‘Don’t sweat it’ on Clean Power Plan — McCarthy

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2016

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy today said the recent Supreme Court decision to stay the Clean Power Plan “in no way” signals it is not legally defensible and will not “in the end win.”

“It will continue, it will survive, it will be litigated on its merits as we know everything EPA does is. So if this is the first time you’ve been involved in looking at EPA in terms of the courts, don’t sweat it. … We do really well, and we’re going to do great here,” she told a packed room at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, summit in suburban Maryland.

McCarthy has been making similar comments about the Clean Power Plan for weeks, but today she also touched on a range of issues like the Keystone XL pipeline during a discussion with Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

She reiterated her view that the flexibility in the Clean Power Plan opened up “a lot of dialogue” in states that was not there before. While there was some confusion among states in the beginning, the freedom in the plan “grew on them,” she said.

In her view, the rule was really a follow-up to a market push for renewables and clean power that was already happening. “The momentum is not just coming from the states anymore. … It’s also coming from the business sector,” she said.

Nuclear power, she said, is finding it difficult in some ways to compete as older plants are facing tough permitting decisions. “That is something we found very difficult, to do anything other than recognize in the system in the Clean Power Plan. … We tried to be very technology-neutral in this,” she said. If the United States starts losing existing nuclear facilities and doesn’t make that up with clean energy, a “tremendous” amount of emission reductions need to be made up elsewhere, she said.

McCarthy also weighed in on President Obama’s decision to deny a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline. She said she doesn’t know why the pipeline became such a political symbol, but the permit denial “certainly hasn’t damaged our relationship with Canada one bit.”

“It was the right decision at the right time,” she said.

When asked by Grumet about rulemaking challenges, she pointed to a recent proposal to regulate methane from the oil and gas sector, which received a flood of comments. Unlike power plants, oil and gas regulation involves thousands of small components in remote areas, making technology developments critical. “We need new tools,” McCarthy said.

“That’s where we have, I think, the most difficulty. How do you write a rule that recognizes where technology is today but allow technology improvements to be brought into the system?” she said.

EPA proposed rules last year on methane emissions from new oil and gas wells, but didn’t address existing wells (Greenwire, Jan. 26).

Other officials take stage

The annual ARPA-E summit over the past few years has served as a forum for public officials to share their policy views. Yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore said cap and trade was at a tipping point (Greenwire, March 1). Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz added that he remained optimistic about the administration’s request to increase clean energy research and development as part of a broader climate change plan.

After testifying separately yesterday before a House subcommittee, Moniz said, “Clearly, concerns were expressed by the chairman. … But the tone was pretty positive about the innovation agenda.” He also joked about writing a spy novel after leaving the Energy Department.

This morning, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) added to the flood of opinions on presidential election politics, saying “sure” when asked whether Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was his favorite Republican presidential candidate. He noted his work with Rubio on various innovation bills. Coons made a push for his bill (H.R. 1656) that would provide the first permanent tax advantage for renewables, along with a funding boost for carbon capture and efficiency. The measure almost made it into last year’s tax extenders package, he said. But “we might not get anything until next year,” considering the current political dynamic, he said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), the only congressional lawmaker with a doctorate in science, said he was concerned about the prospects that scientists may have to tap geoengineering techniques in the future to address climate change. It could happen if the choice was between saving the Greenland ice sheet and shooting sulfur particulates in the air, he said.

“It would be a tragedy if we had to go there,” he said.

And prospects for a carbon tax in Congress? “You would have to find a word other than ‘tax’ to describe it,” he said during a panel discussion with The Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Harder.