Sage Advice or “Off-The-Mark”….


Steve Ramsey

Those of us who work and toil in the environmental world owe it to our corporate leaders, our community and our political system to weigh in on the discussion on climate change – from the perspective of what it would take to ensure that the policies enacted on Capitol Hill and set in stone by EPA and the other federal & state agencies, can have successful implementation by corporate America.

I think we all have an obligation to “stand up and be counted” in the upcoming policy discussions over Climate Change. I’d welcome your comments if I’m on-target or off-base.

Here’s my advice to the President and his Cabinet about the process:

  1. Get started quickly and keep up the momentum. The action needed is too comprehensive and important to get mired down in political infighting. Without action, the public will lose interest because the economy is in the tank.
  2. Get information from more than one source. Adopt a formal stakeholder process – don’t just depend on the input from one perspective – reach out and meet with industry leaders who have already demonstrated a commitment to action, responsible NGO groups, states and global leaders.
  3. Keep the pressure on by announcing your intention to keep the option of using either or both regulatory actions under existing law and new legislation. But clearly evaluate the Risks/Rewards from proceeding under each. Remember that regulation under existing law may work for some sectors and new legislation will work for others.
  4. Don’t get bogged down in bureaucratic warfare; “inside the beltway” gridlock is not an option. You need collaboration, not competition between departments, agencies and staff.
  5. Your program doesn’t’ have to be perfect; this issue will require long-term strategies and there will be chances to amend & augment your policy in the future.

Now my thoughts as to the policy itself:

  • Be a parent: Avoid being judgmental & name calling. Don’t demonize the process with heroes & villains.
  • Focus on incentives. Don’t let the law get punitive and don’t establish a litigation bonanza with retroactive liability (i.e., superfund).
  • Be flexible. One size may not fill all – Cap & Trade may be best for some sectors (utilities & some industry), but not for transportation (automobiles, aerospace, agriculture), and there may be room for a carbon tax for some sectors.
  • Consistency matters. From an economic and efficiency perspective, we must focus on developing a preemptive federal approach that provides certainty and uniformity among all states.
  • Cost does matter. This is not a trivial matter and given the current economic outlook, this has to be factored into the pace and scope of action.
  • The US can’t do it alone. The response to climate change must take place on a global platform. China, India, and other developing countries cannot stand back and not participate in the solution.
  • Good deeds should not be punished. Many companies are aggressively pursuing GHG reduction goals in the US and abroad and companies should get credit for past reductions before CO2 was regulated.

Finally, we need to develop a realistic approach and strategies to how we plan to meet our energy needs – both domestically and internationally – over the next 50 years. We cannot afford to push this off to the next Administration or the next generation of leaders.

We must take advantage of the momentum and act now.

About Steven Ramsey

Steven Ramsey is a former Vice President at General Electric Co., where he focused heavily on the development and implementation of world-class corporate environment, health and safety (EHS) policies, management systems and programs on a global scale. He enjoys exploring strategies for gaining a seat at the executive table and winning approaches for showcasing the value EHS brings to the corporate enterprise.

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  1. Elizabeth Girardi Schoen

    February 4, 2009

    I agree with yoru remarks. Just one thought to add. When we were paying ~$4 per gallon of gas people were beginning tobehave differently. In this mix of policy there should be a tax on gas, where the tax is directed to green energy technology developemnt. The tax money cannot go into the general coffers to fund other programs but must be directed to alternatives research and development.
    These new technologies and development of existing technology will create new jobs, new money, and make us more energy independant. The world economy can not cut its way to growth, we need to invent something!

  2. Fred Rubel, M.S., QEP

    February 4, 2009


    Excellent advice. I like the approach and I think you are right on the money. But, of course, the devil will be in the datails.

  3. William D'Alessandro

    February 4, 2009

    Sage. But I wish you would be more specific. Should the US negotiators reverse the (mainly successful) Bush administration position on climate negotiations in Copenhagen? Or should they buy into the EU’s cap-and-speculate approach?

  4. Fred Rubel, M.S., QEP

    February 4, 2009

    William, I would be interested in why you would characterize the Copenhagen outcome as successful. Thanks.

  5. Stephen Evanoff

    February 4, 2009

    I think Steve is on the mark, and thoughtful and astute in his observations and advice.

    I’m concerned about the Administration’s ability to execute this (or any other) policy and process, given the people and positions they’ve established. Carol Browner’s appointment as the White House energy/EHS coordinator suggests that President Obama recognizes this and wants coherent policies and decisions made and the process controlled by the White House. But, you have some very knowledgeable, savvy, experienced, strong-willed, and opinionated Department and Agency leaders, such as Ken Salazar at Interior (former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Attorney General), Dr. Steven Chu at Energy (nobel prize winning scientist), Lisa Jackson at EPA (former head of NJ DEP), and Nancy Sutley at CEQ (former LA executive for energy and environment). And DoD and State will play important roles in developing and executing a policy on global warming. Good luck herding the cats, Ms. Browner.

    The track record of new White House policy czars directing the existing bureaucracy isn’t good. I suspect we’ll see many “bumps in the road,” as President Obama is fond of saying. My sense is that the Adminstration will make mistakes, get bogged down, but, ultimately, will learn, adapt and make meaningful and substantial progress.

    Let’s hope they succeed. It’s in everyone’s interest that we finally get a long-range, strategic energy/environmental policy.

  6. Rick Taylor

    February 4, 2009

    I strongly agree with getting credit for past improvements. Too much has already been done to not recognize it, the problem of course will be verifying them as verification (ie by third parties) is spotty at best.

    It will be a huge step to reverse the current policy and implementation of real reductions gets even more difficult with lower return on investments due to the low cost of energy, tight credit for investment, and industry cutting R&D spending to make ends meet. Implementation will need some significant government backing to move forward.

  7. Hank Habicht

    February 5, 2009

    I have valued Steve’s insights for 25 years, and cannot miss the chance to comment. His core principles are on target but I would underscore the need to act quickly and to recognize that only Presidential leadership will combat the interagency turf issues that can thwart and delay progress on even less complex topics. I hope to see more comments on how to break the logjam and fix some clear rules on which investors, businesses and citizens can act.

  8. William D'Alessandro

    February 6, 2009

    To Fred Rubel: The Bush negotiators left Obama with a winning hand to play in international climate negotiations. 1. no fake politically inspired pledge to do the absolutely impossible, which Kyoto requires, that is, for the US to slash CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels (barring an economic collapse of cosmic proportions); 2. an equity-based and scientifically righteous requirement that China (and India) positively must make some legally binding commitment to reduce CO2 — at least relative to GDP. 3. No “begger thy neighbor penalties” for good-faith failure to meet the targets (a cooperative vs. competitive concept that, for instance, one that Japan fully supports, quietly).

    So the point is this: Should the Obama Administration buy into the EU’s wish for a Kyoto Protocol Version 2.0? Or does the US play the hand that the Bush team left on the table?

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