McCarthy set to make first Hill appearance on power plant rule — but will she change any minds?

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 21, 2014

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will face a Senate committee Wednesday whose members have largely already made up their minds about whether or not to support her agency’s proposal to curb existing power plant greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing is McCarthy’s first trip to Capitol Hill to discuss the June 2 proposal but seems unlikely to be her last as Republicans on both sides of the Capitol search for legislative ways to scuttle the draft. EPA air chief Janet McCabe already appeared before a House Energy and Commerce Committee subpanel last month to defend the rule, and GOP members of the Senate committee have asked Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to invite McCabe and top officials from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and other agencies to subsequent hearings.

Republicans say the rule would be economically disastrous, especially for states that are heavily reliant on coal-fired power.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said last week that he has prepared a litany of questions for McCarthy about the draft rule.

His list, he said, includes: “How many people are going to be put out of business? How many jobs are going to be lost? What’s the cost going to be? And how do you maintain the energy necessary to run the country if you continue to put coal out of business?”

But Boxer said the hearing would seek to tell the “truth” about the economic opportunities offered by the proposal. “We will bring up all the jobs that will be gained as a result of these regulations, and the lives that will be saved, and the saving of the planet,” she said. “So we’ll discuss all that and get the truth out, that’s the goal of the hearing.”

Said another committee member, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.): “In this economy, the last thing you should be doing is putting regulations in that force people to lose their jobs and force others to pay much higher costs for energy.”

“The general reaction has been positive,” countered Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), adding that Maryland was pleased it would be able to comply with the rule through its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Republicans and a handful of coal-state Democrats in both chambers have advanced legislation that would roll back or limit EPA’s carbon regulatory authorities. The House passed a measure, H.R. 3826, in March that would scrap a proposal for new power plants and make the existing source rule contingent on congressional approval. But a companion bill faces long odds in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has pulled appropriations bills from the floor in order to avoid battles over Republican policy riders.

Some state legislatures have also mulled legislation aimed at limiting state implementation plans for the rule, though environmentalists warn that might invite federal intervention down the line.

But Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, said at a Washington, D.C., forum last week that even states that are already suing EPA over the existing power plant rule are simultaneously laying the groundwork for eventual compliance with the standard.

“I think in some states we’re observing that there’s a two-track conversation,” he said on a panel hosted by the Environmental Law Institute. Nine states are already involved in a lawsuit challenging EPA’s authority to promulgate the rule. But their environmental agencies are still engaged in preparing comments for EPA on the proposal and consulting stakeholders to understand how the standard would affect them, he said.

Bill Becker, president of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said at the same event that his members have been involved in discussions throughout the country aimed at assessing how the rule would work.

NACAA is aware that some states are working to challenge the draft, he said, “but I think we’re more mindful of the fact that I think every state without exception is having tons of stakeholder meetings and are trying responsibly to see how this would work.”

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, July 23, at 9:30 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.

Witness: U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.