The CSPA Q&A: Adam Ortiz

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator spoke with City & State ahead of our Energy Summit

Adam Ortiz, Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Adam Ortiz, Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency U.S. EPA

Adam Ortiz led environmental departments across numerous Maryland counties before being appointed by President Joe Biden as Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2021. Ortiz is now tasked with overseeing infrastructure, regulatory compliance, grantmaking and environmental justice, working on myriad issues affecting the resources-rich region in and around Pennsylvania. 

In advance of his keynote speech at the 2024 City & State Energy Summit, Ortiz spoke with City & State to preview what lies ahead for the commonwealth as it navigates a complex landscape of energy production and use.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What unique issues does Pennsylvania present as related to the energy space?

The commonwealth is the indispensable state in the region here, no question about it. Every state has its unique history, its contributions, but Pennsylvania literally has just about everything going on – every energy sector, a super-diverse workforce, an incredible history of manufacturing and production, empowering our country through different historic generations. 

Pennsylvania is incredibly diverse in every sense of the word, and we in the Biden administration believe that diversity is a strength. We have common cause together to build a better future, great jobs and sustainable and thoughtful ways of living today. But we do that best when we’re in thoughtful conversation. Pennsylvania is really the best state to do that, because it’s just got so much happening. If we can figure it out here in the commonwealth, we can figure it out anywhere.

What successes have you been seeing across the region when it comes to energy priorities? 

Well, there’s a lot of challenges in our time. But there’s incredible opportunity and insight and excitement in our time. 

I was in Pennsylvania earlier this week – we were mostly focused on brownfields and farms then, but in energy, people are really excited and anxious to partner with us. The federal government has always had a role, but now we have a substantially greater role because our country is now very serious about investing in our infrastructure and leaning into what the future looks like. 

It doesn’t matter what medium or program – people on the ground are doing great work and want to accelerate their work, and that’s where we come in. We can help provide that boost with resources and partnerships, and also just some good old-fashioned cheerleading.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the energy industry?

All transitions are tough, for good reason. Doing new things requires proof of concept and resources, and a vision of where to go. So you know, change management is just where we are in some ways. But on the other hand, we have proof of lots of concepts, the costs for new technologies are coming down substantially. 

In general, it’s important to know who we are and who we have been – but we also need to look at who we want to become and where we want to be. This moment is where this comes together, in conferences like this summit. We share notes, we take stock of our strengths and our accomplishments to date, but we also look to how we use those to get to the places and do the things that we need to do in the future. This conference couldn’t come at a better time.

Is the clean energy transition the main thing you hear from stakeholders as well?

I would say it's just like, “Hey, we’re trying to get to this place. These are some of the things that we’re dealing with this week, this month. We could use your help figuring it out.”

It doesn’t matter where we are, the most rural, the most urban, the most progressive people, the most conservative – people care about their communities. They care about their local watersheds, they care about their quality of life, and they’re figuring it out. Our job is to provide support and help accelerate local folks in achieving the goals that they’re working on.

What are you hoping to get out of the event?

The right people are going to be in those rooms. So, the opportunity to share notes from all of our different perspectives to learn from each other. To have a little more energy and maybe a little bit more strategic focus is really the benefit of getting people together. And having opportunities for people to get out of our silos or comfort zones and test ideas is really where the magic is – that’s how innovation occurs. You know, people think that it’s somebody in the basement, in a laboratory, doing stuff, but really, it’s exchanging ideas and generating new solutions. And that’s what this conference is about. This is a creative enterprise, and we’re going to come up with some great things coming out of it.

City & State’s Energy Summit takes place April 16 at the Hilton Harrisburg. For more information, including tickets, click here.