The longest-serving deputy administrator ever for the Environmental Protection Agency announced this week that he will leave the government to lead the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions next month.
Bob Perciasepe, who held top EPA roles during two administrations, was thought to be on the short list of potential nominees to lead the agency after former administrator Lisa Jackson stepped down in January 2013. President Obama instead tapped Gina McCarthy to head the agency, and Perciasepe served as interim chief while she awaited confirmation.
“I think Bob is probably the single most qualified person to run the EPA who never has,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of the nonprofit environmental-advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
O’Donnell suspects Obama selected McCarthy for political reasons, primarily to maintain diversity within his Cabinet after Jackson left.
“I think there was a gender issue,” he said. “I’m not suggesting McCarthy is unqualified, because she’s very qualified for sure. But I think that cut against Bob.”
Perciasepe told The Washington Post that he has no hard feelings about the situation and that he even tried to help McCarthy through the confirmation process. “I just think it’s really fortunate that the EPA has so many talented people,” he said.
After McCarthy became administrator, she and Perciasepe attended a baseball game together, watching their favorite teams, the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, at Camden Yards.
“She wore the Boston hat, I wore the Orioles hat, and we had a really good time together,” Perciasepe said. “One thing Red Sox and Orioles fans have in common is their desire to not have the Yankees win the AL East.”
Perciasepe and McCarthy also threw out first pitches at separate Washington Nationals games in April.
During his time as an environmental official, Perciasepe established a reputation for building bridges between the EPA, businesses, advocacy groups and state and local governments, particularly with the historic air- and water-quality regulations implemented during the Clinton and Obama presidencies.
“He is a quintessential problem solver,” O’Donnell said. “He had this marvelous understanding, particularly of the Clean Air Act and how there is a very delicate federal and state relationship needed to make it work properly.”
Perciasepe has seen both sides of that relationship, having worked as a top official for the Maryland Department of the Environment from 1987 until 1990, when he became secretary of the agency. Prior to that, he worked as a planning official for the city of Baltimore.
With the Clinton administration, Perciasepe served as the nation’s top water official before taking over EPA’s air-quality programs, where he helped usher in controversial new standards for auto emissions and gasoline.
Perciasepe became chief operating officer of the National Audubon Society after President Clinton’s second term, but he returned to the EPA to serve as deputy administrator in 2009. Soon after he joined the Obama administration, the EPA established stricter emissions standards for automobiles.
The deputy administrator’s departure comes at an inopportune time for the EPA, as the Obama administration prepares new climate rules that would drastically curb carbon emissions from coal plants. The plan represents one of the most significant actions ever by the federal government to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and it has riled critics who say it will affect almost every manufacturing industry in the country.
The EPA could use an experienced hand during the transition, but Perciasepe said he is confident the agency can handle the work without him.
“The EPA is in a very good spot right now,” he said. “We’re doing historic things, the plans are on track, and we have the support of the president. I have strong confidence that the agency is well on its way to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Perciasepe said he plans to continue his work “helping local governments and businesses be more effective in advocating for sound energy and climate policies” when he takes the helm at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “I’ll be doing that outside the government instead of inside the government,” he said.