Green Scientist Is Tom Steyer’s New Policy Guru

Lashof: Leading Tom Steyer's think tank.
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
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Christopher Snow Hopkins
April 7, 2014, 5:50 p.m.

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.

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