Senior Analyst for the Beyond Coal Campaign
Hastening the Transition From Coal to Clean
Over the last ten years, the use of coal for electricity production in the United States has been cut in half. By the year 2030, John Romankiewicz is aiming to eliminate coal entirely from the nation’s electric sector and replace it with clean energy.
“A lot of companies—especially regulated utilities—want to move off coal, but often their timelines are quite long,” says Romankiewicz, who graduated from Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering in 2006 and later obtained a Master’s in Public Policy from University of California, Berkeley. “My team and I do a mixture of economic, legal, and grassroots advocacy to try and hasten that timeline while also ensuring a just transition for communities that may be affected. As a country we can move to clean energy, and we can do it much sooner than most folks realize.”
As a senior analyst for the Beyond Coal Campaign at Sierra Club, Romankiewicz supports the prominent grassroots environmental organization in its efforts to retire outdated coal plants, prevent new natural gas plants from being built, and accelerate the progress of clean energy. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that coal currently accounts for roughly one-quarter of all energy-related carbon emissions in the United States and is largely tied to the electric power sector. Natural gas accounts for about one-third of the country's energy-related carbon emissions, though its use goes beyond electricity generation alone.
"As a country we can move to clean energy, and we can do it much sooner than most folks realize." — John Romankiewicz (McC '06), Senior Analyst for the Beyond Coal Campaign at Sierra Club
Romankiewicz has enjoyed a rich and diverse career path in sustainability and energy. Prior to joining Sierra Club, he lived in China as a Fulbright Scholar where his research focused on China’s clean energy policy. He later worked for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the US State Department’s Office of Climate Change, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. His connections with Bloomberg remain, as Sierra Club is one of the grant recipients of Bloomberg’s newly launched Beyond Carbon initiative.
“I’ve gotten to work with a lot of important private- and public-sector players... I’ve gained an incredibly interesting perspective on how international cooperation around issues of climate change work—especially between the US and China,” he says.
Romankiewicz can trace his passion for sustainability to his time as a materials science and engineering major at Northwestern, where he gained valuable experience in energy-related materials research.
“An engineering degree has given me a great leg up in terms of research and quantitative skills… When I was a student in 2006, there wasn’t as much emphasis around energy and sustainability at most universities. The relevant course offerings at that time were limited, but the ones that I did take had a huge impact on me,” says Romankiewicz, referencing the especially impactful course entitled Public Policy and Private Strategy: Government, Business, and the Environment that he took his senior year. “If you fast forward a couple years, Northwestern and other schools began to recognize the demand for more courses, research, and opportunities around these issues. That’s exactly what ISEN [the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern] is building, which has been really awesome to see.”
To future Northwestern graduates looking to learn from his career trajectory, Romankiewicz emphasizes the importance of understanding how decisions get made:
"Getting direct public policy experience can be really inspiring and eye opening. It can give you a better understanding of both the barriers and enablers for a clean energy economy.”