McCarthy: Regulation alone won’t meet 2030 climate goals

Source: By Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, March 7, 2021

Climate adviser Gina McCarthy said yesterday that the White House is looking at new ways to meet its anticipated carbon goals for 2030, an indication that regulations alone won’t drive down emissions fast enough.

In virtual remarks to CERAWeek by IHS Markit, an energy industry conference, the former EPA administrator said that while climate rules on power plants and cars will play a role in phasing down emissions, “it’s really important for this not to just be looked at as a regulatory challenge.”

McCarthy is leading an interagency task force to develop a new commitment to the Paris Agreement by April 22, when President Biden will host world leaders at an Earth Day summit. He’s expected to reveal his administration’s 2030 carbon goals by then.

That pledge, known in U.N. parlance as a nationally determined contribution, will offer top-line commitments of greenhouse gas reductions by the end of the decade and outline how the U.S. economy can get there.

Global climate experts have been telegraphing for months that the U.S. should cut its emissions in half by 2030 compared with a 2005 baseline.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot of hints from our allies about what we need to do to get back in action,” McCarthy said.

Former President Obama’s 2015 pledge to the Paris Agreement referred to rules that would help achieve his promise of reducing emissions 26%-28% by 2025. The centerpiece was the Clean Power Plan for electric utilities, which McCarthy oversaw as EPA administrator.

Biden’s upcoming Paris pledge is also likely to mention regulation.

But McCarthy said yesterday that the committment would use additional powers including government investment in electric vehicles, battery technologies and improvements to the nation’s power grid. That hinges on Congress passing a massive economic stimulus package later this year.

“This is really in the end all about transitioning from a time of pandemic to transitioning to what does our future look like,” she said.

The federal government would use its purchasing power to invest in cleaner vehicles and other equipment, creating an opportunity for early movers, she said.

McCarthy also said that carbon removal — whether from capture and storage or natural sinks — would help the U.S. reach Biden’s climate objectives and might create a lifeline for fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained economy.

“I don’t think that we need to just rely on mitigation at every level … in our ability to have a resilient and vibrant energy sector,” she told the industry audience. “We’re not going to go down the road of getting to [net] zero if that means we’re impacting our safety, our health [or] the viability of our essential services. And there’s no need to do that.”

McCarthy didn’t take regulation off the table as a means of delivering greenhouse gas reductions. She defended Obama-era rules like the Clean Power Plan, which was stayed by the Supreme Court even before President Trump entered office. McCarthy noted that the power sector achieved the rule’s mandate of cutting emissions 32% by 2030 11 years early.

“So, we’ve lost time, which in the climate space is precious. But we haven’t lost reductions,” she said.

Kevin Kennedy, a senior fellow with the World Resources Institute, said Biden’s upcoming carbon pledge for 2030 should incorporate expected emissions reductions from a full complement of policies including regulation, legislation, procurement and carbon sinks.

“I don’t see it as an either-or,” he said. “It really is important to figure out how to be transforming the economy overall.”

That the Biden administration can rely on so many avenues to achieve reductions should strengthen its hand and lead to an ambitious pledge, he said.

A recent WRI report estimates that federal policies to restore tree cover through planting, forest management and introducing trees to new environments could sequester 540 million tons of CO2 a year by 2050.

The administration’s pledge will likely also touch on emissions cuts from climate-related legislation even though that will require congressional action.