Meet Clinton’s ‘smart dude’ on climate and energy

Source: Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 29, 2016

PHILADELPHIA — Lobbyists and journalists surrounded Trevor Houser after a panel discussion on energy and the environment here this week.

Houser, an adviser to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has been in demand at events related to the party’s national convention. He’s not only helping craft the candidate’s positions but also explaining them.

“He’s a person who really gets that intersection of what can be done in government, both nationally, internationally,” Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta said during an interview.

Houser and Podesta, who used to advise President Obama on climate matters, are behind the Clinton campaign’s muscular but also practical approach to environmental policy.

“We put a premium on going faster and further but doing it in a way in which we feel we have the confidence we can get it done,” said Podesta, calling Houser “the best at analyzing that.”

The campaign, for example, is open to the idea of a carbon tax — Houser prefers the more inclusive and politically palatable term “carbon price” — but is not betting on one. He calls it part of a toolbox rather than the only policy option to combat global warming.

“We need a plan that we can implement day one,” Houser said during a discussion hosted this week by The Washington Post. “We are delighted it’s in the platform.”

During another panel hosted by Politico, Houser quipped about high temperatures in Philadelphia to make a broader point about global warming: “It’s past the point this week in Philly that a dry cleaner can’t save this coat.”

When it comes to hydraulic fracturing, which many environmentalists would like to ban, the Clinton campaign would rather talk about increased regulation. “We had a healthy debate on this topic,” said Houser.

Houser is a partner at Rhodium Group LLC, a consulting firm, where he has worked for the past decade. In 2009, he joined the State Department as an adviser on international energy, climate and environmental issues when Clinton headed the agency.

Podesta said Houser remained to help set the stage for last year’s Paris climate accord. “I spent a lot of time with him in Beijing” hammering out a preliminary climate agreement with China, he said.

Now, said Podesta, “he’s been a stalwart in helping us putting together ideas and commitments that can move beyond even our Paris commitments, tackling the problem of accelerating the deployment of clean energy.”

‘Smart dude’

Energy lobbyists have sought out Houser this week to make sure they have a channel to the campaign and, potentially, the new administration. He’s also hearing from environmentalists, many of whom want Clinton to be more forceful in her approach.

“Trevor is a smart dude. He is one of the more knowledgeable people I’ve worked with on climate change since I’ve been at the Sierra Club,” said Executive Director Michael Brune.

Houser went to the City University of New York for economics and co-authored the book “Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus.” He also helps head the Climate Impact Lab, which assesses the costs of global warming.

But that doesn’t mean Houser is an activist. His task is identifying the right policy and also a viable way of achieving it under tough political circumstances.

“I think he has a clear eye on what it will take to build support across the country, build political support, to advance aggressive solutions,” said Brune.

“We may disagree on certain topics, but what I respect about Trevor, particularly when we disagree, he listens very close,” added Brune, pointing to “his ability to see a big picture and understand the perspectives of other people.”

Coal plan

Houser grew up in Wyoming, the country’s top coal-producing state, and said he went to a school that benefited from taxes on coal production.

Houser this week said the Clinton campaign sent him on a tour of coal-producing communities, including in Wyoming, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. His research helped the campaign develop its $30 billion plan to help revitalize coal communities.

The policy menu includes investments in education and research, repurposing abandoned mine and former power plant land, building infrastructure and offering new economic tax incentives, and protecting workers.

Coal’s downturn and Clinton’s support for increased regulations have helped make her unpopular in the nation’s coal fields. Houser said Clinton was “committed to being the president of all Americans, whether they voted for her or not.”

He said coal jobs would likely not return to pre-downturn conditions “despite what Donald Trump promises” because of competition from natural gas and renewables.

Beyond the issues that have long made headlines, like climate and the country’s energy future, Houser said Clinton’s agenda focuses on myriad issues dealing with environmental justice. He pointed to ongoing lead pollution problems as an example.

“There’s a lot of environmental threats we face,” said Houser. “I would argue there has never been a more consequential race when it comes to energy and environmental policy.”

Houser said Podesta speaks about political issues in terms of friction. There wasn’t that much friction on climate during the last presidential race, he said.

“There is a lot of friction this year,” House said during an interview. “It’s an issue where there is a great contract and an issue where there is a lot of friction.”

Reporter Josh Kurtz contributed.