U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Senior Executive Service Meeting

REMARKS BY EILEEN CLAUSSEN, PRESIDENT, PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE MEETING

  

WASHINGTON, DC

July 13, 2007 

Thank you very much. I must say that it is great to be among a group of knowledgeable environmental professionals.  So often in my travels, I give speeches where I have to explain all the technical issues and the terminology surrounding the climate issue.  But not here.  You know a lot of things.    You know, for example, that a decreased albedo has nothing to do with aging.    You know that cogeneration isn’t about older and younger people living together.  You know that the Group of 77 is not a large rock band.  . .  that the Mauna Loa record has nothing to do with surfing … that a carbon sink is not a high-end kitchen item . . . . . . that joint implementation is not what people mean when they say, “roll another one.”  And, last but not least, you know that thermal expansion is not that look you acquire when you’re wearing layers of long underwear under your clothes.    In all seriousness, let me begin by saying that I was an EPA Senior Executive for a very long time.  And during that time, I did some things that worked, and that were truly important (such as addressing the depletion of the ozone layer, implementing the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act, and helping to create the Energy Star program).    But I also did some things that did not work.  There were times when we didn’t have the skills that were necessary to make a difference (like when we defined solid waste in such a complicated way that virtually no one, other than the authors of the rule, could understand it).  You live and learn.  And, as I think back, I am very proud of my service at EPA.   It’s where I grew up, where I learned to take risks, and where I learned what leadership is all about.    It was a different Agency back then.   It was less political, less partisan, more enthusiastic, more imbued with a sense of purpose.   And it’s time for that sense of purpose to return.  Because EPA, and the world, are now facing the biggest, most complex issue this Agency has ever had to deal with.  And leadership from EPA will be crucial if we are going to solve it.    Of course I am talking about global warming.  More specifically, I am talking about the need to control greenhouse gas emissions, which, if left unregulated, will continue to interfere with the climate system and pose a serious threat to human health and the environment.      Your response to this one issue will be your legacy for generations to come.  You can—and must—have an impact in limiting the risks that climate change presents for our country and the world.  And, in my view, you needn’t wait for our nation’s lawmakers to act on this issue in a more decisive way.  There are countless things that EPA can be doing right now.  You clearly have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (courtesy of the recent Supreme Court decision) and you also can act now to facilitate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by granting the California waiver.  And then, when we finally get serious about reducing our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (and that time is fast approaching), it will be up to you to make certain we do it as effectively as possible.  The bottom line is that we won’t have many opportunities to get this right.    In my remarks today, I thought I would begin with a brief review of the “state of play” on the climate change issue—including the state of the science, as well as current action in Congress, at the state and local levels, and in the business community.    I want to do this not because I think you need a primer on exactly what is happening (or not) to address this issue, but because I believe the EPA needs to be more of a player as the United States gropes its way toward a serious response to climate change.   

This is no time for EPA to assume the characteristics of a shrinking violet, or to defer leadership on this issue to others.   

Later in my remarks, I want to talk more specifically about the role of the EPA in addressing climate change—and I want to outline four ways in which EPA can contribute to climate solutions.   But first a bit on the science. 

All of you are familiar with the facts by now. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that global temperatures will rise between 3.2 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.  Sea levels will rise by as much as a foot to a foot-and-a-half or more.  Many species will be lost.  In addition, there is a 90-percent or greater chance that the world will see more hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events.  And it is likely we will see more droughts as well.

EPA’s own work shows that climate change already is affecting the environment—in this country and throughout the world.  Looking ahead, I believe it will be crucial for EPA to devote more resources and more energy to assessing and communicating the implications of climate change—for health and the environment, agriculture, and other sectors.  I say this because the science on this issue is clear—much clearer, in fact, than the way in which it is currently framed on the EPA’s website and in other communications.  As I was preparing my remarks, I have to say that I was disappointed by the degree to which the EPA website continues to emphasize scientific uncertainty at the expense of helping people understand that this is a real problem and that solutions are needed.  There is no longer any doubt about it: if left unabated, climate change will have tremendous negative consequences for our country and our world.  And this agency will provide a vital service by presenting Americans with the facts about the very real risks we face. 

Of course, there is also no longer any doubt about what is causing this problem: greenhouse gas emissions from human sources—and, more specifically, from three key sectors: electricity; transportation, primarily automobiles; and buildings.  Consider this: China is building a new coal-fired power plant every week to 10 days.  And it is not just China and other developing countries.  Emissions have been growing in the U.S. as well—as of 2006, they were up nearly 18 percent compared to 1990.   

More than 80 percent of U.S. emissions are carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels.  This simply cannot continue—and people across the political spectrum, in both the public and private sectors, increasingly understand this. From the boardrooms of leading U.S. companies, to America’s state capitals, to international capitals and, finally, to the halls of Congress, people have begun to understand that climate change is a real problem, and that regulation is inevitable.   

Seven in ten Americans now say they want more federal action on global warming.  That is according to some polling just completed by Dr. Jon Krosnick of Stanford.  And the fact is, the American people are starting (I emphasize starting) to get action.  We are much closer to acting in a serious way on this issue than many people think. 

Already this year, there have been 105 hearings on the climate issue on Capitol Hill—serious, substantive hearings convened to help members of Congress draft mandatory climate legislation. In the U.S. Senate alone, there are five bills proposing some form of cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, and over 120 bills that deal in some way with the climate change issue. 

These aren’t just partisan measures either; there is real, bipartisan interest in acting on this issue.  At the end of June, Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia announced plans to move comprehensive climate change legislation through their subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.  This will be the first time that any committee or subcommittee of Congress has attempted to pass a comprehensive climate measure.  Even better, this is being done in a bipartisan way by two very thoughtful senators, which gives me confidence they will draft policy that is worthy of the challenge.  And then there is the bipartisan Bingaman bill introduced on July 11th, and referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 

And it is not just the Senate.  The leadership of the House has made it clear that they want to pass climate legislation as soon as possible.  I have given entire speeches this year on what’s happening on this issue on Capitol Hill, and I don’t want to do that here. But suffice it to say that Congress is taking this issue very seriously, and we may, in fact, see real climate legislation by 2008, and if not by then, almost certainly by 2010.

The pressure for national legislation is coming not only from scientists and environmentalists but from state and local leaders and the business community as well. In fact, for real action on this issue, real effort to reduce emissions, real leadership, you need to travel outside of Washington.  

You need to travel to Bentonville, Arkansas, for example, where executives at Wal-Mart have launched a program to reduce their company’s greenhouse gas emissions. And what is extraordinary about Wal-Mart’s entree to the climate arena is the magnitude of the company’s reach.  Wal-Mart has pledged to work to reduce its emissions, both internally and externally, and the company’s external reach encompasses more than 40,000 suppliers.  The ability of Wal-Mart to transform the debate and reduce energy use and emissions cannot be matched by most countries.  

Among the company’s goals: reducing energy use in Wal-Mart stores by 30 percent, with a corporate goal of eventually being fueled 100 percent by renewable energy.  Wal-Mart also is working to reduce the carbon footprint of its vehicle fleets. Wal-Mart operates 3,300 trucks.  In 2005, these vehicles drove 455 million miles to make 900,000 deliveries to 6,500 stores. Wal-Mart has set a goal of doubling the fuel efficiency of its new heavy-duty trucks from 6.5 to 13 miles per gallon by 2015, thereby keeping some 26 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air between now and 2020.   You can also find leadership on climate change in Fairfield, Connecticut, home to a little company called GE.  As part of its Ecomagination initiative, GE has committed to doubling its investment in environmental technologies to $1.5 billion by 2010. This is the equivalent of starting a new Fortune 250 company focused exclusively on clean technology. 

And you can find leadership in Sacramento, California. As all of you know, California has established an ambitious set of greenhouse gas emission targets—1990 levels by 2020.  California lawmakers also have gone the next step and passed legislation, with real enforcement, to give the targets the force of law.

Of course, California is not the only state to be exercising a leadership role on this issue. Twenty-four states, including large emitters like Texas, have required that electric utilities generate a specified amount of electricity from renewable sources.  Twenty-eight states have climate action plans. And many states are working across their borders to reduce emissions in a cooperative way.

California and five other western states, for example, have agreed on a regional target for greenhouse gas emissions.  By August 2008, the states will establish a market-based system to enable companies and industries to meet the target as cost-effectively as possible.  A similar effort including 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the region. 

And then there are 522 mayors representing 65 million Americans.  These local leaders are aiming to reach the U.S. Kyoto target of a 7-percent reduction in emissions in their cities by 2012, relative to 1990 levels.

All of this state and local action is important in and of itself.  States and localities are setting out to achieve real reductions in their emissions.  But what they are doing also is important because they are laying the groundwork for national action.  In fact, one of the main drivers for national legislation is concern within the business community that we will have a confusing patchwork of state and local regulations on this issue.  Business leaders are saying we need to establish clear and consistent expectations.  They want certainty.  They want to know what will be expected of them, and when – instead of having this cloud looming over them and not being able to prepare. 

The reason I know this is because at the Pew Center, we work with a group of leading companies that are committed to climate solutions.  Our Business Environmental Leadership Council is now the largest U.S.-based association of corporations focused on advancing solutions to climate change. It includes 43 companies with 3.8 million employees worldwide and a combined market value of over $2.8 trillion.  Members are a who’s who of U.S. corporate leadership, from Alcoa and IBM to Intel and GE.  

Ten years ago, corporate America was a reliable ally for those opposed to any kind of serious action to address climate change.  Well, that’s just not the case any more.  And, in fact, many of the companies we work with at the Pew Center are combining independent, voluntary action to reduce their emissions and develop climate-friendly technologies with high-profile public support for new policies to protect the climate.

Earlier this year, several of the businesses on our Council joined with the Pew Center and others in a high-profile appeal for U.S. government action to address climate change.  The group is known as the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, and this wasn’t just a blanket call for government to do something.  Rather, the USCAP group issued a specific cap-and-trade proposal with specific targets and timetables—a real plan of action to slow, stop and reverse U.S. emissions. In addition to cap and trade, the USCAP group embraced an array of other policies aimed at building a low-carbon energy economy.

When Fortune 500 CEOs take a stand for policies that in the past were tagged by private-sector leaders as extreme or unwarranted, and worse, it moves the politics on this issue to a new place.  And it’s not just the members of the USCAP group.  Other business leaders are calling for action as well. In March, a group of more than 50 institutional investors controlling over $4 trillion in assets, along with 12 major corporations, sent a letter to President Bush calling for a 60- to 90-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050.

Between the advocacy and the actions of leading businesses, and the policies adopted at the local and state levels, there is a real groundswell of activity on this issue—a groundswell that is having an impact on Capitol Hill.  But, despite all of the work that is being done, and all of the attention to this issue among government and business leaders, our emissions still are trending up and not down.  And although mandatory national policies to reduce emissions are on the way, they’re not here yet.  

And so the question remains: What is an agency, whose charge is to protect health and the environment, to do about a problem that poses clear health and environmental risks, but that hasn’t yet generated a coordinated and comprehensive legislative response?

The answer, in my mind, is that EPA should be doing four things. 

First, EPA needs to look carefully at its existing statutes to see if regulation of   greenhouse gas emissions makes sense under those authorities.  Granting the California waiver is one case where I think positive action on the part of EPA is important and timely.  And I say this fully recognizing that national action would be preferable.  But we do not yet have a national law that would control greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, and in the absence of such a law, standing in the way of those states that have chosen to act on their own seems undemocratic and unwise. 

Which brings me to the second thing EPA should be doing, which is to prepare for the day when we do have a national law by participating in the design of a rational regulatory program for greenhouse gases.

The Agency has implemented a remarkably successful cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide; you have experience with monitoring, inventories, with performance-based regulation, and more.  In short, you have the expertise that is needed to help Congress design effective solutions that will yield real reductions in national emissions of greenhouse gases. It is time to reflect back on the acid rain experience and to consider what worked in that case to make the trading regime successful.  This experience has already proven very useful to the State of California as that State considers how to design  its own cap and trade program.   It would prove similarly valuable to the Congress as it struggles to decide issues ranging from allocation policy to cost containment. 

I hope you will step up to your rightful role as the lead executive branch agency on environmental issues and insert yourselves into the congressional deliberations now—so we don’t get legislation later that proves unworkable or shortsighted or both.

You can also play an important part in assessing the impacts of all of the different technologies that are being discussed as potential solutions to this problem.  You can get ahead of the curve, and consider what rules will be required to make carbon capture and storage a reality.  You can help lawmakers understand what is possible and what is not; what can be done now and what must wait for further demonstration; what works and what does not.   

These types of assessments will lead to the best policies and, ultimately, to strong and practical laws that will put us on a path to addressing this problem in a serious way.  And, of course, once those laws are enacted, it will be your job to make sure they are implemented effectively.   

Third, EPA needs to step up its efforts to communicate with the American people about what consumers can and should be doing, not as a substitute for national regulatory action, but to supplement it and make it work.  Despite growing support for climate solutions, the American people still need a better understanding of exactly how we can, each and every one of us, help solve this problem.  People can feel a sharp powerlessness when presented with the facts about this issue – it is so global, so big, that it’s hard to imagine making a difference at an individual scale.  But you have the power in this Agency to help people understand their role. 

When we started the Energy Star program while I was at EPA, it was a simple idea—to create a government label that manufacturers could use for products that met certain energy efficiency standards. The manufacturers liked it, because it helped them market their more efficient devices. Businesses and consumers liked it, because it was a simple way to identify alternatives that would help the environment and lower their energy bills. Because only the most efficient products in each category could receive the label, it gave manufacturers a reason to continue improving efficiency.  Now this much-expanded program has seeped into the consciousness of ordinary Americans, and it clearly has made a difference.  And an important task for EPA now is to help the public understand why making the best choices is not only a money-saving, environmentally friendly decision, but a crucial component of addressing one of the biggest challenges of this century.  Increased awareness of the connection between consumer choices and climate change could help spur wider action and a better understanding of the role that every individual can play in addressing this problem.

Finally, I encourage you to start preparing this country to adapt to climate change. Even if we were to begin achieving substantial reductions in our emissions now, the climate is still going to change.  There will still be considerable impacts for the United States.  EPA can help Americans understand what those impacts will be—or, at least, help us understand the range of anticipated impacts.  

There is too little work being done on the adaptation issue, too little understanding of how various sectors will be impacted by even moderate levels of climate change, and how they can respond.  EPA can fill an important gap, I believe, by laying out the potential impacts, inventorying adaptation measures, and teeing up the national conversation about how we can prepare for a warmer world.

Not only will this help build support for adaptation at all levels of government and society, but it also will reinforce the case for climate solutions.  By communicating with state and local governments, ramping up communications with individual Americans and taking other steps, this agency can help make sure our nation is well prepared.  And it is not just a communications job.  EPA has real expertise in the infrastructure issues that are central to adaptation—from water systems to coastal development.  So you can, and must, play a real role in helping this nation prepare. 

Four steps the EPA can take: one, take action under existing statutes; two, help design rational legislation and the regulation to reduce emissions; three, help the American people understand their role in addressing this challenge; and four, help the nation prepare to adapt to climate change.  This train is coming down the tracks, and EPA will not have a lot of time to respond once it arrives.  It is time now to be prepared—not just for the reality of climate change, but also for the reality of national action to reduce emissions.   

Over the past 36 years, EPA has taken the lead in the nationwide effort to protect the environment and public health. Today, we face a larger, more wide-ranging environmental challenge than we have ever faced before.  And I believe EPA is up to shaping solutions.   

What’s more, I believe that this Agency does not have to wait for our legislators to act.  We—you—can start shaping solutions now.  This will be your legacy.  You, and this agency, will be remembered more than anything else in the decades to come for what you do today about this one issue.  I wish you all the best, and I hope you will look to the Pew Center as a resource and a partner in this vitally important work.   

Thank you very much.