Presidential Climate Action Project: The Resurgence

November 2015


NCS Fellow, Bill Becker, has for eight years now, directed an ambitious imitative called the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP). As its name suggests, PCAP’s objective has been to provide the President of the United States with ideas on how he or she can confront global warming even if Congress does not act.
With elections looming in 2016, PCAP has returned to guide presidential candidates in understanding how to confront climate change. With a new grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, PCAP will make our findings available to all of the candidates.

Hunter Lovins was part of the birth of PCAP. It took place in 2007 during a meeting Bill organized at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, WI. The topic was how to put sustainability back on the national agenda during the administration of George W. Bush. The idea that got the most traction – perhaps because it addressed the most urgent of all sustainability issues — was to develop a 100-day climate action plan for whoever won the 2008 presidential election.

PCAP’s ideas for the presidential candidates are trans-partisan, science-based and bold. They were developed by a large and prestigious national advisory committee that Bill assembled, including Hunter and other sustainability giants such as green industrialist Ray Anderson; former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart; and Gus Speth, who founded the World Resources Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Between 2008 and 2013, PCAP produced five reports containing more than 200 ideas for unilateral executive action, along with a comprehensive legal analysis of the president’s powers. PCAP began with the premise in 2007 that Congress was typically too slow and that the new president would have a honeymoon period during the first few months in office – a period in which he or she could move the nation a giant step closer to responsible climate and energy policies. As it turned out, the group at Wingspread was prescient: Congress has not only been slow, it has been dysfunctional. During his second term, President Obama, with his controversial “I have a pen and I have a telephone” line told Congress that if it didn’t act, he would. And he has.

Many of the President’s climate actions, and many of the other energy and climate initiatives emerging from the Administration were first set forth by PCAP. Among them: the President’s bilateral climate agreement with China; giving utilities the ability to reduce carbon emissions not only in their power plants but by investing in clean energy activities “outside the fence line”; fixing the residential PACE program; and rallying corporations and investors to put their money and efforts into clean energy and climate action, a more durable legacy than executive orders that can be undone by the next president. In October 2015, more than 80 of America’s biggest corporations, with 9 million employees and $3 trillion in annual revenues, made carbon-cutting commitments facilitated by the White House.

In 2016 and 2017, PCAP will pressure the presidential candidates to tell the American people specifically what they would do on climate change and the clean energy revolution, and will provide the next president with ideas on how to build upon the Obama Administration’s progress rather than allowing the United States to backslide.