Former EPA Deputy Administrator Perciasepe talks comments, changes to power rule proposal

After yesterday's close of the public comment period on U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan, how aggressive will the agency be with changes to its draft proposal? During today's OnPoint, Bob Perciasepe, former deputy administrator of EPA and now president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), discusses his organization's comments to the agency on the emissions rule and talks about its legal defensibility. Perciasepe also weighs in on the changes the agency may make as it crafts a final rule.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Bob Perciasepe, former deputy administrator of U.S. EPA, and now the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, better known as C2ES. Thank you for coming on the show.

Bob Perciasepe: My pleasure, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. This week marks the close of EPA's public comment period on the Clean Power Plan. How did your very recent work at EPA, and specifically, on the Clean Power Plan, shape the public comments coming out of C2ES?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, they, the comments coming out of C2ES are shaped by many things, including the experience of the very talented staff that is there, but we were really looking at how we can help make comments that would improve the ability of the plan to succeed, and we looked at things like making sure we encourage the preservation of some of the nuclear power plants that are out there, because it would be very hard to replace that non-emitting power that the cross-state issues of the energy efficiency and renewable energy, that EPA worked more to define how that can work for states so that they're encouraged to do it, and also, continue to encourage states to use market mechanisms.

Monica Trauzzi: And one of the things your organization also highlights in its comments is the softening of the emissions target glide path. Why do you believe states need more time for planning, and why was EPA so aggressive, specifically on timing?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, any period of implementation for something of this magnitude that's going to go on for 15 years, you want to make sure that there are interim steps, and I think it's hard to disagree, you have to have interim steps. You can't have everybody in the 14th year saying, "That's when we'll complete our work," but what also has to happen in the early parts is things like infrastructure have to be built, new distribution systems may need to be put in place, and you don't want to force decisions that will inhibit more progress later. And so looking at that glide path to make sure that the right decisions can be made early in the planning and the implementation so that you can actually, perhaps, do better at the end, I think, is a pretty important component of that.

Monica Trauzzi: The agency has received over 1.5 million comments on the rule. As the rule was being crafted, did EPA anticipate that there would be as much of a response as we've seen from both sides of asking for changes to the rule?

Bob Perciasepe: I think the experience I had at EPA, which is being borne out here, is any time the agency does a significant proposal related to climate change, they're going to get a lot of comments because it is something that many people, perhaps almost everybody in the country, is interested in, and so I don't think anybody didn't expect that there would be a significant amount of comment, and I know that the agency would be prepared with all the people power it needs to do a good job on responding to those comments.

Monica Trauzzi: So how aggressive do you think the agency will ultimately be in changes to its draft proposal?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, I can't predict completely what the agency will do, but I think they're, from what I've seen so far, and obviously, the comment period is still going on for the rest of the day and it's been going on for a while, many comments coming in that are aimed at how to improve that implementation part, and I think the area that the agency will focus on is how to make sure that the implementation for the states is as smooth as possible by providing more information, more guidance, more inside the rulemaking itself, because the key here is really to give the states the flexibility that they need to innovate, and that will be the power of this rule in addition to, obviously, the greenhouse gas reductions.

Monica Trauzzi: There are also requests for a scaling back of the specific state targets. Do you think we will see any of that?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, I think EPA will look at the reality on the ground, and when they did the proposal, you had to take the reality on the ground from the most recent information. Obviously, there's going to be new information that'll come in in the comments, and also, from the Department of Energy and other sources, and the agency will have to take those into account. So there's undoubtedly going to be adjustments based on how the reality on the ground may or may not have changed, and I think they will still be applying the same kind of approach of looking at what the best overall system of getting those emission reductions and then how you would apply it to the existing situation on the ground.

Monica Trauzzi: Former EPA general counsel, Roger Martella, said on this show that the courts are going to be compelled to focus on precedent and not open the door to EPA kind of bootstrapping their legal authority and that, ultimately, the rule will not survive judicial review. What do you think? Will this hold up in court?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, you know, I think EPA has a pretty good record of legal defensibility of its rulemakings, and when you look at the other precedent that's out there of how the courts provide some deference to the agency when it's defining certain parts of new law or existing law, and so the agency is going further than they have before in terms of defining what a best system of emission reductions should be, and I believe that there's going to be some deference to them by the courts. I think the agency has got the best legal advice in the world working on this.

Monica Trauzzi: Republicans have called for more FERC oversight of grid reliability. Grid reliability is a huge issue when it comes to this rule. What do you believe the relationship between EPA and FERC should look like on the Clean Power Plan?

Bob Perciasepe: You know, EPA and FERC have a pretty good working relationship on a number of rules in the past where they were focused on the power industry. The agency and FERC developed a good working relationship with periodic meetings, sometimes quarterly, to make sure implementation was going OK. Here, we have a 15-year planning period. It's hard to imagine an inability for states and power companies and the agent, and the different federal and state agencies that are involved to not be able to plan in that kind of a time period, but that said, it's really important that the agency have a relationship with FERC as well as the regional reliability organizations that are out there and work with the states very closely. I have high confidence that that will happen.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you think the landscape for EPA is looking like, heading into January, when we'll have a Republican-controlled Congress? I would expect many of your former colleagues to be in many oversight hearings.

Bob Perciasepe: Well, EPA's been in a lot of oversight hearings for quite some time. It works in an area of very high importance to the American public, and so therefore, there's a lot of attention to what it does, and so I would expect that there'll be plenty of oversight hearings, and I think the agency is preparing for that.

Monica Trauzzi: But also aggressive action to overturn some of the work that EPA is doing?

Bob Perciasepe: It's hard to see how that will unfold. The president is very strongly behind some of these actions, and here, we, particularly in the Clean Power Plan, we have a situation where what the agency is really proposing is to give states the ability and the flexibility to be innovative. It's hard for me to see, in the long run, how people can be opposed to something like that.

Monica Trauzzi: So shifting focus to the international discussions, this week, international climate negotiators are heading to Lima, Peru, for the next round of U.N. climate discussions. What outcomes are you looking for from that Lima meeting to sort of set up the path towards Paris in 2015?

Bob Perciasepe: I think that's the key right there, is that we have a good sense of where we're going toward Paris. Obviously, this is not, Lima's not set up to come up with that solution, but if we come out of Lima with momentum toward Paris and a broad contours of what that framework would look like, we would be ahead of where we were going into Copenhagen, and we have, already, a different atmosphere with companies and corporations around the world making commitments. We have China and the United States making commitments or announcements on the commitments they will be making, Europe doing the same thing. We have a very different atmosphere here and, I think, a real opportunity to come out with momentum toward Paris.

Monica Trauzzi: With all of these actions, national and international, we're sort of looking at a piecemeal approach to clean energy and a low-carbon future. How do we successfully get there?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, I kind of, I may be in a minority here, but I kind of like the way this is unfolding. The idea of, and domestically, of having states innovate and come up with good approaches and testing different market mechanisms on how we can achieve these kinds of goals and to build confidence that this is something we can do, and that some of the doomsayers and the predictions on economic ruin do not come to fruition, I think that's going to build confidence for the country, and that's an important thing. And when you look internationally, the frame that is evolving of nationally determined contributions, where each country gets to decide what it can contribute in a time period, this allows more participation. You already see this with China, participating with their contribution, which is a significant, not business-as-usual, contribution. So you have this bottoms-up approach, which I think, in hindsight, maybe, is the best way to go in the interim, and then when we have that confidence, we see what works the best, then we go to Congress. Then we go to a stronger international commitment.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. Very interesting. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate your time.

Bob Perciasepe: Oh, my pleasure.

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

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