Christine Weydig’s career has taken her all over the globe, where her work on complex energy projects has given her the expertise to manage a growing portfolio of innovative environmental programs in place and in the pipeline at the Port Authority. As the agency’s Director of the Office of Environmental and Energy Programs (OEEP), Weydig leads a team of 12 people who are developing and implementing creative solutions to some of the region’s most challenging problems: cutting emissions from transportation, reducing energy consumption and teaching the next generation about climate change (just to name a few).
1 Tell us about your background. What were you doing before you came to the Port Authority?
I have worked on various energy projects in West Africa and then started working for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Policy and International Affairs Department. After that, I transferred to the State Department so that I could join the U.S. diplomatic mission in Baghdad, where I spent two years working with officials in the Ministry of Oil, Ministry of Electricity, and Ministry of Science and Technology.
My roles abroad gave me great visibility into many facets of energy – from development of different resources, both renewable and conventional, to the policy and market structures needed to support these sectors. It was a high-pressure environment, where I spent my days working with local counterparts, and at night I worked with military leaders and foreign policymakers in Washington. The unique circumstances I found myself in enabled me to develop both technical expertise and the ability to manage a range of priorities, which have both served me well in my career.
2 What project are you most proud of so far?
It’s so hard to pick just one! I’ll just name a few initiatives that I’m particularly proud of right now. For one, we’ve been ramping up our electric vehicle (EV) fleet with incredible speed (no pun intended); we already have over 180 EVs in our light duty fleet, and we converted a total of 36 airport shuttle buses to electric, making our airport electric shuttle bus fleet the largest fleet of its kind on the east coast. I’m also proud of our energy efficiency programs, like converting 13,000 lights in the Oculus to LEDs and installing solar panels on our buildings. Once completed, the solar plus storage installation we have planned for JFK Airport will be New York State’s largest, and will bring environmental benefits to our local communities.
3 What is the most exciting part of your job?
It’s been exciting to see the prioritization that the Biden administration has placed on taking climate action, whether that’s incentivizing the deployment of more electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, creating new opportunities for clean energy development or acknowledging how climate change will impact every aspect of society.
The Port Authority has already been doing many of these things; if you go back to when we announced we would uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2018 after former President Donald Trump had pulled our nation out of it, you can see that we were already thinking ahead about how to electrify our fleet and deploy solar energy at our airports. Not to mention, we were already converting facility lighting to LED and working with our airport partners to build more sustainable facilities through our redevelopment programs.
We’ve also been running environmental education camps for young students in the area to learn about climate change and how they can make a difference, and pursuing community solar projects to provide access to renewable energy to our local stakeholders.
We’ve been at this for over a decade, but we’ve still got a long way to go. I’m excited about not only the environmental focus of the federal government, but also the importance that’s already been placed on sustainability and environmental protection by our senior leadership, which I know will be invaluable in the years ahead..
4 What do you think is the biggest threat to our environment right now?
From my perspective, the biggest challenge is how to accelerate and scale the solutions we need in order to combat climate change. It seems that, globally, we’ve reached a tipping point where climate change is more widely recognized as an existential threat, but we have years of inertia to overcome.
For example, I see how the Port Authority, which has been prioritizing sustainability for decades, is facing this kind of challenge because of the inherent carbon intensity of many of our business lines – especially aviation and shipping. While the Port Authority owns and operates air, land, rail and sea facilities, we do not own or operate the aircraft, ocean-going vessels, or cars and trucks that use them.
We need collective action across these value chains to decarbonize the transportation sector. Many companies and industry groups involved in the transportation sector are raising their levels of commitment to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions needed to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, but the timelines for these reductions, in many cases, are still not aggressive enough.
5 So, how do we solve this challenge?
Well, the solution to getting the entire transportation industry on board with tackling climate change is to create lasting partnerships within each part of the industry, which we at the Port Authority are well-positioned to do and have been doing for years.
For example, for several projects at JFK Airport, we’ve been helping our partners and stakeholders figure out how to accelerate their own emissions reduction plans, and how we can support their infrastructure needs in order to carry those plans out. We recently secured a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install charging infrastructure that enabled JetBlue to covert some of their diesel-powered ground support equipment (like bag tugs and belt loaders) to electric models. We’ve also deployed the first fast-charging hub in the Northeastern US at the airport in collaboration with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to help support the conversion of for-hire vehicles (like Uber and Lyft) to electric models. It’s important to me that we walk the walk – not just talk the talk – so we have a solid platform on which to engage our external stakeholders to develop critical climate solutions.