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Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick Discusses Clean Energy, Innovation at Michigan Law

By Lori Atherton
October 9, 2019

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick discussed clean energy, a green economy, and innovation during a recent visit to Michigan Law as part of the Environmental Law and Policy Program's (ELPP) Lecture Series. Professor David Uhlmann, ELPP director, moderated the conversation-style event.  

When Patrick took office in 2007, his state already was in the throes of an economic emergency. To revitalize his state's economy, he focused on investing in clean-tech jobs, "which helped pull us out of the recession faster than most other states."

During Patrick's governorship, Massachusetts also joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among nine states to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector. RGGI states distribute allowances through quarterly auctions that generate proceeds for renewable energy programs. "When we had the first auction, we got tremendous revenue from it, which then enabled reinvestment in the energy-efficiency sector," said Patrick, who served as governor until 2015 and is now the managing director of Bain Capital. "I am great believer in the importance of innovation. I think there is an appetite for innovation in government and government policy. Successful innovation requires that you raise your tolerance for failure. Politics punishes failure, so I think we get less innovation than we want in public policy."

When asked if a cap-and-trade system would be a good way to a ddress greenhouse gas emissions, Patrick said he didn't think it was enough of a strategy. Rather, he advocated for a multi-pronged approach to tackling environmental issues. "We sometimes make a mistake in government in arguing that there is only one solution," he said. "When you consider a challenge as profound as climate change, it feels to me like we have to be doing a lot of different things simultaneously, and to try to get at the problem at a lot of different levels."

Patrick noted that as a country, the United States historically has been great at innovating. Where it falls short is implementing those innovations. "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stone. It ended because we got a better idea, and we moved on to the better idea," Patrick said. "We are really good at innovation in this country; we stink at transition. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of the candidates on our side went to Eastern Kentucky or West Virginia and said, 'The coal business has been in decline for a long time. How about we make this a hub for clean technology? How about we do wind blade and solar assembly here?' What if we made everybody, or more bodies, a part of inventing this new future? It's just a different way, I think, of trying to imagine getting to tomorrow before it's too late."

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