EPA chief ‘wouldn’t argue’ with Laurence Tribe

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2015

U.S. EPA chief Gina McCarthy doesn’t want to duke it out with Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe about her agency’s new climate rule, but she does think he’s wrong.

Asked how she’d respond to Tribe’s criticism that EPA’s climate rule represents a “breathtaking example” of regulatory “overreach,” McCarthy told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose earlier this week, “I’m not a lawyer. And certainly even if I were, I wouldn’t argue with the man.”

However, she said, “We have operated under cooperative federalism for the entire time of EPA. This is a total partnership between states and EPA. We’re setting a standard, which is what everybody in the world has been telling EPA to do.”

Tribe, a former mentor to President Obama, has blasted EPA’s efforts to crack down on power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions — particularly the agency’s requirements for states to meet specific emissions limits. Such a mandate, he said, exceeds EPA authority and “violates principles of federalism that are basic to our constitutional order” (Greenwire, Jan. 5).

Tribe commented on EPA’s draft power plant rule on behalf of himself and Peabody Energy Corp., one of the world’s largest coal producers. The agency rolled out its final rule this week.

McCarthy also said during the interview that coal communities’ fears shouldn’t be the driving force behind setting environmental policies.

“I do feel for the coal industry in terms of the jobs that it has and the people that rely on those jobs and the communities there,” she said. “But the truth of the matter is, since the ’80s, a lot of those industries have been losing jobs significantly. We are not in the ’80s anymore.”

She stressed the importance of working with coal-reliant communities to figure out how they can transition. “That’s why the president put together a proposal called the Power Plus proposal to really start investing in those communities rather than letting the fear of those communities drive an entire energy and environmental world.”

The EPA boss said the power sector is transforming even without pressure from new EPA regulations.

“The power sector, the electricity industry is transforming already,” McCarthy said. “We’re not making it look at renewables today, it is happening because the market is demanding it; people want them. There is a transition from really heavy-carbon-polluting fossil to natural gas, which is much cleaner. And now we’re seeing the growth in renewables that, between last year when we proposed this rule and yesterday when we finalized it, it is beginning to take off.”

The unveiling of the climate rule this week marked a major victory for McCarthy, who has been working to craft new climate rules since starting as EPA’s air chief at the beginning of the Obama administration.

She told Rose that climate issues were central to her discussion with Obama when he asked her to take the helm of the agency.

“The day that he asked if I would become the next administrator at EPA, I asked him, would he do something on climate, because that was the big unfinished business at this point,” McCarthy said. “He talks about it as a moral responsibility, and he means that. He is constantly looking at the science and worried about where the world is heading.”