C2ES President Claussen discusses challenges facing EPA on power plant rules

With a draft bill circulating in the Senate to limit U.S. EPA's rules for new and existing power plants and court action on the agency's new source proposal anticipated, what is the future of the Obama administration's Climate Action Plan? During today's OnPoint, Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, gives her predictions of how far EPA's regulations might go and what the biggest challenges to the rules will be. Claussen, who recently announced she will be stepping down as president of C2ES, also talks about her next steps and most significant accomplishments.


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, thank you for coming back on the show.

Eileen Claussen: My pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: Eileen, you recently announced that after 15 years heading up C2ES, formerly known as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, you'll be leaving the organization. You're doing this at a time when, arguably, the most concrete steps are being taken on climate and energy by the Obama administration as they move forward with their power plant regulations. Why now? Why at this juncture?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think you already said it. Fifteen years is a long time. I have been working on this issue much longer than that because I was in government before. And I just think it's time for me to have a little more balance in my life. So I'm not leaving entirely. I'm sort of stepping aside from my role as president. I'll maintain a relationship. I expect to still be active on this issue, just not 60 hours a week; maybe a little less.

Monica Trauzzi: So let me get your views on some of what's happening in Washington right now. Do you think the New Source Rule provides the proper incentive for industry to move forward with CCS, with these advanced technologies for coal? Or could it stymie investments and eventually lead to the end of coal as many in industry contend?

Eileen Claussen: It's actually a very difficult question to answer. I think almost nothing on dealing with the climate is more important than CCS in some form or another because no matter how much coal we actually burn in the U.S., there's going to be a lot of coal burning throughout the globe. And we have to find a way to do it so that it doesn't damage the climate. So CCS is really important. The question you ask is whether these rules, by requiring it for new plants going forward, will provide an incentive or whether, because the costs are still pretty high and are likely to remain so, whether it's just going to be sort of the end of coal in the U.S. I actually think it's not the rules that are going to matter that much. It's the price of gas and the competition that's going to matter with our use of coal. And I think the best way to get to CCS is through something where there is an economic incentive like enhanced oil recovery. And maybe, if we can push that much further than it's already being used, we can actually bring down the price so that it is more competitive to do coal with CCS. Coal is going to be with us in one way or another. The issue is how can we get it so that it doesn't damage the client?

Monica Trauzzi: And a lot of people say that there needs to be more of an effort on the government's part, more of a private-public partnership to get to these advanced technologies. Is the U.S. government doing enough at this point, or are we sort of stepping it back and leaving it to some of our international counterparts who are also using coal?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I mean it's not entirely clear to me, given the budget situation we're in and where we are financially, how much we're actually going to be able to put into it in terms of dollars. We do have the Kemper plant moving along by Southern Company. We have some others that are sort of moving along. We might be able to push EOR. I don't think anyone should look to the government for huge amounts of financial support here. I mean I think we have to figure out how to make the market work so we get where we need to go.

Monica Trauzzi: [Rep. Ed] Whitfield and [Sen. Joe] Manchin have introduced a draft bill that would limit U.S. EPA's rules for new and existing power plants. Does that even get out of committee?

Eileen Claussen: I don't know if it gets out of committee. It certainly doesn't become a law. And the problem with it is not that EPA's future rules are going to be the best way to proceed here. It's that they didn't provide an alternative. And we can't just sort of way, "Well, we don't like EPA rules, and by the way we're never going to do anything legislatively. The problem will go away." Because, you know, it isn't going to go away and we have to figure out how to deal with it.

Monica Trauzzi: So between what we're seeing in Congress with the Whitfield-Manchin rule and the expected court action, what's going to happen to these proposals that we see coming out of EPA?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think EPA is where the game is, if you want to put it that way. When we started the Pew Center, later then C2ES, we thought the best way to deal with this issue was a legislative strategy. It was going to be market-based. We needed to get something through Congress. But you know, that is not going to happen. So we have to rely on EPA, and they have a huge challenge given the schedule that the president put them on, given the complexity of these rules to see whether they can actually get the job done. So.

Monica Trauzzi: So when the president leaves office, where do you anticipate the United States will be on climate policy and regulation?

Eileen Claussen: [Chuckle]

Monica Trauzzi: If you can look into your Magic 8 Ball!

Eileen Claussen: Well, I mean it's clear, from the schedule, if EPA was able to stick to the schedule, by 2016 we would have state plans to implement, really, the existing power plant rules. Whether you can remain on that schedule, it's really an ambitious schedule. And I say that as someone who has done rules and regulations at EPA. These are difficult. They will be challenged at every step along the way. And whether they can meet it or not, well, I hope so.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned coal being competitive against natural gas and how that is one of the key factors. And one of the items that C2ES has been working on most recently is natural gas and sort of how it plays into the whole climate and energy debate. There are still some very critical questions relating to natural gas expansion here in the United States. So what do you think the future there is, and what are the key sticking points that need to be addressed immediately in order to move forward?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I mean let me put it this way. We have a lot of natural gas. We aren't going to use it. And I don't think any of the efforts to derail it are actually going to work. They might work in a particular case, but I think if you look more broadly we are going to be using a lot of natural gas. We're going to be using it in power plants. We're going to have direct use. We're going to be using it, perhaps, in the marine area. We're going to be using for heavy-duty trucks. We have it, and it makes sense from a climate point of view to use it. And I think we will.

Monica Trauzzi: So you'll still be around at C2ES for another few months. Any agenda items that you're going to try to accomplish before you leave as president? I know you'll still be involved in the organization afterwards.

Eileen Claussen: Right. I mean, if I look at sort of where the debate is and where the openings are, one of the things that's been most interesting in the last maybe year or so is the interest in building resilience to extreme weather events. And this is something that we have to do. When we started the Pew Center, it was all reducing emissions. Now it is really reducing emissions, yes, but building resilience because, I mean that is a huge issue for companies, for cities, for individuals. So I think we're going to see a lot more effort there. And we're well-positioned, I think, to sort of deal with the corporate side of this. And there's a lot of education to do. There's a lot of hardening of systems to do. There are a lot of judgments about how you deal with insurance, and I think this is going to be a really big challenging area.

Monica Trauzzi: What would you consider your greatest accomplishment at Pew and now C2ES?

Eileen Claussen: Well, I think we built an organization that is credible. It's certainly been ranked among, in the top one, two or three, depending on the year, environmental think tanks in the world. So I mean I feel really good about this. And I think our transition from Pew to C2ES was pretty seamless, and I think we're in a good position so this was good! Now we just actually have to get lots of things to happen so that we do address the climate issue.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Eileen. We'll end it there. Always good to talk to you.

Eileen Claussen: Well, thank you.

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

[End of Audio]



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