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by Christine Baksi
The Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism will be presented this year to Armond Cohen, founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force (CATF). The $100,000 prize is given annually to an individual or organization that makes a defining difference and advances responsible action on behalf of the planet, its resources and people.
As a recipient of the Rose-Walters Prize, Cohen will present a variety of lectures and discussions with Dickinson students and community members during a virtual residency this fall. His public lecture, “Hedgehogs and Foxes: Toward Climate Pragmatism,” will be presented via livestream on Monday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. Cohen will address how climate pragmatism embraces multiple strategies and technologies, and a variety of market and policy approaches, to find what works.
The 2020 Rose-Walters Prize recognizes Cohen’s leadership with CATF, a leading force in reducing air pollution and climate pollutants from the nation’s power plants, industries and cars and trucks since its founding in 1996. Cohen conceived CATF’s first national campaign, which identified and documented through rigorous scientific analysis America’s coal-fired power plants as a major cause of respiratory illness and death. That campaign led to rules that have helped spur the closure of a third of the nation’s coal capacity, and has resulted in more than an 80% reduction in the power plant emissions that cause smog and soot; more than 96% reductions in air toxics including mercury, other toxic and carcinogenic metals, acid gases and carcinogenic organics.
Additionally, CATF’s campaign to curb health-damaging pollutants from America’s heavy diesel engines led to the retrofit and retirement of dirty engines nationwide and bolstered tight emission controls for new engines. Under Cohen’s leadership, CATF’s work led to the first-ever federal “price on carbon” that provides a tax credit for capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground. In addition, CATF helped revive interest in next-generation nuclear energy for electricity and zero-carbon fuel production and advocated for increased support for “firm” renewable energy such as superhot deep geothermal energy. Cohen also founded the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, which brings industry, environmental and research organizations together to spur advances in this field.
Cohen’s roots as an environmental lawyer led him to continue CATF’s work in regulating global warming pollutants as well as spurring clean technology. CATF has led state efforts to enact “clean energy standards” requiring power companies to provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, now the law in seven states, and pushed major power companies to make voluntary pledges to do the same where the law does not require it. CATF also initiated a successful national campaign to curb emissions from oil and gas production and contributed major elements to former President Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan, requiring deep carbon reductions.
But his peers would say that Cohen’s greatest contribution to the field is his thought leadership on climate. For decades, Cohen has been a leading advocate of a technologically inclusive approach to solving climate change. He has been a key figure in reframing the strategy from a focus on a single group of technologies to include a wide portfolio of zero-carbon technologies needed to decarbonize the entire economy across all sectors — power, industrial, transportation, agriculture —while supporting growth in global energy demand as the Global South becomes richer. While once an outlier view among climate advocates, this approach has now been widely embraced by advocates and decisionmakers alike.
Cohen serves on numerous boards and panels, including the Keystone Energy Board, the Bank of America Community Advisory Council, Nuclear Innovation Alliance, the Center for Responsible Shale Development and Ice 911. He is also the former Chair of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Advisory Council. He writes and speaks frequently on the topic of climate and energy, and is a frequent witness before Congress, state legislatures and regulatory bodies.
Cohen joins a distinguished group of prior recipients of the Rose-Walters Prize, including the Natural Resources Defense Council; Our Children’s Trust, the advocacy organization representing 21 young plaintiffs in the landmark federal climate change lawsuit Juliana v. United States; Brett Jenks, CEO of conservation nonprofit Rare; environmental activist, author and journalist Bill McKibben; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert; award-winning actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo; Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives and former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson; and award-winning nature photographer James Balog.
Published October 10, 2020