WHITE HOUSE

Biden's new climate adviser: 'We're all dealing with plan B'

Correction appended.

Over his decadeslong career, Philip Giudice has tackled energy issues across the world — from radioactive Chernobyl to post-apartheid South Africa. But it's in Massachusetts where he really made his mark.

There, Giudice worked with Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to create what would eventually be called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation's first cap-and-trade system aimed at cutting carbon pollution.

From 2007 to 2011 — a time Giudice called "the most productive" in his life — he used his experience as an energy consultant and executive to help stand up RGGI. It was successful enough that Giudice would go on to advocate for a nationwide version of cap and trade under the 2009 Waxman-Markey bill.

But as one of the newest members of President Biden's climate team, Giudice harbors no illusion that carbon pricing is a "silver bullet" solution to climate change — in part because the politics are so daunting.

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"I think that a lot of the challenge in this world is we're all dealing with plan B solutions or even plan C solutions, because we won't face what we really need is to put a price on carbon and just let it kind of work out," Giudice said on a 2019 episode of the podcast "My Climate Journey."

The White House announced Friday that Giudice had joined the Domestic Climate Policy Office as a special assistant to the president. In doing so, they touted his 40 years of experience in the energy industry.

Giudice trained as a geologist and spent his early career scouring the Earth for uranium as a Chevron employee. After earning his MBA from Dartmouth College, he worked almost 20 years as an energy consultant for Mercer Management Consulting, now called Oliver Wyman.

In Ukraine, he worked with a team trying to replace the electric capacity that, 10 years after the Chernobyl disaster, was still being generated by the damaged nuclear plant's surviving reactors. Political problems stymied the project, he said. He also worked on utility structure in South Africa after apartheid, and in North America he guided utilities through reorganizations, layoffs and mergers.

The experience, he said, taught him "tremendous appreciation for the limitations of utilities in terms of their ability to ... adopt new practices and be innovative."

"It's just not built into their business models," he added, "so it becomes a real challenge as we try and move our whole world economy post-fossil, into a much more renewable and sustainable future."

A new focus after Sept. 11

Giudice said his approach to his career shifted significantly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to the deaths of 300 of his colleagues. "I decided that I was just going to spend my time doing what's productive," he said.

He started working on philanthropy and energy startups, including one called EnerNOC that helped utilities manage electricity demand instead of resorting to brownout or blackouts. (That company — renamed Enel X after its acquisition by the Italian utility, Enel SpA. — is now the largest demand response provider worldwide.)

Giudice had just taken that company public as its CEO when in 2007 Gov. Patrick's office tried to recruit him.

With his company out of infancy, he agreed to become Massachusetts' energy commissioner in 2007, then its undersecretary for energy. Along the way, he became RGGI's treasurer during its first emission permit sales. He also served as vice chairman of its board.

"It is akin to eBay for CO2," Giudice told WBUR in 2008, ahead of RGGI's first permit auction.

Member states have held 51 permit auctions since then, with the latest price for a ton of carbon pollution clearing $7.60, up from an initial price of $3.07.

Giudice swatted back criticism from utilities and others that RGGI would raise electricity costs without seriously cutting emissions.

"I expect RGGI to actually help to bring down energy spending by consumers," he said before the first auction, "in particular in the way that it can be put to work for efficiency."

More than a decade later, his confidence seems to have been justified.

A 2015 study in the journal Energy Economics attributed about half of the region's emissions reductions to the program, with researchers finding that emissions from the participating states would've been 24% higher without RGGI.

And a 2019 report by the environmental nonprofit Acadia Center found that power plant emissions in RGGI fell by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by about 90%. The report also found that the region's electricity prices fell slightly, while prices in the rest of the country increased.

'Not nearly enough'

Despite that success, Giudice says policymakers shouldn't kid themselves about the scale of RGGI's impact.

RGGI was a "really great example of what's possible, but it's not nearly enough and it's not expanding," he said in the 2019 podcast interview. (Since then, Virginia has joined and Pennsylvania has started the process.)

He ticked off the examples of cap and trade's limitations in California, Canada and Europe.

"The European trading scheme that has been in place, it's probably 10 or 15 years old now, it's really not moving the needle significantly," he said

In the meantime, he added, cumulative emissions and other metrics of climate change have reached levels once considered unthinkable: "We're just so quickly moving by all of those sort of guardrails."

The solutions will have to be holistic, he said, from government investments to market signals aimed at "unleashing the innovation of a capitalist market."

He said he was "100%" aligned with the aspirations of the Green New Deal, though he thinks it would've been better received if it had included a carbon price, and he has some skepticism about the energy policy's potential to solve social problems.

"I'm not sure that trying to create green jobs as the answer for income inequality is necessarily going to be a very productive path," he said, calling a $15 minimum wage a better tool for that.

In one of last year's marquee climate elections, Giudice supported Green New Deal co-author Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) over his more moderate primary challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), according to campaign finance data.

He also donated to centrist Democratic candidates such as Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and former Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), as well as President Biden.

"I write a few checks occasionally for different candidates, basically people that know me, but I don't feel good about it and I don't feel good about the whole sort of finance structure of our election system," he said on the 2019 podcast.

By the time Giudice left Massachusetts government in 2011, he had served as board chair of the National Association of State Energy Officials, and he had also sat on two federal bodies, the Energy Department's State Energy Advisory Board and the department's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Advisory Committee.

Giudice's work since leaving state government has included nonprofits such as the Clean Air Task Force and the Prime Coalition. He was also a board member of the Northeast Clean Energy Council; CEO of the grid-level battery company Ambri Inc.; and board chair of FirstLight Power, a hydropower-heavy electricity generation company.

"I feel personally encouraged that humanity may have a shot at mitigating climate change with Phil as a key part of the Biden Administration in the years ahead," said Prime's founder and executive director, Sarah Kearney, in a statement.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Philip Giudice's name.

Twitter: @AdamAtonEmail: aaton@eenews.net

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