“…(W)e’re at a really exciting point for carbon removal: we’re seeing a ton of attention on this topic, we’re seeing billion dollar level investments,… and we’re seeing a lot more engagement. Carbon removal has really arrived.”-Erin Burns
This newsletter issue features Erin Burns, Executive Director of Carbon180.
Ms Burns guides the Carbon180 team in thinking about how to equitably scale carbon removal and address the climate crisis. She previously worked on energy, labor, and coal worker transition issues in the US Senate. She is originally from West Virginia and currently lives in Washington, DC with her family.
You did not start out in carbon removal. Can you talk me through your career journey?
I actually started as an architecture major in college, but that wasn’t the right fit. Then I found cultural anthropology and loved it! Honestly, I didn’t have a very linear path. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do after college and I moved to Washington, DC without a job. Without a super clear plan, I worked at a couple of restaurants and a farmers market and was just thinking about what I wanted to do.
I had chosen to leave West Virginia, where I’m from, for college, and not move back, but I still felt drawn to the state and wanted to do things to help West Virginia. So I went into Senator Joe Manchin’s office and asked for a job.
I had to intern with them for a while before I was actually hired. I got assigned to some energy policy work when I first started, and I was really excited about it! In this office, the energy staffer was also the same person as the labor staff person. So my work was really tied up in working with mine workers, which resonated with me.
My grandma grew up in a coal mining company town, and it was just such a big part of being from southern West Virginia. That opportunity to work at the intersection of energy policy, labor policy, and forestry was really exciting. It felt closely tied to what I wanted to do in terms of thinking about policies for West Virginians. As part of that, I ended up working a lot on carbon capture— and eventually carbon removal.
Senator Manchin was on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, so through my job, which required that I help him stay informed, I was able to learn about point source carbon capture. Later I met Noah (Deich, the Carbon180 co-founder and former president), and we worked on some early direct air capture legislation together. I got really excited because it felt like this was an area in which people were talking about things like point source carbon capture as a way to save coal. And that didn’t feel right to me. Let me point out here that West Virginians have a very nuanced relationship with coal. Like me, many of them aren’t necessarily saying that they want to bring back the coal industry.