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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Bob Perciasepe of C2ES

Welcome to our sixth Common Sense Colloquy, a Q&A with Bob Perciasepe, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). RENEWPR President Ben Finzel works with Bob and his excellent team on the Carbon Capture Coalition (client).

Bob is the very definition of the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar.” In addition to being smart, he is both savvy and personable. Bob’s career includes leadership roles in federal, state and city government as well as the environmental NGO community. He has deep experience and knowledge about energy and environmental policy and has been influential in advancing many important policy and legislative initiatives in the past several decades. This month, we asked Bob to talk a bit about what C2ES does as well as to provide his own insight on communications and outreach.

Our thanks to Bob for sharing his time and insight with us – and you.

Q: C2ES is one of the leading voices bringing the business and environmental communities together. Does the starkly polarized nature of the energy, environment and climate dialogue today make your job easier or harder?

Polarization certainly doesn’t make it easier. C2ES has a long history on non-partisan work and that has been helpful in enabling us to work with all sides even in this atmosphere. Our goal is to get people from different sectors and different points of view together to hash out solutions and ideas. We also see that the polarization is not present in all places. Many businesses and cities, for example, are working together and making progress on energy and climate challenges. It is vitally important that we continue to make progress and not throw our hands up in frustration.

But we also see signs of progress at the federal level:

  • The passage of 45Q brought together a broad coalition of labor, business and enviros as well as the bipartisan congressional support of Senators Barrasso, Heitkamp, Capito, and Whitehouse.

  • Congressmen Curbelo and Fitzpatrick introduced carbon pricing legislation, encouraged by dozens of companies including oil/gas, manufacturers, retailers, power companies and the hospitality industry.

Q: We work with you and your excellent team on the Carbon Capture Coalition. Why is carbon capture both an energy and environmental imperative? What do you think the future holds for this set of technologies?

There are several factors that need to be taken into account when thinking about both the energy and environmental imperatives for carbon capture.

Natural gas and some coal will be a part of the U.S. energy mix for some time – and will certainly be used in other parts of the world.

But beyond energy – carbon capture can help us with industrial activities, including natural gas processing; fertilizer and hydrogen production; refining; and the manufacture of cement, steel and chemicals. Here the carbon emissions are the result of the industrial processes themselves. Even when the electric grid is decarbonized, there will be a need to capture the emissions from these processes.

It’s an environmental imperative because:

  • Not only will carbon capture be needed to meet 2050 GHG reduction goals, but if appropriately implemented along with other key strategies such as increased renewable energy and nuclear, it can get us to the goal faster and more cost-effectively. The clock is ticking - every day, week, and month matters

  • The Dept. of Energy estimates that, with the enactment of the “45Q” tax incentive for carbon capture, more than 50 million metric tons of CO2 from coal and gas-fired power plants would be stored by 2030.

  • Enhanced Oil Recovery using captured CO2 from fossil fuel energy production allows for more oil production from existing sites, lessening the demand to explore offshore or in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, for example.

  • The world will need carbon capture in places like China and India in their transitions as well. We have the ability to pioneer the technology now.

Q: In addition to your role at C2ES, you've been a state environment executive, an official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency an executive at a major international conservation group among other positions. What did those disparate experiences teach you about communications? What lessons do you still apply today?

Making public policy is not a battle to be won or lost. The most important factor to keep in mind is that public service is a high calling that is in service to the public good. To be successful with developing and implementing policy, the broadest buy-in is essential. This requires, in my view, four essential ingredients:

  • First, there must be facts that can be agreed upon. It is hard to find common ground on policy if the starting point is from different definitions of reality.

  • Second, everyone needs to listen. All points of view have value. How can individual stakeholders see their values in the solutions?

  • Third, when we seek to define a path forward, view it as “blending” ideas and values and not “bending” or losing.

  • Fourth, to not use unnecessary rhetoric. For a hypothetical example, if you’re considering Clean Air Act changes, and you start off with “This job killing regulation…” or “Any change will kill people…” other people in the room may not hear the rest of your idea - even if you present good ideas for discussion. We have to learn to make our ideas known without insulting or verbally minimizing other points of view.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

Values matter and blending values into action is best. Listen, and, when speaking, build off other points of view whenever possible. Respect people, don’t just insult them.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?

Avoid rhetoric, respect people and values.

Bob Perciasepe

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