Paris Agreement

Former EPA official Perciasepe talks 'We Are Still In' coalition, business response to Paris exit

This week, more than 1,000 leaders of cities, states, businesses and universities in the U.S. signed on to a letter signaling their continued support for the Paris Agreement. During today's OnPoint, Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and a former deputy administrator at U.S. EPA during the Obama administration, discusses the influence this coalition could have in international climate discussions. Perciasepe also talks about the next steps for the Clean Power Plan.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and a former deputy administrator at U.S. EPA during the Obama administration. Bob, it's nice to see you again.

Bob Perciasepe: Same thing, Monica. Great to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: So it's been a busy couple of days trying to unpack the Trump administration's Paris decision and what it substantively means for next steps. On the whole, how significant of a move do you believe this is?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, I think what the president announced last week at his press conference was a mistake. I think the United States has all the flexibility it needs to make adjustments to its commitments under the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a very flexible vehicle that the majority of the world, obviously, is part of. And most multinational corporations and businesses in the United States are very interested in creating a global framework. So the president has sort of thrown that into disarray. However, he did say he wants to renegotiate. And so there's an opening there for what that might mean.

Monica Trauzzi: And you have news today about how businesses and states in the U.S. are reacting.

Bob Perciasepe: Yes. I think — well, we saw before the announcement, major businesses in the United States, representing trillions of dollars of the economy, asked the president through ads in newspapers to stay in the climate agreement. That it was in the best interest of American businesses, it was best for international trade, it was best to avoid any retaliatory measures by other countries, and it was just good for business and growth. What we're seeing now, after the announcement, is a groundswell of that — that emotion. And we've seen — we're seeing hundreds and hundreds of businesses signing on to a "We're still in" statement that — and they're going to be joined by governors, and hundreds of mayors, and dozens and dozens of college presidents. And this is a growing phenomenon that has started. And I think it will continue. And the hope is that these folks will continue to be able to coordinate at the subnational level.

Monica Trauzzi: Does this signal, or does this mean that the business community is somewhat concerned that this makes U.S. businesses less competitive internationally, specifically on clean energy?

Bob Perciasepe: Absolutely. I think most American businesses believe that the United States is the bona-fide leader of clean energy and innovation in the world. And they're not really ready to cede that to China or Europe or other parts of the world. And so they want to maintain that, and they're committed to maintaining that even in the absence of a federal or national framework for them to work with.

Monica Trauzzi: But the Trump administration is firmly selling this as America first and that this is about promoting American businesses. So do you believe that somewhere down the line it will all come together?

Bob Perciasepe: You know, that is hard to say. We want a robust economy, we want everybody participating in the economy, but we also have to think about the future. The United States has never had major growths of economic prosperity by going backwards. We've always gone forward. And I think what we see here is a choice of: How do we go forward and still bring everybody along?

And so I — one can say the president is struggling with how to do that. On the other hand, I think the majority of American businesses see the future in a clean energy economy and they are definitely wanting to move in that direction.

Monica Trauzzi: And looking globally, do you believe that the Trump administration's move last week opens the door for other countries to leave the Paris Agreement?

Bob Perciasepe: You know, that remains to be seen. I think what we've seen from the G-7 meetings a week or so ago and from other statements other governments have made, they actually see this as a vacuum to move into. And I think we lose some competitive advantage if we let that get too far down the road.

Monica Trauzzi: This does reopen some old questions about how the Obama administration sort of handled the negotiations relating to Paris and pre-Paris, and whether the Obama administration should and could have done more or acted earlier. Do you think it's fair to raise some of those questions now and talk about that?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, look, I think — I'm the first to say — and I worked on things in the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan and clean automobile — low-emitting automobile standards. There is no one way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the United States. And so if there's another way that's more efficient — and there's certainly many who talk about prices on carbon or carbon fees or taxes as a way to get the economy to recognize the need for these transitions, and reward the more innovative technologies. There's a lot of bipartisan support or at least bi — multi-spectrum political views on that, that I think could be another approach that we could take.

Monica Trauzzi: And on the Clean Power Plan, specifically, Administrator Pruitt has said it's yet to be determined whether the CPP will be replaced or not. The business community continues to move forward. Many states as well continue to act on climate. So, considering that, is it necessary to have that policy tool?

Bob Perciasepe: Well, the signals that were sent to the economy and to the power sector by all the work that went into creating the Clean Power Plan and the years that went into that; leading up to the proposal, then after the proposal, and then the final — engaged most of the industry in that discussion. And what's happened during that time period is the prices continued to go down for renewable energy, like solar and wind; natural gas continues to outcompete coal and other sources of energy. And so as that trend continues, the trajectory of emissions from the power sector continue to go down. And I'm pretty confident that those market forces will probably get the power sector in the vicinity of the Clean Power Plan goals sometime in the next decade.

Monica Trauzzi: So we've also been tracking what we've seen coming out of the Trump administration in terms of the budget, the EPA budget specifically where climate programs are not included and in some cases cut. Is this having a chilling effect at the agency?

Bob Perciasepe: I think that if you're trying to implement the law, which the EPA is required to do. There are many laws from the Clear Air Act to the Clean Water Act to the Superfund law. One of the ways you implement those laws is with funding. Funding for the research, funding for the processes, funding for the reviews, funding for the technical assistance to the business community. And if those funds are reduced — and actually funding for our partners at the state level, which is the federalism that's set up in all of those environmental laws — then it's hard to reconcile the need to move forward and no resources to do it. So I think it does put a dent in the morale at the agency.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. A lot of moving parts. A lot to watch. Thank you, as always, for your insight.

Bob Perciasepe: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for coming on the show. And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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