In February 1979, Herbert Inhaber published an article in Science magazine arguing that solar energy was more dangerous than nuclear energy. The so-called Inhaber Report, which came out just a month before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, was roundly derided and prompted a savage response from John Holdren, then a faculty member at the University of California (Berkeley).
At Harvard University, a young Dan Lashof was mesmerized by the imbroglio. "Experts at that time were just starting to think about how to address the energy crisis in ways that were sustainable in the long term," remembered Lashof, who this month takes over as chief operating officer of San Francisco-based NextGen Climate America. "That debate in the pages of Science is one of the reasons I decided to make a career out of this."
At NextGen Climate America, Lashof will formulate policy in keeping with founder Tom Steyer's mission of spurring action on climate change and defeating the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. NextGen Climate America is the equivalent of a miniature think tank, designed to complement the San Francisco billionaire's new advocacy group, NextGen Climate Action.
Lashof arrives from the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he oversaw the organization's climate and clean-air program. Along with David Doniger, who will succeed him at NRDC, Lashof helped devise the Senate's first cap-and-trade bill, which eventually formed the basis of the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, or Waxman-Markey bill.
In his new role, Lashof will advise states as they set up regulatory mechanisms to comply with Environmental Protection Agency rules for reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
Despite his role in developing cap-and-trade, Lashof is amenable to alternative regimes. "The debate about the mechanism is somewhat beside the point," he said. "At the end of the day, I don't care how we reduce carbon, but we have to do it. The mechanism may vary from state to state."
Lashof, 54, grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park, just a few blocks from President Obama's Kenwood residence. His father, Richard Lashof, was a mathematician at the University of Chicago.
After graduating from Harvard, Lashof spent a year at what is now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., before earning a doctorate in energy and resources at Berkeley. He wrote his dissertation on climate feedbacks.
Before arriving at NRDC in 1989, Lashof spent two years working at EPA, where he was one of the first officials to focus on climate change. In fall 2011, he was named a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Lashof's new employer, Steyer, made a splash earlier this year when he announced that he intended to pour tens of millions of dollars into the midterm elections. In 2013, Steyer's largesse helped secure victories for Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
"This transition allows me to bring my background to a new set of players who are investing to make the breakthroughs that we need," Lashof said.
Lashof is married to Diane Regas, senior vice president for programs at the Environmental Defense Fund.