Energy Department Chief of Staff Knows His Climate Science

Kevin Knobloch, chief of staff, Department of Energy, September 2013.
National Journal
Clare Foran
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Clare Foran
Sept. 18, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

It was fit­ting that on Kev­in Knobloch‘s second day as chief of staff at the En­ergy De­part­ment, Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced his cli­mate ac­tion plan.

After a dec­ade as pres­id­ent of the Uni­on of Con­cerned Sci­ent­ists, Knobloch was well-versed in the sci­ence of cli­mate change when he moved to DOE on June 24. “It was a great mo­ment to come in­to the De­part­ment of En­ergy,” he said. “It’s ex­cit­ing to have the call to ac­tion that the pres­id­ent’s second-term agenda rep­res­ents.”

Leav­ing UCS wasn’t easy, Knobloch said, but he jumped at the op­por­tun­ity to join the ex­ec­ut­ive branch at a time when cli­mate policy was set to be­come one of the biggest pri­or­it­ies of the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion. He came on board a month after former MIT phys­ics pro­fess­or Ern­est Mon­iz was sworn in as En­ergy sec­ret­ary.

The White House is re­ly­ing on ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity rather than con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al to achieve its aims un­der Obama’s cli­mate plan, and the DOE has a key role to play. As chief of staff, Knobloch is poised to guide the de­part­ment through the pro­cess of draft­ing reg­u­la­tions on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, which could be­come an im­port­ant part of the pres­id­ent’s leg­acy on cli­mate change.

“My role as chief of staff is to man­age the de­part­ment,” Knobloch said. “We do a lot of heavy lift­ing around here and we have am­bi­tious pri­or­it­ies, and I fully ex­pect to be help­ing on these in a fo­cused way.”

The DOE has re­leased a num­ber of draft rules aimed at great­er en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, in­clud­ing new pro­posed stand­ards for cer­tain types of light fix­tures, walk-in in­dus­tri­al cool­ers, and freez­ers on com­mer­cial re­fri­ger­a­tion equip­ment. Pro­gress on those reg­u­la­tions had slowed pri­or to the un­veil­ing of the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate ac­tion plan, but now, Knobloch said, there’s real mo­mentum.

“We’ve seen some a lot of move­ment in put­ting the draft rules for­ward and bring­ing them to com­ple­tion since the pres­id­ent an­nounced his plan, which we’re very pleased with,” he said.

An­oth­er policy area the DOE is set to ad­dress is mod­ern­iz­a­tion of the elec­tric grid. “This is im­port­ant from the per­spect­ive of trans­ition­ing to a clean-en­ergy eco­nomy,” Knobloch said. “As we’re suc­cess­ful in bring­ing on more re­new­able en­ergy, par­tic­u­larly wind and sol­ar, we need to have the abil­ity to bring that elec­tri­city to meet the de­mand.”

Knobloch worked for the Uni­on of Con­cerned Sci­ent­ists from 1989 to 1992, re­turned in 2000, and be­came pres­id­ent in 2003. Pri­or to join­ing UCS, Knobloch spent six years on Cap­it­ol Hill in the of­fices of the late Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., and former Sen. Timothy Wirth, D-Colo. But work­ing on Cap­it­ol Hill is noth­ing like work­ing at the En­ergy De­part­ment, the 56-year old Mas­sachu­setts nat­ive said. “Con­gress and the ex­ec­ut­ive branch are very dif­fer­ent,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn. Not just the ways of do­ing things, but the people, the ac­ronyms, all of that. Every day for me is a tu­tori­al, but I’m hav­ing a lot of fun learn­ing.”

When he’s not fo­cused on en­ergy is­sues, the gradu­ate of the Uni­versity of Mas­sachu­setts (Am­h­erst) and Har­vard Uni­versity’s Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment tries to stay act­ive — he played hockey twice a week while work­ing at UCS. He hasn’t found a team to skate with since mov­ing back to Wash­ing­ton, but he’s got his ear to the ground, or rather, the ice.

“People are re­fer­ring me to oth­er people who skate reg­u­larly and the good thing is, giv­en the hours we have here, the ice times are typ­ic­ally quite late, 9-10 at night, that kind of thing, so I would have a pray­er of get­ting to them,” he said with a laugh.

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