Agency’s longtime No. 2 to take helm of climate nonprofit

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 18, 2014

After years as U.S. EPA’s No. 2, Bob Perciasepe will become top dog at a climate nonprofit.

As second-in-command at EPA since 2009, Perciasepe has won the distinction of being the longest-serving deputy administrator. He’s frequently borne the brunt of GOP lawmakers’ wrath on Capitol Hill, overseen sticky personnel issues like buyouts and furloughs, and held the reins at EPA during Administrator Gina McCarthy’s prolonged confirmation battle.

He stuck it out longer than most top Obama administration officials. Even after being passed over for the administrator job, Perciasepe stayed on for a year after McCarthy was confirmed to help her get settled.

But come next month, he’ll become the boss at last — as president of the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

“I think Bob has more than made his mark and paid his dues. He’s been right at the middle of every difficult and important issue at EPA,” said Robert Sussman, who worked at EPA with Perciasepe during both the Clinton and Obama administrations. “I think Bob probably feels that he needs a break. He needs a rest, he needs to recharge, he needs to dig into something new.”

At his new job, Perciasepe will take the reins of an organization that has been at the center of the public policy debate over climate change.

C2ES is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization formed in 2011 to succeed the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. The group was a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, formed in 2007 to push for climate legislation; it also advocated for the climate bill that passed the House early in the Obama administration.

Perciasepe will start Aug. 11, succeeding Eileen Claussen, who announced last fall she would be leaving the organization she founded and led for 16 years.

“Bob Perciasepe is a proven leader with the experience and expertise to make C2ES an even stronger force for sensible climate and energy solutions,” C2ES board Chairman Theodore Roosevelt IV said today in a statement. “He’s exactly the sort of bridge builder we need to effectively engage government, business, individuals, and a wide range of stakeholders, all of whom must work together to find common-sense solutions.”

The group is “widely respected. There are some very good people over there,” said Sussman, who was an adviser to former EPA chief Lisa Jackson and served as deputy administrator during the Clinton administration. He called the organization a good fit for Perciasepe, who gained experience in the nonprofit world during his time as chief operating officer at the National Audubon Society.

After serving as EPA deputy for years, “dealing with the White House and Congress, the EPA workforce and external stakeholders, I think you’re pretty much ready for anything,” Sussman said.

Jonathan Cannon, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law and another of Perciasepe’s former Clinton-era EPA colleagues, called the plan a “wonderful move for the environment” and for Perciasepe.

“I was pleased that he stayed with Gina, but I’m not surprised that he has decided to move on at this point,” Cannon said. “I think he’s gotten things well settled there and overseen important new initiatives, and I can see why now would be a good time for him to start something new.”

Perciasepe has spent a total of 13 years at the agency, first joining EPA in 1993 during the Clinton administration to lead the water office before moving to become air chief in 1998. He spent the George W. Bush administration at the National Audubon Society, then returned to be the deputy administrator in 2009 under President Obama.

Prior to joining EPA, he headed Maryland’s Department of the Environment in the early 1990s.

Filling Perciasepe’s ‘big shoes’

In an email to staff today, McCarthy called Perciasepe’s departure “bittersweet.”

“From the bottom of his heart, Bob loves this agency and is totally dedicated to its mission and to the staff who are its backbone,” she said. “I think it’s clear to all of us that absent Bob’s steady leadership, we would not be the agency we are today.”

McCarthy said she would schedule an “all hands” meeting before he leaves the agency, where she will fill staff in on “the plans we are putting in place to fill his big shoes.”

An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment on who might fill Perciasepe’s slot until the administration nominates a replacement and he or she wins Senate confirmation.

In the past, Senate-confirmed assistant administrators or career staffers have filled in temporarily as acting deputies.

But it’s unclear when the White House will announce a new nominee or when that person might clear the often lengthy process of clearing the Senate. Several other nominees for top EPA posts have been waiting months or even years to start their jobs (Greenwire, July 1).

“It’s an important position for the administrator, because somebody like Bob is able to take a large weight of the agency operations,” Cannon said. That includes going up to Capitol Hill to provide testimony to Congress. “It’s just more difficult to manage the agency without a superb deputy like Bob.”

Would-be replacements are facing “a challenging confirmation process here, and that would have to give someone pause,” Sussman said. But he still expects some takers. “There are always people who will want to throw their hat in the ring. With all the challenges and difficulties, it’s still a great job and an important job.”