIlliam BoydFrom the rainforests of South America to the paper mills of the American South, William Boyd has been a central figure in illuminating environmental concerns and identifying solutions. Boyd joins the UCLA faculty in Fall 2018, both as a member of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Before coming to UCLA, Boyd was a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, and prior to that a staffer for the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and an associate at Covington & Burling. He earned his J.D. at Stanford Law School and his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley.

Boyd recently sat down with the Emmett Institute's Daniel Melling to discuss his work and his goals.

What's the opportunity that you see with your joint appointment at UCLA Law and UCLA IoES?

It's a great law school with a great faculty at one our greatest public universities. I believe very strongly in the mission of public universities, especially in this moment. On climate, energy and environmental issues, California is at the cutting edge and its leadership is more important than ever given what is happening in Washington. Emmett is doing very important and impactful work on climate and clean energy in California and the US. IoES is bringing together all of the amazing work on environment and sustainability that is happening across the UCLA campus.  And I really like the way IoES looks at Los Angeles as a laboratory for sustainability. Some of the work I've done with [Emmett Institute co-director] Ann Carlson on LADWP and Southern California Edison on the challenges and the opportunities of decarbonizing the power sector in Southern California reflects this idea.

I'll be teaching energy law and the climate change and energy law workshop at the law school this fall, and I would like to teach environmental law again at some point. I'll also be teaching an undergraduate class at IoES on foundations of environmental law and policy. I am really looking forward to teaching undergraduates. I feel like this is an important moment for interdisciplinary collaboration on environment across the UCLA campus, and there is so much enthusiasm and commitment among the undergrads interested in solving environmental problems. So it's really a perfect mix for me. I'm very excited about the possibilities.

How did you first get interested in climate and environment issues?

As an undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill, I got involved with the student environmental action coalition and started to think about environmental problems in a more serious way. After graduating, I worked for the World Resources Institute for two years and got very interested in a range of environmental issues, particularly energy. This was around the time of the Gulf War in 1992 and energy was on the national agenda in a big way.

While at WRI, I found out about this very interesting interdisciplinary program at Berkeley, the Energy and Resources Group. I'd heard about one of the founders, John Holdren [later  President Obama's science advisor] who'd just written an important article about energy transitions in Scientific American.

At Berkeley, I decided to stay on for my Ph.D. I got interested in environmental history and the intersection of environment, resources, political economy and labor issues. I did fieldwork in the American South on the pulp and paper industry and what it meant for the landscape, the industrialization of Southern forests, civil rights and pollution. That work recently became a book – The Slain Wood – that some of my colleagues think is about a heavy metal band.

After Berkeley, it also became clear to me that law allows you to engage with these problems in a deeper and, perhaps, more consequential way. So I bit the bullet and went to law school, with the goal of getting back to academia at some point.

Tell us about your work on the Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force.

Governor Schwarzenegger was the convener of the first governors' climate summit here in Los Angeles in November 2008, where a number of governors from Brazil, Indonesia and the United States signed an MOU to cooperate on forests, land-use and climate issues. That agreement became the basis for the Governors' Climate and Forest Task Force (GCF), which we have managing out of Colorado for the last 10 years. Even though I am moving to UCLA, I will continue my role as project lead for the GCF and we are excited about connecting the GCF work to all of the great work happening at Emmett and IoES.

The GCF started with 10 states and provinces. Now it's 38 states and provinces, from 10 countries, which together contain about a third of the world's tropical forests. We have big clusters of states in Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Peru.

Since its inception, with leadership from California, the GCF has been working to build a coalition of states and provinces that want to lead on the climate issue. The goal is to build durable, jurisdiction-wide programs for low emissions development that protect forests, reduce emissions, and enhance livelihoods and to connect those programs to public and private financing.

California was the first chair of the GCF in 2008-09, and is serving as the 2018 co-chair of the GCF with three Mexican states. Together, they will be co-hosting our 2018 annual meeting this September, just ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Our meeting will focus on emerging partnerships between sub-national governments and indigenous and traditional communities across our network. These kinds of partnerships demonstrate a core message of the summit – that we are in a bottom-up world when it comes to climate action, and that states, provinces, cities and communities are not waiting for national and international approaches to take shape.

Tropical deforestation currently accounts for about 10-12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and forests also act as a very important sink for carbon dioxide. If you look at the land and forest sector generally, you're talking about a big chunk of the problem. Agriculture, land use and forestry together account for about a quarter of global emissions — and when you combine that with the importance of protecting the land sink, protecting forests and reducing emissions from land use becomes a big part of the potential solution.

Protecting forests, of course, also makes sense for a bunch of other reasons — protecting biodiversity, environmental services, and the survival of indigenous and traditional communities.

Forests have grown in importance within the climate community.

I think there's still a bias toward seeing climate change as an energy problem. Obviously, the largest source of GHG emissions globally comes from burning fossil fuels, primarily in the power and transportation sectors. We're making significant progress in reducing emissions from the power sector. Last year, California reduced its power sector emissions by 18 percent. And decarbonizing the power sector is the key to decarbonizing transportation, which has long been the largest source of emissions in California and, now, for the entire United States. We are making progress there as well, but that's a harder challenge in some ways. So, while there is still a substantial amount of work to do if we want to decarbonize electricity and transportation, there are some encouraging signs: we can see how the technologies are scaling as costs continue to decline and policies take hold.  We can see the endgame.

It's a lot harder with forests and land-use. For a long time, we thought about land-use as a near-term mitigation opportunity that would buy time for the main event: reducing emissions from the power sector and transportation. It could be that land-use and forests is what gets us in the end, because solutions don't scale in the same way. There's no obvious set of technologies that can be deployed rapidly at scale. It's really complicated from a social, political and economic standpoint. And it's kind of a zero-sum game, when you come down to competing demands on the land for food production, bioenergy, and conservation—all of which are further strained by ongoing climate disruption.

A lot of your recent work has been focused on the utility sector. It's a fractured and complicated regulatory landscape here in the US. As an academic, how do you think about the sector?

There's a lot of diversity in US electricity regulation that derives in part from the structure of federalism in the Federal Power Act and the distinctive history of efforts to introduce competition in the 1990s. Ann Carlson and I have written about this in a paper, Accidents of Federalism, and I have looked at this in the context of changing models of public utility in the US, in another paper, Public Utility and the Low Carbon Future. Basically, with electricity restructuring which was pioneered in California starting in the 1990s and which sought to introduce competition to various segments of the traditional regulated utility model, we thought we would end up with one model — a fully restructured industry with both wholesale and retail competition. But a number of states decided to stay with the traditional model and some pulled back, especially after the California experiment ended in the energy crisis of 2000-01. So, we ended up with three models: the traditional cost-of-service model; the fully re-structured, competitive model; and a hybrid model, with competitive wholesale markets but regulated utilities at the retail level.

We view this diversity of models not as a liability or a problem — but as an opportunity for different kinds of experiments. Depending on the model, you can try out different policies and approaches. This gives us more opportunities for learning—from both successes and failures.

In many respects, the hybrid model has turned out to be one of the more interesting models. Nobody thought that it would work. But if you look at California, the utilities are important instruments of public policy and can be used to channel large investments into all sorts of activities. People don't always appreciate that. Public utilities are often criticized as being anti-innovation, rent-seeking dinosaurs, and there is plenty of criticism to go around, but they can also be important vehicles for policy experimentation. You're seeing that now in California with an aggressive legislature and an active Public Utilities Commission.

You recently created a new policy lab to house some of your applied work. Tell us about that.

Policy laboratories are emerging at a number of leading law schools and other University departments as vehicles for organizing and leveraging the applied work of professors, students, and partner organizations. By bringing the experimental and design aspects of policy to the fore, these labs provide a fresh and innovative approach to problem solving. Unlike traditional law school clinics, they do not take on specific clients or focus on litigation. And they differ from traditional research centers in that they seek to go beyond research and analysis to engage in applied problem solving.

In 2016, we created the Laboratory for Energy and Environmental Policy innovation or LEEP to house several of our projects, including the GCF work mentioned earlier. Our key premise is that we are in a bottom-up world when it comes to solving climate, energy, and environmental problems, and that much of the hard work and many of the most important policy experiments aimed at tackling these problems are taking place at subnational levels. The lab focuses on three key activities: (1) real-time policy experimentation; (2) education and exchange; (3) analysis, support, and knowledge management. All of our major projects seek to combine elements of these three activities. And in everything we do, we are committed to the fundamental importance of idea work —creative, outside-the-box thinking that feeds upon and reinforces our work with ongoing policy experiments, opens up new opportunities for education and exchange, and facilitates new approaches to learning. We just completed our first report on LEEP activities over the last year or so.

Needless to say, I am very excited to connect LEEP and all of the work that we are doing around the world with Emmett, IoES, and UCLA in general. I think it fits really well with UCLA's deep commitment to harnessing optimism, innovation, and collaboration to solve some of society's most complex problems.

Is there anything students should know before they sign up for your classes?

I want to challenge people in my classes. Environmental law and energy law are both regulatory intensive areas, but you can't just learn the law - you've also got to get into the guts of the affected sectors and industries to really understand how regulation works (and fails to work). You need domain-specific knowledge in addition to all of the legal and regulatory expertise.

In energy law, students sometimes get a little intimidated by the technical aspects of the grid and some of the economics. But if you can get your head around the basics, you can start to appreciate the long history of energy regulation as one of our most important experiments in regulating certain sectors of the economy in the public interest.

And it's a sector that is undergoing massive change right now. We are at the beginning of a global energy transition—away from fossil hydrocarbons and towards renewables and other low-carbon fuels.  It will take a long time and there will be plenty of resistance and setbacks, but it is happening. And lawyers are going to be key players at all levels in this transition.  It's a great time to be getting into the field.