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Transcript: The Technology 202: Next Gen Infrastructure with Mitch Landrieu & Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R)

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/1/2022 Washington Post Live

MS. ALEMANY: Good afternoon, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Jackie Alemany, a congressional investigations reporter here at The Post. Thanks so much for joining us today for two important conversations about infrastructure investment, new technology, and leadership.

The recent infrastructure deal allocates $1.2 trillion for investments in rebuilding bridges, roads, rails, as well as improvements to existing buildings, new technologies, and access to high‑speed internet.

My first guest today has a very big role with the distribution of these funds. It's Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, who is currently serving as a White House senior advisor responsible for coordinating the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us here today.

MR. LANDRIEU: Jackie, thanks so much for having me.

MS. ALEMANY: Top of mind right now is the president urging for Americans to prepare for possible cyberattacks as Russia retaliates against new financial consequences for action at the Russia‑Ukraine border. Is our critical infrastructure in its current state capable of withstanding these pressures?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, I can't speak on behalf of the NSA, but I feel certain that they have been preparing for this for some time. I mean, as the president continues to try to protect us on the homeland, then also to pursue America's interest abroad, obviously, Ukraine is in the forefront of our mind, and obviously, our antagonistic with Russia has been with us for quite a long time. So I have no doubt that the national security folks, especially the folks that are working on cybersecurity, have been thinking about this for a long time.

However, it does raise an issue as we start to think about rebuilding the nation's infrastructure whether we ought to do that with all hazards in mind, and the short answer to the question is absolutely. And so, as we think about rebuilding the roads and the bridges and the airports and the ports, as we think about high‑speed internet, as we think about clean water infrastructure, I can assure you, because we've already had ten Cabinet‑level meetings about this, cybersecurity will be part and parcel of all of the designs and the implementation and the building of all of those things going forward.

MS. ALEMANY: Right, because we did see how last year with the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, how cybersecurity and critical industries are connected. We know how the destruction to certain physical and cyber systems can impact our physical or economic security. So what investments have been laid out as crucial to improving our systems overall, and how much are these investments going to cost?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, as you know, it will be across the entire plethora of $1.2 trillion as they get invested. I think that it's not too hard for us to see that years ago, we weren't prepared for this, and in the last couple of years, we've gotten a lot better at it.

I think that when Congress and the president confected this bill, they intended to take an all‑hazards approach as we start to push this money down to the governors and the states who are going to build about 90 percent of this, but as we think through each one of the departments setting up rules and regulations and the communications with the governors and the mayors as they push this money out, the national security office through the cybersecurity folks are actually in communication with them and want to make sure that as they invest in those things, they take cybersecurity in mind. So whatever the cost of the projects are, it will include a cybersecurity component.

MS. ALEMANY: Well, that's a good segue to my next question which was, what does the future look like exactly if we're safeguarding our systems across the board from possible attacks?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, again, I mean, I'm not a cybersecurity expert. So you may want to ask those question to somebody with the National Security Administration. All I can tell you is that in the design of whether we're building roads and bridges or airports, especially power grids, they will be informed by the best advice and counsel they have from the cybersecurity experts in the country to protect ourselves against that, and the resources that are necessary to get that done are in the bill already.

MS. ALEMANY: Taking a step back here, you've recently marked 100 days since the infrastructure deal was signed.

MR. LANDRIEU: Yes.

MS. ALEMANY: What proof or on‑the‑ground examples can you point to that show the impact that these investments are going to make?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, as many people know, this was a bipartisan effort that the president put together. For many generations, presidents have been talking about infrastructure. This president was able to come into office and put Republicans and Democrats together to do something that the American people, almost all, support, which is to rebuild the infrastructure in this country.

We hit the ground running. As your say, our team hit the ground about 110 days ago. Since that time, we have pushed out about $100 billion to the governors and to the mayors who incidentally are going to be building these projects. So these aren't the kind of things that you are going to look out, if you do it tomorrow, and see the bridge built because it takes a long time to build a bridge or to redo a railroad. But these monies are being pushed out to the governors and the mayors and, in some instances, backfilling some of the holes that existed for a long period of time.

You can see right now, as you go across the country, mayors and governors actually turning their own projects that have Recovery Act funding in them and infrastructure funding in them. Mayors and governors now know five years out, how much money they're going to have so they can start planning from time to time, and basically, when you look at almost every road or bridge in the United States of America, they're going to be touched in some way by this.

On top of that, the most exciting part about this to many people is the need to make sure that people have access to high‑speed internet. The goal at the end of the day is to make sure that every American citizen has access to high‑speed internet, and if they have access to it and they can't afford it, to be given the kind of subsidies that are necessary to do that.

So just a couple of weeks ago, the Affordable Connectivity Program, which is designed to subsidize American citizens who are 200 percent below the poverty level, up to $30 a month so that they can have access to it‑‑you've heard the president give this speech many, many times when he bemoans the fact of teachers having to physically walk paperwork to their students' houses or mothers having to sit in parking lots outside of McDonald's while their kids access the high‑speed internet. That's just not where we ought to be in the current state of affairs, and so the money that's getting pushed out the door is going to help with that problem.

On top of that, there is about $65 billion that has been pushed into the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior to touch all of parts of America that are going to have access to high‑speed internet, and as soon as we get the maps done, which we're in the process of doing that, that money will be sent out to the states so that they can actually build these systems out.

MS. ALEMANY: Inflation has been front and center for a lot of Americans as prices in most consumer categories have risen in recent months. The bipartisan deal has‑‑proponents of the bipartisan deal have argued that the investments, the infrastructure improvements that are going to be made are going to strengthen supply chains and, thusly, act against inflation for the long term. From your vantage point, when will Americans actually begin to feel the impact of these investments and bring inflation under control?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, again, those are issues for the economists.

I can tell you that we are aggressively moving money into the construction of ports, airports, rail. Those are the kind of things that actually ease the supply chain up. Again, it takes a day to tear a bridge down. It takes a long time to build one. But just last week, for example, we pushed out $3.1 billion through the Corps of Engineers to begin major investments in locks and dams.

Earlier this year, there were massive investments in ports, especially in Long Beach, California, and in other places to ease up those things, and we're going to continue to push. And one of the ways that you keep inflation down over time is that you fix the supply chain problems that we have now, and one of those is the lack of adequate infrastructure. So, you know, we're in the long haul in this game.

As you know‑‑I don't know if you saw the jobs numbers today. 431,000 jobs were announced, which is a massive jobs number. The president and his administration in a very short period of time have created 7.6 million jobs, which is more than any president in the history of the country at any time and the unemployment is as low as it is, but inflation continues to be a serious problem. We're in the middle of this battle.

In the Ukraine, we are working as hard as we can to get those prices as low as we possibly can, but the investments that we're making in infrastructure long term will help make sure that this doesn't happen again.

MS. ALEMANY: I wanted to transition to talking about buildings that are responsible for over a third of the global energy‑related emissions. Why is energy efficiency central to the implementation of the infrastructure deal?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, you got a couple of different things going on there at one time. One of it is just the health of our citizens. Clean air and clean water is critically important, and I can tell you as we pushed out this money through EPA basically, to basically clean up abandoned mine lands, to clean up orphan wells, to actually retrofit public buildings, to actually invest in clean air systems‑‑and schools ought to have clean‑energy buses‑‑it's really just necessary for the health of America for us to be drinking clean water and to be breathing clean air.

On top of that, it's critically important to our energy use to make sure that we transition into cleaner energy because climate, as you know, is an existential threat. So it's got two components.

The third part of it is it creates a huge number of jobs.

So we're in a really kind of difficult time, and we're transitioning from one energy source to a number of other ones. We're seeing the complications right now with the battle in Ukraine where we actually need more fossil fuels in the short term. We're thinking about how at the same time not to upset the long‑term goal. So it's quite a challenge, but it's one, I think, the country is up to, and the infrastructure bill gives us a really good head start on making that a reality.

MS. ALEMANY: How are these investments going to ultimately help reduce the cost barriers associated with renewable energy technologies, which can be more costly to implement at the outset at least?

MR. LANDRIEU: Yes. It's a pay‑me‑now or pay‑me‑later thing. You know, in our common lives, we know that sometimes if you invest more up front, you have savings on the back end. In order to kind of help ameliorate the costs up front, this is one of the reasons why the president has offered to pass into legislation tax credits. That particular piece hasn't been done.

The other way that you do that is the federal government actually makes sure that states and cities have the money they need early on.

Now, every state in the nation right now, almost every state in the nation, is doing really wonderfully well with their budgets, and hopefully, they're going to spend this money wisely to buy down the cost long term of using it. But once you get past the initial cost, I think everybody is going to find out over time that new energy options are going to be cheaper to use. They're going to be better for the environment. They're going to be better for our health, and they're going to be better for our safety.

MS. ALEMANY: You already touched upon this, but I want to get a little bit more into the weeds about the work that's being done to make sure that these investments in infrastructure overhauls actually support marginalized communities who might not otherwise be able to afford these technologies. How are you working down to bring down some of the costs of them?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, one of the things that comes to mind right way is what's called the Affordable Connectivity Program. So, if, for example, you live in an area where you have access to fiber‑optic cable, but you can't afford it, there is actually a subsidy in the bill that pays up to $30 per month, per family for high‑speed internet.

The other thing that we're working really hard to do is talk to the internet service providers to make sure that the private industry actually offers plans at that cost so that the amount of money that people have to pay is de minimis.

One of the real focuses of this administration is the idea that you build an economy from the bottom up in the middle, not the top down, and that when the middle and the bottom are doing really, really well, wealthy people actually do better. So this is not just a matter of economic justice, which it is. It's also about an economic theory that this is about economic growth, and that nobody should be left behind in America.

One of the real challenges that we have in this country is people feel left out. They feel not seen. They don't feel like they have a fair opportunity, and so when we talk about reaching out to communities‑‑and we use the word "equity"‑‑we're talking about everybody. We're talking about White and Black and Hispanic and Asian. We're talking about people that live in rural areas and people that live in urban areas.

I mean, one of the things that has just happened is we've gotten disconnected from each other, and so, as this money gets pushed down through the different federal agencies to the governors, to the mayors, to the tribal communities, we're really trying to encourage them to not just do the same old okey doke, to really each out and touch those people. So, whether you're sitting on a porch in Dogpatch, Kentucky, whether you're in the hollows of West Virginia, whether you're sitting on the beach in Los Angeles, whether you're in Lower Nine in New Orleans, everybody gets to have a piece of this. If, in fact, you happen to be in Lowndes County, Georgia, and you're having a huge problem with a sewer system, which I know is hard for some people in America to understand, but it happens all over the country, we want to make sure that you have access to these dollars as well. And our team is pushing on the governors and the mayors to live this ethos as well, and, you know, we'll follow the work that they do.

As I said, this partnership between the state and the local governments is critically important because they are the ones who are going to actually do the building. We're going to get the money to them. We're going to help give them some direction. We're going to work with them, cooperate with them, and at the same time, we need to make sure that we rebuild America as one country.

MS. ALEMANY: So it sounds like broadband access is a really big priority for the administration. Would you say that high‑speed internet is becoming a fundamental right for Americans in the 21st century?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, yeah. Of course, it is, but it's a fundamental need.

I think‑‑as you know, I was the mayor of New Orleans for eight years, and before that, I was lieutenant governor of the state during the time that Katrina hit. And one of the things you learn is that when there's a catastrophic event, it stresses the system, and it demonstrates where the real holes are. We're seeing the same phenomena with COVID. So, when we were all restricted to our homes, it became patently obvious to us, as though we didn't know it before, that if you don't have access to high‑speed internet, you just cannot participate in a growing economy. You can't learn. You can't have the benefits of telemedicine. You can't do precision agriculture. You can't do anything with it. So it is an absolute necessity and a right, which is why I think the president thought it was really important that we lift this up as a priority.

So roads and bridges and airports and clean air and clean water are all really important for us to be riding on, but the connective tissue is access to high‑speed internet, which is why, as I've said, there are four or five different agencies, primarily coming out of the Department of Commerce, that are pushing this money out to make sure that we have access to laying fiber‑optic cable and in tribal communities, and then, secondly, even when it is there, if people can't afford it, helping them do that because that's going to grow the economy for everybody.

I just‑‑I get really excited when I think about a little kid who has been disconnected and has not been able to participate or share with the world their great gifts because they haven't been connected, who is now going to be connected and actually lift the world up in a way that we never expected. So I think it's very exciting. It unites the country. It gets the best out of each and every one of us, and that's why it's a priority for the president.

MS. ALEMANY: So those kids or the teacher that's still delivering paper report cards to her students' houses, how quickly are those Americans going to feel the impact of the investments related to grid and increased broadband access?

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, actually, they should be feeling them now. One of the things that the president did right after the infrastructure bill was passed was to authorize the Department of Treasury through funds that had already been sent to the government through the American Recovery Plan to start using those dollars, and you have seen‑‑or you could have seen a number of different governors, the governor of Virginia, the governor of Kentucky and others taking advantage of those funds to begin this connectivity already. It is an essential need for us in the country, and as I said, we're partners with the governors and the mayors.

They also have budgets of their own that they can use to actually start doing this work. So some of it's already been done, and we're going to keep working really, really hard until we get to what I call 100 percent.

MS. ALEMANY: So our next guest is Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what you just mentioned, how you've been working with state and local leaders on the implementation of the infrastructure deal and to get the ball rolling on their own.

MR. LANDRIEU: Well, here's the thing. For those of you guys that I don't know well, I'm a local elected official. I was a state legislator for 16 years, lieutenant governor of Louisiana for six during Katrina and Rita and Ike and Gustav and the BP oil spill, and then mayor of the city of New Orleans as we rebuilt it. So my view is mostly from the ground up, not the top down, and I have fairly strong opinions that the only way that we're going to get stuff done is to work as a partnership and a team between the federal, state, local authorities, not‑for‑profits, faith‑based communities, and the private sector. That's what works, one team, one fight, one mission kind of organization.

And so the president has asked me to try to organize that, and I have been the leader of a task force that has called together all the Cabinet secretaries and then begin to work with each and every one of the governors if this country. I have called all 50 of them. I have called the heads of all the territories and the governor of Puerto Rico. I have spoken to, I think, almost every one of them, and the ones that I have not spoken to, I've spoken to their chiefs of staff and asked them all to identify an infrastructure coordinator so that we can have complete and total cooperation and communication between all of us because it is in the execution that really, really matters.

Now, we have a wonderful country. It's a very diverse country. We have different interests and different needs. What Oklahoma might need and Governor Stitt might need might be very different from Governor Hochul who is in New York or Governor Newsome who might‑‑happens to be in California or another governor that might be in South Dakota or North Dakota.

So we're working with them to understand what their needs are and also what the mission of the president is in trying to coordinate those activities so we can get this money to the taxpayers as soon as possible.

MS. ALEMANY: Mitch, we only have time for one more question, so I'm going to try to squeeze two into one.


Video: The Technology 202: Next Gen Infrastructure (The Washington Post)

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MR. LANDRIEU: [Laughs] Of course.

MS. ALEMANY: But, if there was a city or state that you think has been the most demonstrative of‑‑this early on of how to implement the infrastructure deal and impacting local communities, which city or state would that be, and what investment is potentially the most lifestyle‑altering out of all of the investments being made from the infrastructure deal?

MR. LANDRIEU: You're going to accuse me of giving you a political answer, but I assure you, it's not. The truth of the matter is that I have been so excited about the innovation that is cross‑crossing across this country, and every one of the governors en masse have run to this like a moth to the flame. It's really been unbelievable about how exciting all of the programs have been.

I can tell you this. The ones that are doing the best are the ones that are coordinating, communicating, and collaborating, not only with the federal government and their local governments, but also with their regional partners. That's the stuff that works, partnership, one team, one fight, one mission.

In every place in America where the elected officials and the communities are doing that, they're winning, and it's really exciting to watch. All of these programs actually lay on top of each other. That's why one of them is not necessarily more important than the next. You have to have good roads, good bridges, good air, good water, good sewer systems, access to it so that America can punch higher than her weight and actually realize the hopes and dreams that the American citizens asked us to actually keep in our forefront when the president passed this bill.

So I'm thrilled to be involved in it. It's an exciting time. It's a once‑in‑a‑generation opportunity, and I am really thankful that we're taking advantage of it, and we're going to be the better for it.

MS. ALEMANY: Mitch Landrieu, we're out of time. I want to thank you so much for joining us here today for this conversation.

MR. LANDRIEU: Thanks, Jackie. Appreciate it.

MS. ALEMANY: I'm going to be back in just a few minutes with our next guest, Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma. Please stay with us.

[Video plays]

MS. HUMPTON: Hi. I'm Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA, and I'm excited to have a few minutes to chat with Gil Quiniones, CEO of Commonwealth Edison.

We've just heard about the potential for infrastructure investments to be truly transformational, and I want to take our time today to talk about what actually that looks like. We'll focus on a project that ComED has spearheaded in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago with the support of two Department of Energy grants and Siemens as a technology provider. When complete, the community will be served by the first utility‑operated microgrid cluster in the United States.

Gil, this project will help bring clean, reliable power to a community that's in the midst of redevelopment and revitalization. This really captures the ability of infrastructure to advance resilience, sustainability, and equity, priorities that ComED has brought to the forefront in its work as a leading utility in the United States. Tell us a little more about how this project came about and why Bronzeville was chosen.

MR. QUINIONES: Well, Barbara, thank you so much for having me today.

This project really started back in February of 2018 when ComED proposed this project to our regulators, the Illinois Commerce Commission, and they have approved it at that time to test and demonstrate a neighborhood autonomous microgrid that will integrate renewable energy, battery storage, and really test how do you do that application, not just to advance clean energy, but also reliability and resiliency.

And Bronzeville is such a special neighborhood. Let me tell you a little bit about it. There are about a thousand customers in that area, including 11 mission‑critical facilities such as the fire and police departments of Chicago. It's about 7 megawatt in load, but more importantly, as you mentioned, this is a community that's being targeted for redevelopment and revitalization. It's really one of the frontline communities that Chicago is focusing to have another renaissance, and it's about 10 minutes south of Chicago. It is the center of Black history and culture.

It's akin to Harlem in New York City, where I came from, Barbara. Let me tell you something. Great artists hail from Bronzeville. Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sam Cook, Dinah Washington, Quincy Jones, and Herbie Hancock are all from here. How cool is that?

And so this is really a project that is both technical in nature but really coming from input and engagement, right from the beginning and every step of the way, by the members of the community, and that is important. When we do projects like this, we need to triage and prioritize disadvantaged communities, get their input, because they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

So we're very proud. It's up and running. The DOE has approved this project. It's been commissioned. It can both seamlessly connect and disconnect to the ComED grid, and as you mentioned, you know, DOE was a partner here. Siemens was a partner. Two DOE programs helped finance this project, and it's working really well.

MS. HUMPTON: Well, time and again, we see microgrids really proving their value in times of disruption, whether it's a power outage or natural disaster, but I want people to understand some of the mechanics behind the project and how you're using digital tools, microgrid controls and management software, to keep the lights on. What makes a microgrid cluster different, and what can other communities learn from Bronzeville's example?

MR. QUINIONES: Yeah. In this application, it was purposely designed so that it is a neighborhood microgrid, meaning that it's not just a very small application but something that can be replicated across the United States. In fact, this one is also connected to a neighboring campus microgrid of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

So, you know, the secret sauce of this‑‑and you've mentioned it‑‑is the microgrid controller, and the technology that Siemens provided here working with us is very, very critical because, if that technology can be standardized, then a project like this can be replicated, and a project like this can be repeated in other jurisdictions. And so the goal is to integrate as many renewable energy like solar into an installation like this, battery energy storage, and over time, long‑duration battery energy storage so that the system can limit its reliance on emergency generators. And by doing so, you know, you're really thinking about the emergency generator, just like a spare tire, that it will only be needed when the system is really under stress, but most of the time, it is going to be powered by renewable and battery storage.

So the most important thing about this is that if that technology of micro controller can be standardized and scaled, this project can then be repeated in jurisdictions across the United States. So the technology that Siemens provided is critical in this project.

MS. HUMPTON: And we really appreciate the partnership with ComED to drive it.

You know, grid modernization is part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, but achieving it will be a complex process. At the same time, we have technologies available that are really changing the game for what the grid can do and empowering more communities to embark on their own sustainable energy journeys. What will it take for more projects like this to get off the ground?

MR. QUINIONES: You mentioned the keyword there: "partnerships." You know, this is really both a top‑down and a bottom‑up partnership. Federal government through DOE provided the grants to be able to demonstrate this technology. It's not very dissimilar to the recently passed infrastructure law. Now there will be a lot more opportunities for the federal government to help local jurisdiction, but it is important that there's also a bottom up, that the communities, the frontline communities are engaged and involved every step of the way. And that kind of partnership makes these type of projects happen and will enable for projects like this to be replicable and done in other jurisdictions.

You know, from a technology perspective, this was designed so that it's not a one‑off. It's not a science project that can only apply in Bronzeville and Chicago. This was designed so that it could be further developed so that it can be easily applied and more cost effectively applied across our service territory here in Northern Illinois and beyond.

So technology companies like Siemens, companies like us, ComED, the federal government like DOE, and other solutions providers, and the communities, we all need to work together so that applications like this can be realized for the benefit of communities across not only Northern Illinois but across the United States.

MS. HUMPTON: Gil, thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to seeing how this project continues to showcase what's possible for our energy future.

MR. QUINIONES: Thank you for having me, Barbara.

[Video plays]

MS. ALEMANY: Welcome back to Washington Post Live. For those of you just joining, I'm Jackie Alemany, and my next guest is Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, here to continue the conversation about infrastructure and leadership.

Governor Stitt, welcome to The Washington Post Live. Thanks so much for joining us today.

GOV. STITT: Thank you so much, Jackie. Great to be with you.

MS. ALEMANY: Okay. Let's get right to it. In your state of the state address earlier this year, you said that one of the ways we can make a generational impact is by investing in infrastructure. What are the infrastructure investments that you're prioritizing right now?

GOV. STITT: Well, you know, I lead Oklahoma with a vision to become top ten, top ten in everything that we do, and so part of that is obviously infrastructure. So I rolled out a $13 billion infrastructure package, a lot around safety. Some of our rural highways‑‑we have about 5,000 miles of rural highways without shoulders. So we're kind of focusing on those most dangerous intersections and areas of the state that need those rural shoulders. So infrastructure package is definitely going to help with that.

We also have the most inland port, frost‑free port in the entire United States just right outside of Tulsa, and so we're trying to get that deepened to 12 feet. So we've got about $92 million in this infrastructure plan in that.

And, also, we're finishing loops around Oklahoma City, Tulsa. We're widening six lanes all the way to Tulsa, so really going to use this.

Broadband is also a huge effort that we have here in Oklahoma. We're 26 right now in connectivity in the country but are trying to improve that and trying to get to top ten in broadband and connectivity across the state.

MS. ALEMANY: And, obviously, as you're well aware, the massive bipartisan infrastructure package was passed last year. What conversations have you had with the Biden administration officials about the funds that are coming your way?

GOV. STITT: Yeah. You know, no matter who's in the White House, it's so important for Oklahoma and really all states to have great relationships with our federal partners. So I instruct all of my cabinet secretaries to quarterly go to Washington, D.C., and meet with our counterparts and have a great relationship, whether it's DHS, or if it's infrastructure, it's the Medicaid programs that we operate in our state. So about 40 percent of the dollars that state governments spend‑‑or at least that's the way it is in Oklahoma‑‑come from the federal government.

And I just want this administration to know that we're willing and able partners to get those dollars on the ground because, you know, the federal government passes those laws. They have all of the resources, but it's really the states that implement and build roads and bridges and schools and hospitals, and so we have to have a great partnership, regardless of who's in the White House.

MS. ALEMANY: Well, with one of the key points of the infrastructure deal being its emphasis on transportation, how will these investments in roadways and bridge upgrades impact Oklahomans?

GOV. STITT: Well, I mean, I think it provides safety, number one. It also‑‑when I think about infrastructure package, we want to stay ahead of congestion. We have a huge competitive advantage right now on quality of life and commute times.

In Oklahoma, it's around‑‑Oklahoma City is, I think the twenty‑seventh largest city in the country. Commute times are 15 minutes compared to Dallas‑Fort Worth where you're probably driving for 30 minutes one way. So we've got some huge competitive advantage. So I've laid out a plan to finish loops around Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

But, also, Amtrak is also another project that we're focused on, connecting from Oklahoma City all the way to Newton, Kansas, which would really allow Dallas‑Fort Worth to come and be connected to Chicago. It would connect all the‑‑also have direct connection through Amtrak over to the East and West Coast. So there's a little‑‑there's a little gap right now from Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas, that would really open up. So I've talked with the CEO of Amtrak. We've talked to the Biden administration. I've talked to the governor of Kansas. So we're all on the same page. This needs to be completed. So that's another thing that would benefit the citizens of Oklahoma and also connect Dallas‑Fort Worth up to the entire network as well.

MS. ALEMANY: And at the end of last year, the state's Hydrogen Production, Transportation, and Infrastructure Task Force released a report dealing Oklahoma's potential in the form of energy. Talk to us about what potential exists and what this means for the state in the future.

GOV. STITT: Yeah, sure. Well, first off, Oklahoma has an all‑of‑the‑above energy policy. So I've got to brag on Oklahoma for a second. We have been an energy innovator for over a hundred years, and most people, especially people that aren't familiar with Oklahoma, they think of us as just being an oil and gas state, and we are so proud of our oil and gas industry. We are number six in the country in oil production. We're number four in natural gas production, but something that people don't realize, we're also number two in wind energy production, okay?

We're one of only four states that over 40 percent of our energy comes from renewables, and that's why Google has their largest data center in the entire world located in Oklahoma. We have some of the cleanest water, cleanest air in the country. We're doing it all without mandates, and we've actually reduced our carbon emissions in Oklahoma by three times the national average since 2005 based on President Biden's own metrics and standards. So we're excited about that, and now we're leaning into hydrogen. We're leaning into electric vehicle manufacturing and charging stations.

I just signed a memorandum of understanding with John Bel Edwards out of‑‑the governor of Louisiana, also Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, and so we're making a huge play for one of the four hydrogen hubs out of this package to be located here in our area of the country with Arkansas and Louisiana.

We also just landed a $700 million project in Southern Oklahoma for hydrogen, but as far as green hydrogen, blue hydrogen, Oklahoma will continue to be a leader, and so we're leaning heavy into that with research and development, pipelines. How do you move hydrogen? How is it different? The molecules are a little bit different than moving natural gas. But our research universities‑‑I was just at the University of Tulsa yesterday with their research group and their campus that actually has all the pipelines and are watching and developing exactly how we're going to be developing green and blue hydrogen.

MS. ALEMANY: As a leader who has successfully helped spearhead and oversaw the transition to clean and renewable energies in your state, what's your message to other Republican governors who have blamed green and renewable energy for economic and power woes?

GOV. STITT: Well, I think that we all should have an intellectual, honest conversation about a reliable, robust energy grid, and you can look no further than back in February of last year with the polar vortex when it really hit all through the Midwest, from Texas to the Dakotas, unseasonably cold for an extended period of time.

And what was happening was, in Oklahoma, for example, the wind turbines were frozen. They were frozen. They were iced over and frozen. We were not getting the energy from wind.

At the gas wellhead, we had a disruption for a time period where gas was not flowing to our generation plants, and so coal, which is normally less than 10 percent in Oklahoma, actually went to about 55 percent during that two‑week period.

So I jokingly tell high school kids that if we wouldn't have had coal in Oklahoma, they would not have been able to watch TikTok for two weeks during that period, and it's kind of funny, but it's also very important to understand. When you plug in your car or you plug in your cell phone at night to charge, where does that generation come from? And I don't think we're being intellectually honest if we don't have an all‑of‑the‑above approach to energy. You cannot rely on one source.

And I've told that to the Biden administration, the Secretary of Energy. It's so important that we continue with clean‑burning natural gas, that we continue to build pipelines to the East Coast to get natural gas from states like Oklahoma and Pennsylvania to the East Coast, because Americans don't understand, and it feels really, really silly to us to bring in a Russian tanker filled with liquid natural gas into the Boston Harbor to supply gas on the East Coast instead of doing it with our own resources and our own companies and our own people, because here's the deal that people won't have an honest conversation about. Demand is the same. We still have to drive to the grocery store. We still have to drive to school. We still have to drive to work. We still have to heat our homes and our businesses. So, when demand hasn't changed, we have to supply those resources, those needs from our own resources and our own companies, and Oklahoma is doing it better than any other state.

MS. ALEMANY: While we're on the topic of driving, the infrastructure deal also emphasizes the need to build a national network of electronic vehicle chargers. Is this a priority for Oklahoma?

GOV. STITT: You know, absolutely. This is something else that I love sharing with our friends back in other states. Oklahoma led the nation. We have more charging stations, level 3 charging stations, per capita than any other state. We've been leaning into this really hard. You can find a level 3 charging station within 50 miles of any spot in Oklahoma, and we did that years ago, several years back with a private‑public partnership. So we got that investment done.

We also‑‑with this new infrastructure package, you're going to develop that and continue to lean in. We just recruited‑‑I've instructed my commerce department to go after electric vehicle industry, not only batteries but car manufacturers. And we just landed Canoo, which is going to be an amazing success story. It's a startup. They've already developed their cars, and they're building their manufacturing facility in Oklahoma, having 2,000 employees. We're also going after that supply chain, and so we're leaning in hard.

It doesn't‑‑we also have to be honest with ourselves that all the development and all the money in the major OEMs is pouring into electric vehicle engine development. It's really moved away from the ICE engine developments, and so we're leaning hard into that from a commerce perspective. We know that's where it's headed.

But you can't at the same time ignore fossil fuels. They are going to be here. They have to be here to have an electricity grid that is reliable, and then, you know, when I tell that to the Biden administration, sometimes they turn around, and they say, "Well, we've got to talk about battery storage." And that's great. Let's talk about battery storage. Then you've got to talk about rare earth minerals and what type of mining and let's make sure we can get permitting approved for mining those minerals. We need to bring that back to the United States to supply that need from our own resources.

Again, none of this stuff in Oklahoma has to be political. It feels like Washington, D.C. makes things political. We have a lot of common sense here in Oklahoma, and let's just meet our needs with our own resources here in the U.S.

MS. ALEMANY: Well, in our last conversation, we had discussed how renewable technologies can often be cost prohibitive for consumers. How are Oklahomans addressing the gradual transition to a zero‑emissions future?

GOV. STITT: You know, well, first off, you know, our gasoline prices at the pump are probably two dollars less than what they are on the West Coast and some of these other states. So we haven't been‑‑we haven't felt it as hard as other states because, you know, our pricing, our regulatory environment is much different than it is in other states.

We actually have the lowest cost of electricity to the consumer and businesses, 11 out of the last 14 quarters. So that's creating a tremendous move to Oklahoma from a commerce perspective. We've never had more activity than we have right now. I think people are waking up to the business‑friendly and the freedom policies in states like Oklahoma and Texas, and companies are moving, moving there.

So we're excited about that, but as far as underwriting or maybe crediting or something like that, that's not what we're about in Oklahoma. We don't believe in picking winners and losers. We believe in letting the free market dictate demand, and again, like I said, Oklahoma has done all this without mandates and dictates.

We are already number two in wind energy. We're one of only four states that 40 percent of our energy comes from renewables. So I'll put our grid up and I'll put our mix of products up against any other state, and I'd love to have those conversations with states that are trying to dictate a mandate and stop fossil fuels or stop drilling. They're not being honest with themselves.

MS. ALEMANY: And you had mentioned earlier, one of your goals was to make Oklahoma a top ten state. What other measures can you tell us about that you're taking to actually reach this goal?

GOV. STITT: Yeah. So, besides the infrastructure, obviously, business, everything comes back to business. Education. I tell people all the time that it doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democrat or you live in the rural part of the state or urban part of the country. We really want the same things, and that's we want the best education for our kids. We want the best access to education. We want the best health care, access to health care. We want the best roads and bridges and infrastructure, and then we want the best economy, wage growth, opportunities for our kids. And so, if you focus on those four things and let somebody else play the politics side of it, then you can really move the needle.

So, as governor of Oklahoma, I run a big service organization, and it's 33,000 state employees. How can we get those dollars on target, on to roads and bridges? How can I unlock options for parents and more choice in education, more opportunities in education for parents? How can I align career techs with higher ed and common‑‑common education, K through 12? Because this notion that every kid has to go become an engineer and go to a four‑year college, I think, is disappointing, and it probably makes those kids that aren't going to college feel somewhat like a second‑class citizen. That couldn't be further from the truth.

I just met with American Airlines executive yesterday here at the Capitol, and Tinker Air Force Base here‑‑it is the largest maintenance and repair facility for the entire Air Force‑‑is located in Oklahoma City. But American Airlines, their largest facility is located in Tulsa, 6,000 employees, and they told me that a starting salary for an A&P mechanic was $75,000 a year. And so it's just so‑‑and that's without a college degree, and then half the people in the C‑level suite there at American Airlines started as an A&P mechanic.

So just because you start somewhere doesn't mean you can't become the CEO of the company, and so we're trying to tell young people that God has a specific plan and purpose for every single person, and we just have to help as leaders, help those young people understand what their career path should be, whether it's electrical, plumbing, heat and air, or it's the A&P mechanics, or we need more engineers as well, and we need more teachers and nurses.

And so just we're trying to make sure that every young person has that mentor and that hope and that hope for a better future for themselves, and a lot of that comes back from education.

MS. ALEMANY: And, Governor Stitt, before we wrap up, I want to ask you about a controversial bill that you signed this week into law that says that student athletes are only allowed to play on sports teams matching their biological sex at birth. This makes Oklahoma the fourth state to enact an anti‑trans sports ban this year. You said that this levels the playing field. Why is this a specific issue of concern, and why was it important for you to sign this bill into law?

GOV. STITT: Well, for us, it's not controversial at all, and I think for most Americans, it's really not controversial. This is simply protecting women's sports. It is a women's sports protection bill.

And I had little 12‑year‑old girls standing behind me who are playing soccer and have dreams of playing in college. I had 14‑year‑old girls that are playing volley ball. My own daughter was standing behind me who is a volley ball player‑‑that have dreams of playing in college and high school. I had OU, University of Oklahoma track athletes that were standing there with me. I had a girl that‑‑a young lady that had just graduated last year, ran track at OU, and now she works for Northrop Grumman, and she told me, she said, "Governor, I have my job at Northrop Grumman because I went to OU. The reason I was able to even go to OU was because I ran track, and I can't imagine losing my scholarship to something that I can't control, a biological male that's naturally faster than I am taking my spot."

So we just said we're going to protect women's sports. Women play with women. Girls play with girls, and boys, biological boys, are going to play with boys. To us, it's common sense. Everybody else is making a big deal about it. Oklahomans love it.

MS. ALEMANY: Well, I just want to ask a quick follow‑up. The U.S. CDC estimates that only 1.8 percent of high school students in the country are transgender, and out of this very small percentage, only 12 percent of them play on girls' sports teams. So what's your response that this is a bill that severely took criticisms, that this is a bill that isolates and harms transgender youth?

GOV. STITT: If it's not happening, then they don't have anything to worry about. We're just not going to let it happen in Oklahoma.

MS. ALEMANY: And, Governor Stitt, unfortunately, we're all out of time, but thank you so much for joining me here today.

GOV. STITT: Thank you so much. Thanks, Jackie.

MS. ALEMANY: Thanks again for joining us. To find more about our upcoming programming, please go to WashingtonPost.com. I’m Jackie Alemany. Thanks again.

[End recorded session]

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