McCarthy on rule freeze: ‘It is not going to slow us down’

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, February 12, 2016

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy expressed disappointment yesterday about the Supreme Court’s decision to freeze the Clean Power Plan but vowed before a gathering of state regulators that her agency would forge ahead with actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is not going to slow us down,” McCarthy said at a Washington, D.C., workshop on the plan. “Are we going to respect the decision of the Supreme Court? You bet. Of course we are. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing that we’re working on.”

She added, “We ain’t done.”

The regulators gave McCarthy a standing ovation.

In a 5-4 decision backed by its conservative wing, the Supreme Court on Tuesday froze the Clean Power Plan while complicated litigation over the program plays out. The decision threw into disarray state planning efforts to comply with the program, which calls for a reduction in carbon emissions from the power sector.

Obama administration officials throughout the week have sought to reassure international partners that the Supreme Court’s move would not affect the ability of the United States to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

This is the first time the EPA chief has publicly addressed the stay.

“Am I disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan?” she said. “My answer would be absolutely yes. Why not? I really wanted to be the one to sign that first plan approval.”

But the administrator maintained she was confident in the legal underpinnings of the rule and predicted that the rule would survive court challenges that are expected to make it to the Supreme Court.

“One decision to stay doesn’t mean that the CPP isn’t alive and isn’t going to survive,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that the U.S. transition to a low-carbon future would continue even while the program is stayed. She said that the recent action by Congress to extend wind and solar energy tax credits would ensure that power sector would continue moving toward renewable energy.

“Congress pretty much ensured that renewables will continue to dominate in the marketplace,” McCarthy said. “Nothing has changed.”

McCarthy argued the Clean Power Plan was always meant to reflect where the market was already going — toward renewables and increased efficiency.

A handful of Democratic-led states have said they would forge ahead with their planning efforts, but many states are putting the brakes on planning efforts in the wake of the ruling. Others are still reassessing whether they should continue to move forward (ClimateWire, Feb. 11).

While saying the agency would respect the Supreme Court’s decision, McCarthy applauded those states that are moving forward and invited others to do the same.

“The stay does not overturn years of effort and collaboration on the Clean Power Plan,” she said of state planning efforts. “That happened. It brought us all together. We now understand our universes incredibly well, and we have developed a partnership that will continue.”

John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s director of federal and international climate campaigns, today urged states to continue their planning processes to comply with the Clean Power Plan, regardless of the rule’s ultimate legal fate.

“We believe it’s always better for states to push forward with an orderly process, to engage stakeholders and to come up with durable plans that work for their state,” Coequyt said.

For the states that are putting the brakes on planning, he said, “the transition away from coal to clean energy is going to happen anyway.”

Environmental organizations today also continued to downplay the importance of the Clean Power Plan to the shift in the electricity sector away from coal.

“There’s a symbolic value to the Clean Power Plan, and there’s a symbolic problem with it. There’s a problem that when the Supreme Court stays it, there’s no doubt that that’s an issue,” said Joanne Spalding, the Sierra Club’s chief climate counsel. “But in terms of actually achieving the goals in the electric sector, we are on a trajectory already to do that.”

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, today said that other countries are looking to the administration to divulge more on what the stay means for the United States’ 2020 and 2025 carbon reduction goals.

“There’s a lot of interest in hearing more directly from the administration on the outlook for the Clean Power Plan,” Meyer said, “on overall progress toward the 2020 commitment and prospects for the 2025 goal, as well as on plans for the U.S. to sign and give executive approval for the agreement.”