Energy Policy:

Claussen discusses goals of new climate and energy think tank

With the Pew Center on Global Climate Change recently announcing changes to its branding and funding sources, how will the newly formed Center for Climate and Energy Solutions inform the energy discussion in Washington? During today's OnPoint, Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, discusses the goals of the new group and assesses the current state of energy policy talks in Washington. Claussen also gives her views on the Obama administration's handling of energy policy.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Eileen, great to have you back on the show.

Eileen Claussen: My pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Eileen, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change is no longer. You've rebranded and renamed the group and it's now the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Why the shift?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I mean the most obvious reason is that the Pew Charitable Trust, which had been very generous to us for 13 years is now their own operating organization and they're not giving big grants anymore. So, it was for the question of do we rebrand or do we go silently into the night? And since I think the issues are really important, we made a decision to rebrand and we have reemerged as the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Monica Trauzzi: And the thing that's been getting the most attention since the launch is that your funding sources have changed and the principal sponsors are Shell, Hewlett-Packard and Entergy. How will that affect the outlook and the vision of your group?

Eileen Claussen: Well, actually, I don't think it will affect us at all. We are an organization that does a lot of analysis, puts out what I think is credible information. We're trying to find solutions. We always have and we will continue to do that. Yes, I mean now the bulk of our funding has switched pretty dramatically. The trust used to give us about 70 percent of our operating income and now the companies are certainly more than a half. So there is a difference there, but, you know, we asked them about this, because I mean we want to be independent and we always have been. And, in fact, I don't think I would ever do this if I wasn't going to be independent and I actually think they value our independence. You know, they can hire a lobbyist to do a particular job for them or they're part of an association that will speak for their sector. But what they want from us is information and analysis and a clear head and an ability to try to find a solution. And so I actually think they want us to be independent, which is good since we intend to be.

Monica Trauzzi: So, even if that solution means going against perhaps some of their business practices, you'll be full steam ahead?

Eileen Claussen: We'll be full steam ahead and, you know, it's a very diverse group. It's 43 companies, multiple sectors. Actually getting them all to agree on something is not easy. So, you know, I don't always agree with everything they do. They don't always agree with everything we do or say, but we still like each other and we're still looking for answers.

Monica Trauzzi: How do you believe the landscape on the energy discussion has shifted since the failure of cap and trade?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think everybody went through a really difficult period of trying to assess what went wrong, what pieces can be picked up from this and how we should move forward. And certainly the political climate now is not conducive to a big solution, a big national solution. So I actually think that means that we have to focus on smaller solutions, things that will actually make a difference, but that are easier, at the same time as we don't give up on a big solution. We still do analysis on multiple different pathways to a big solution and that we focus a lot on concrete action and smaller pieces of the pie. All of which can actually make a difference.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think one of the things you'll be doing is trying to keep climate relevant in Washington? I mean, even in my discussions with folks in town, nobody seems to want to talk about climate change.

Eileen Claussen: Yeah, and I think that's a huge mistake, because, I mean, this is a serious issue. We actually have to deal with it. Wishing it away or pretending that it doesn't exist is really silly. I mean I think we really have to deal with it and it's interesting that we discussed with the companies that we've been working with, this group of 43, how they felt about climate and having climate in our name and it was really gratifying that they all said, well, of course you have to put it there because this is important. We understand that you have to manage this risk. Yeah, you should talk about climate and we intend to.

Monica Trauzzi: So, you're already doing some work in a couple of different areas, one of them being enhanced oil recovery.

Eileen Claussen: Right, where we're actually trying to come up with an action plan to do more of it. It's got a domestic oil side to it that a lot of people like. It's got a climate sequestration -- CO2 sequestration side, which a lot of people like. So that's the kind of project where I think we can make a difference. We're doing the same kind of thing also with a very diverse group of people on electric vehicles and that's another way to sort of look at this. We're going to be doing something on how businesses should actually adapt to climate change, because no matter what we do on the mitigation side, there actually are all kinds of things that companies need to do to make sure they're not affected too much by climate change. We've got a program that educates employees of companies that lets them understand their carbon footprint, tries to tell them things they can do to deal with it, sort of a very concrete kind of way. I mean that's another way to get something to happen while we're in this rather difficult period of sort of national policy.

Monica Trauzzi: You're also doing some work on the clean energy standard, which has been a buzzword around Washington for months now since the president mentioned it at the beginning of the year, but it's never really taken off. Do you see that having any legs?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I'm not sure it's going to have legs in this Congress, but, yes, we're actually going to be putting out a paper later this week on a clean energy standard. We're also going to do some work on carbon pricing. I mean not just cap and trade, but also taxes, because I actually think getting these ideas out and starting the discussion is really important because, you know, at some point we're actually going to come back to this at the national level and have to figure out what to do. So the more you can seed the ground and get ideas out there and get discussion going, I think the better off we'll be when the politicians finally decide that we actually have to deal with this.

Monica Trauzzi: When you consider the administration's decision to punt on Keystone XL and the bankruptcy of Solyndra, all that in mind, how would you rate this administration's handling of energy policy?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think they did one huge thing for which they should get a great deal of credit and that is on automobile standards, both the deal that was already done and the one that's going to be for the future, and that has a huge impact on climate change. It's made a big difference to the automobile companies who actually were part of the discussion and helped to craft the standards that are going to be going into place and that are in place. So, I think that's been a huge. You know, on Solyndra and spending money, well, this is not easy for a government bureaucracy to do well 100 percent of the time. If you look historically, administrations, plural, have put money into a variety of different things, many of which didn't work. And you could argue, I think, that that's actually the job of government, is to try different things that the private sector is not actually willing to invest in on their own. Will there be mistakes? Of course there are going to be some mistakes. Does that mean this is a bad idea or clean energy is something to be shunned? Absolutely not. You know, who hasn't made any mistakes?

Monica Trauzzi: How do you see these issues making their way into the 2012 elections? Will they -- will energy be a factor?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think energy will be a factor and I think environment and EPA will certainly be a factor. Whether EPA should be or not is another question. Energy I think should be, because it's a serious issue. Everybody should have a point of view on what it is that we ought to do and maybe sometime after the election, we could actually have an energy policy. Wouldn't that be nice?

Monica Trauzzi: It would be nice for us covering it. All right, we're going to end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you again.

Eileen Claussen: Well, it's been great, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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