WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection administrator Gina McCarthy on Wednesday defended administration efforts to reduce pollution during her first congressional appearance since the president announced his plan to regulate carbon emissions for the first time ever.
Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee attacked the EPA’s proposed carbon rules as extreme, expensive and expansive. It amounts to a federal takeover of the energy industry, said Louisiana Republican David Vitter.
Ms. McCarthy countered that the proposed rule is flexible and that it will create jobs in the clean energy sector and ultimately reduce energy costs and increase utility company profits by forcing them to be more efficient.
“This is about investing in [technologies] that people care about, investing in things that people will make money on. The regulated community grumbles during the process but it figures out how to make money the great old American way,” she testified. “This proposal is designed to be moderate … in terms of what’s practical and affordable.”
Republicans don’t think so, particularly those from coal country, who say the proposed rule will be so expensive to comply with that power plants will be shuttered.
“This rule will end up with the United States looking like Germany, where the poor and the business community alike will end up reeling from electricity prices,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a frequent defender of the coal industry.
Ms. McCarthy said energy costs don’t have to increase.
“What we’re projecting is that people will see a lowering of their energy bill,” she said. “There’s two ways to get [emissions] reductions in fossil fuel facilities: You can run them less or you can make them more efficient when they run.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said Republicans need to look at “both sides of the ledger” to decide whether the cost of compliance is worth the health and environmental benefits.
“They can’t just look at the interests of the coal business. They need to look at this more broadly, and there are a lot of us on the side of the equation where coal really is a harm,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said such regulations should not be made unilaterally by the administration.
“These are huge economically impactful regulations that you’re putting out that we don’t get to vote on, that the American people aren’t given a voice on,” he said. “We’re concerned about — trying to make the environment as healthy as possible — but we have to ask, ‘What is the real world impact?’ ”
The proposed rule provides a pathway to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent. To do that, it would set individual targets for different states.
It calls for Pennsylvania to reduce power plant emissions by 32 percent by 2030, a prospect the coal industry says would require significant investment in technology that hasn’t proven to work and isn’t widely available.
But Ms. McCarthy said there is enough flexibility, enough time and enough financial incentive for state leaders and industry stakeholder to comply.
“Every state gets to look at what they want for their own fuel diversity, what they want in,” she testified. “This is not about pollution control; this is about increased efficiency in our plants.”
That hasn’t stopped Republicans from attacking the EPA’s decision-making process.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming accused the agency of allowing the liberal Natural Resources Defense Council to virtually write the regulation.
EPA leaders forcefully deny that, saying that staff worked long hours who heard from literally thousands of stakeholders. And they expect to hear from more during a series of upcoming hearings in Pittsburgh, Denver, Washington and Atlanta.
The Pittsburgh session is July 31 and Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 1310 of the William S. Moorhead Federal Building at 1000 Liberty Ave. Pittsburghers can register to speak at the hearing by calling 1-919-541-7966 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration is not required to attend.
Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.