Rep. Matsui and husband donate to support climate research

By Ashley Han

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Rep. Doris Matsui of Sacramento and her husband, Roger Sant, are propelling UC Davis’ climate work with a gift to Project Carbon, which is developing new, high-tech ways to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide and reduce greenhouse gases.

The Matsui-Sant gift, spanning two years, will enhance the work of the UC Working Lands Innovation Center, a UC Davis-led consortium that aims to catalyze negative carbon emissions in agricultural lands. Other universities as well as state agencies are partners in the consortium, along with industry, farmers, ranchers, tribes and small businesses.

“What we're doing with UC Davis is a piece of the puzzle to finding climate solutions,” said Matsui, who has represented Sacramento in Congress since 2005. “UC Davis has been so far ahead in both plant and animal research, and to utilize all of this particularly in the agricultural world, it’s really playing into their strengths.”

The couple’s $200,000 gift will support research that uses automated chambers to capture emissions pulses over the growing season. The data from these automated chambers will help researchers build a new predictive algorithm of the effectiveness of rock dust, biochar and compost at capturing carbon in soil.

Matsui and Sant’s support will increase the amount of data researchers can collect from weekly measurements and provide the next generation of climate change leaders with hands-on, project-based experiences on real-world solutions. 

Chancellor connection

“We are deeply grateful for Doris and Roger’s commitment to support our important mission to go carbon-neutral,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “I’m delighted they are translating their passion for improving the environment into action here at UC Davis.”

Ben Houlton

Chancellor May connected Matsui and Sant with Ben Houlton, principal investigator of Project Carbon, to bring their goal to life. Houlton, a former faculty member and director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, continues his affiliation with Project Carbon and the Working Lands Innovation Center despite having left UC Davis to become dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

The Working Lands Innovation Center is using state-of-the-art science to determine the carbon-sequestration capacity of soil, and examine the beneficial impacts of soil amendments on crop yields and soil health. 

“The Sant and Matsui gift is a game-changer for us,” Houlton said. “Our project spans many acres, with many different soil amendments under study in California farmland and this gift will allow us to purchase real-time, automated chambers to produce continuous data on nitrous oxide, methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from the soil.”

Great minds think alike

Sant and Matsui on their wedding day last April. (Photo: Pavla Teie)
Sant and Matsui on their wedding day last April. (Photo: Pavla Teie)

Matsui and Sant have long been leaders on environmental issues. When the couple married earlier this year, they agreed that climate change would be at the top of their philanthropic priorities.

“When my partner and I started our company in the electricity business in 1981, we soon became aware that climate change was going to be one of the major issues of our time,” Sant said. “From that time on we tried be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. We made gradual progress, and today that company, the AES Corporation, is one of the global leaders striving to make the generation of electricity carbon-free by 2035.”

Matsui is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has a wide jurisdiction in energy, environment, health care and technology. 

“Climate impacts absolutely everything,” she said. “My main goal is to keep Sacramento healthy and vibrant by promoting clean energy and ensuring affordable health care for all.”

“I have also worked with Chancellor May for a while now, and he’s been very inspirational in pushing environmental research forward.” 

Matsui and Sant hope that their gift will prove that agriculture can be one of the major solutions to climate change, and that the research can also boost food production to feed the world sustainably.

“When I think about UC Davis and all the work they’ve accomplished, Roger and I knew that this university can be front and center in solving climate change,” Matsui said. “Ultimately, we want to make sure we’ve done everything now to make sure our grandchildren and the future generation will have the opportunities to do what they want to do.”