Interview with U.S. Representative Kathy Dahlkemper

dahlkemper 2016 largeKathy Dahlkemper

How has being the co-owner of a small landscape architecture firm prepared you for the U.S. Congress?  How will you address issues facing other small businesses during the economic downturn?

I think just being owner of a small business has helped prepare me for being a member of Congress.  First of all, small business makes up a large portion of the economic growth in this country.  As I look in my own district, there are just so many small business owners out there who are struggling. They have a lot of concerns and issues in front of them.  In Congress, I’ll understand those issues and concerns and be able to take that information with me as I’m making decisions in so many different areas. 

In terms of being a co-owner of a small landscape architecture firm, I think one of the things it does is help you to look pro-actively, maybe instead of reactively, because so much of landscape architecture is really strategic planning. It’s having that vision. Landscape architects are architects of the future. I think of all those different aspects of landscape architecture. I think I can use those in Congress to move things forward. 

You received strong support from environmental organizations, including Clean Water Action, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club during your campaign.  You also campaigned on environmental issues.  How crucial do you think the environment was to voters in this election?

I think it’s very crucial to some voters. To other voters, what came about in the last year that really grabbed people’s attention was the price of fuel. A lot of these things came together, but people came at them from very different points of view. Everybody’s looking at their pocketbook and wondering how can I handle this cost of fuel, whether you are in a business like ours or you are an individual. Many of us, who are very concerned about the environment, actually see this as a good time to really move this agenda forward, because people can now see the effect on more than just their pocketbook.

They can see the effects of global climate change. I think that that has changed in people’s minds in a lot of ways. The debate about global climate change has changed – we know that it's happening, and humans changed things.  I think that the majority of people are now in agreement that we are seeing global climate change, and humans are certainly having an effect. People realize we have to make some changes for the future of our country, but also for the future of this world, and our children. The high fuel prices spurred people to be open and willing to look at these changes, which are coming at a faster pace. 

On your campaign website you have said, “Our Earth is our livelihood. The environment is the most precious resource that we have.  I am committed to taking a leadership role in the fight against climate change.” How can landscape architects in particular help combat the adverse effects of climate change?  What are the primary landscape architecture-based strategies and tools?

I think it all starts with good planning -- that's how we can combat adverse changes in climate. One thing lacking for so many years in the green movement was good planning: The vision and the strategic plan that is going to help us to preserve our green space and improve sustainability. So, I think all of those things are going to happen as we look forward. Those are some of the strategies and tools we need to look at.

Landscape architects have been looking at these things for years. The value of the landscape architecture field in itself is really becoming better known and accepted, as we see people more in line with the fact that there is global climate change and we need to do something about it.    

How do you plan to increase Federal support for landscape architecture-based climate change mitigation strategies and programs?

We’ve got to look at many different areas when we’re looking at the Federal budget. One of the areas coming up next year is in transportation infrastructure. We have a Transportation Enhancement Bill that’s going to be renewed this year. We can certainly look at that as one way to increase Federal support for some of these landscape architecture-based climate change mitigation strategies. There are also issues that can be tied to the economic stimulus package. Conservation is going to be a big part of that, and we have to look not only at transportation infrastructure, but we want to look at sustainable agriculture, and some of the other clean energy ideas. How can we tie in supplemental spending to really take us to that green, sustainable future? 

Do you think there are opportunities for conservation and sustainability to be included in the Congressional debate on economic stimulus? How can Congress significantly reduce carbon emissions?

There are opportunities. I think that are great opportunities, but maybe not in the typical way that people might think, when they think of landscape architecture. Conservation is going to be a big part of this. We need to look at energy efficiency. This is one area where we haven't put enough money. When I think of energy efficiency, I think of creative uses, and creative re-uses of buildings and landscapes. We need to look at retro-fitting. Take green roofs, as an example. Green roofs enable much better use of existing buildings. We can retro-fit buildings for better efficiency.

How can we keep our current footprint and still maintain the lifestyle that we have by not continuing to have this economic expansion that we’ve seen for so many years? That’s where conserving energy could come in. These retro-fitting jobs are jobs that are not going to be outsourced. They are jobs that are going to be here in our communities. That’s a big part of the puzzle that we need to look at.

What type of green jobs -- jobs that can come out of new investment in efforts to combat climate change -- do you think we will see more of if President-Elect Obama’s plans to invest in clean technologies are successful?  What kind of green jobs related to clean technologies do you see coming to Pennsylvania?

We’re going to see all sorts of green jobs. This is going to have a lot to do with our energy policy going forward. We need to move towards more renewable energy sources, and even some of the current energy that we are using needs to be made cleaner. We’re going to be looking at different kinds of clean energy jobs related to wind and solar and geothermal. I also learned about a turbine in the Hudson River, which is helping to create energy for the New York City area.

There is a lot of green technology that is going to create jobs. It’s going to expand what we envision when we think of green collar jobs. We’re going to have construction jobs focused on retro-fitting for energy efficiency. You call them green jobs. How far you can expand that definition out? I guess this is the question. We need to make sure our students coming out of school are ready for the jobs of the future. That’s going to be a big component to this. Are we teaching our students at the high school level, technical school level, and collegiate level what needs to be taught?

What kind of agreement would you like to see happen next year in Copenhagen with the conclusion of the UN FCCC Protocol Negotiation process?  How can the U.S. best transfer clean technologies to developing countries so that countries now increasing their energy usage don’t repeat the same mistakes made in the U.S?

I think the Bali Action Plan of 2007 identified the key elements that need to be agreed upon at the Copenhagen meeting: namely, mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer, and finance and investment. Certainly, if a binding global climate change agreement is reached regarding these points, the international community will have taken a major step forward in the effort to reduce man-made influences on climate change. Furthermore, I hope the United States participates in this important process with re-established vigor and enthusiasm.  In the midst of these daunting challenges lay opportunities for our nation to reclaim leadership in areas of science and technology that are essential to our 21st century industrial competitiveness.

I believe technology transfer partnerships between U.S. technology owners and developing countries will present the most affordable mechanism to widely deploy clean energy technology on a timely basis. Among many potential benefits, such a process could reduce the initial capital outlay required of developing countries, best insure competent installation and start-up operation of the various physical plants, and provide important safeguards in protecting intellectual property and other know-how of the developer/owner of the clean energy technology.

You’ve said that you are the only candidate in your district that drives a hybrid car. You have run a carbon neutral campaign.  How are you measuring your campaign's carbon footprint?

We ran a carbon neutral campaign. It was actually a program that contacted us. We calculated the mileage we drove, the energy of the computers we used within the campaign, the energy from the events that we had. We used a formula then came up with the amount of carbon emissions. We were contributing that amount to try to make our campaign carbon neutral. We purchased carbon off-sets.

When do you think we will see the majority of U.S. Representatives drive hybrid vehicles and run carbon neutral offices?  Do you think this should be mandated?

I don’t know if it should be mandated, but I think we should all be the leaders in this country as Representatives in Congress. We should be leading the country in how we conduct business, and that should include trying to run as green as an office as you can, or carbon neutral office as you can. I was impressed when I went down for my orientation. The House of Representatives is working very hard to ‘green up' the Capitol. I think this was an initiative started under U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They have done a number of things throughout the complex to try to reduce their energy use and produce less trash, for example. Try to green up the entire Capitol area. 

I think in terms of hybrid vehicles, a lot is going to depend on what happens with the auto industry and where they go forward in terms of car manufacturing. I think people want vehicles that are good the environment, vehicles that have the best fuel economy. So, as I go that way, hopefully, I’ll find more and more Representatives will be driving hybrid vehicles.

Interview conducted by Jared Green 



Media inquiries

Landscape Architecture Magazine

Jennifer Reut 

The Dirt
Jared Green

The Field
Ali Hay