McCarthy blasts Times for crediting NRDC with power plant rule

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, July 11, 2014

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in an email circulated yesterday derided a New York Times story published earlier in the week that seemed to give an environmental group credit for the groundwork that led to her agency’s proposal limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants (Greenwire, July 8).

McCarthy called the article published Monday “preposterous” in a memo to EPA staff, dismissing the Times‘ characterization that the Natural Resources Defense Council’s 2012 proposal “heavily influenced” her agency’s draft rule.

“That is just not how our process works,” she said in the email obtained by E&E Daily. “The work we do here is too important to the health and future of all Americans to be left to the influence of any single outside group.”

The email — titled “Thank you” — listed the work that preceded the June 2 release of the proposal, including empirical research, legal and policy design work, processing stakeholder comments and weighing how to provide utilities with “the flexibility they need to reduce carbon pollution in a practical and affordable way.”

“You gave up evenings, weekends and time with your families to make sure we got this right, and you have the empty takeout boxes and coffee cups to prove it,” she said.

The draft rule resembled the NRDC proposal — and some other models — in a few key ways. It took a “systemwide” approach rather than confining reductions to what could be achieved on-site at a single power plant. It also issued state-specific standards based on state-specific data and allowed for averaging.

But there were numerous and important departures, as well, including a much less stringent emissions reduction goal than envisioned by the green group — 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, instead of NRDC’s target of more than 40 percent by that year.

EPA also based its state carbon intensity targets on reductions it views to be achievable via four “building blocks” — on-site heat-rate improvements, greater natural gas utilization, zero-carbon electricity and demand-side efficiency. NRDC, by contrast, based its state targets only on a state’s current mix of coal- and gas-fired power plants.

The two formulas led to very different obligations; for example, Kentucky would have been assigned a carbon intensity rate of 1,500 under the NRDC method but faces a 1,763 target when EPA’s rule is fully implemented.

Since the proposal was released, senior agency staff have held briefings and calls with a variety of stakeholders to answer questions about the proposal. An EPA-provided list of stakeholder briefings includes utilities, utility and environmental regulators, states and others. NRDC was briefed together with four other environmental and public health nonprofits, the list states.