McCarthy shrugs off significance of climate rule freeze

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 25, 2016

U.S. EPA boss Gina McCarthy today bristled at the suggestion that her agency had “lost” when the Supreme Court unexpectedly intervened to halt a major climate change regulation.

“We didn’t lose anything yet,” McCarthy shot back today in response to a suggestion that her agency had lost a preliminary court battle over the Clean Power Plan, a rule to limit power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. “That was not a merit issue. That was a discussion that basically said — and the Supreme Court speaks for itself — it said very little here,” she said at an event at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court in February agreed to freeze the regulation after critics argued that the high court should step in to block the rule while a contentious lawsuit challenging the plan plays out in a federal appeals court. The justices’ 5-4 opinion to halt the rule didn’t delve into the merits of the argument, but EPA’s critics saw the opinion as a promising sign.

McCarthy, however, interpreted the court as saying that “this is a big deal, and we want a piece of it. They would have gotten a piece of it anyway,” she said.

Asked how big of a setback it was, she said, “Well, it adds some months to the court drama, but … everything EPA does is litigated, and much of what we litigate goes to the Supreme Court.”

The EPA chief added that she is “enormously confident that we will meet the merits test up the chain and that this will hold.”

And meanwhile, “while it’s a slight delay in getting things to happen, we have states that are continuing to do this work,” McCarthy said. “We have an energy system that is transforming as we speak. It was always intended to be a long-term investment signal, recognizing that the transition is happening and we want money to continue to be invested in those new solutions. We are not going to lose a ton of reductions while we are losing some time before the court.”

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for June 2 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court’s decision is widely expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court and ultimately decided by the justices. The outcome may depend on which president fills the vacancy created by the late Justice Antonin Scalia; he was among the five justices who agreed to put the regulation on ice.

EPA recruits

McCarthy also had some advice for job applicants to EPA: Do some work at the local level.

“It’s you I need,” she told the auditorium of students today, noting that EPA is “always” hiring.

She said she likes to see job applicants “that have had some real-world experience and can see the power of working at the local level.” That work “makes it so much harder to put black hats and white hats when you see faces of everybody struggling and want to do the right thing,” she added.

“I need those people with those experiences at the federal level, so that they’re not sitting in Washington thinking they know it all or that a large policy is mine, I own it, it’s the best thing ever, don’t need to talk to anybody about it because I’m really smart. That is the attitude that will not get you anywhere fast, so get some real-world experience.” She urged the students to “be unafraid for people to have different opinions; you’re supposed to have different opinions.”

Problems beyond lead

In the wake of the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich., McCarthy also called for broad investments in cities’ infrastructure.

Flint’s “only problem isn’t lead in their drinking water; it is the fact that they have a drinking water system that only needs to serve half of the population it did in the ’70s because it has been deteriorating since the ’70s in terms of its economic engine to keep that city vital,” she said.

The broader challenge is “about the economic vitality of our cities.”

She pushed back against the notion that environmental investments hinder economic growth, calling it “nonsense.” Those who believe that should “move to Beijing, move to New Delhi,” she said.

“The environment does not hold back cities; it opens up opportunities, and you have to look at it as an integrated thought process, that’s what sustainability is.”