McCarthy to face GOP grilling as panel takes up agency rules

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2015

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will likely face a barrage of questions over her agency’s regulatory activities at a hearing this week in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

According to committee spokesman Zachary Kurz, the hearing Thursday is a chance for House Science panel members to grill the EPA administrator over a broad array of topics. The hearing is meant as a follow-up to a string of EPA oversight activities undertaken by the Science panel over the last year, he said.

Questions will likely cover EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the agency’s final rule to change the scope of water bodies in the United States that receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act and EPA’s review of the national ozone standard. McCarthy will be the sole witness.

The hearing comes shortly after the House passed legislation to let states opt out of the Clean Power Plan and to halt the final Waters of the U.S. rule. The full House this week is scheduled to debate a fiscal 2016 funding plan for the Interior Department and EPA that would block the Clean Power Plan and WOTUS, as well as restrict EPA from lowering the ozone standard until 85 percent of counties achieve the 2008 limit (see related story).

House Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has been highly critical of all three EPA rules, arguing that the agency should better account for potential costs when issuing environmental regulations.

Smith has also recently threatened to subpoena EPA over agency documents dealing with its regulatory work (E&ENews PM, June 15).

At a hearing last month, Smith and other GOP members of the Science panel argued that the three regulations would come with big costs and few environmental benefits. A panel of industry and business witnesses likewise raised concerns that the rules would prove to be difficult to achieve.

EPA is expected to finalize the Clean Power Plan this summer, along with rules for new and modified power plants. EPA is also working under an Oct. 1 court-ordered deadline to finalize its proposal to lower the ozone limit from 75 parts per billion — set in 2008 during the George W. Bush administration — to between 65 and 70 ppb.

The agency finalized its contentious waters proposal in late May, billing it as a way of providing certainty after two Supreme Court decisions left in doubt which streams and wetlands warrant Clean Water Act protections.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) yesterday sent a letter to the head of EPA’s water office and one to the Army Corps of Engineers’ top official requesting detailed information about the agencies’ justifications for aspects of the final rule. Such queries often hint at lawmakers’ concerns or future lines of attack.

Among Inhofe’s questions: Could the ingestion of plant seeds by a bird in a water body, and then the excretion of those seeds in another water body, be used to justify federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act? How about a seed getting stuck to an animal’s fur and carried from one water to another?

“To support the extreme expansion of federal jurisdiction claimed by the final rule, EPA and the Corps of Engineers refer to ‘scientific studies’ and ‘experience and expertise.’ However, after reviewing the docket for the rule, my staff cannot find evidence of impacts to navigable waters from the ephemeral and isolated waters that EPA and the Corps now claim to control,” Inhofe said in a statement. “Instead, we found documents that make it clear that the final rule is even broader than the agencies admit.”

Science ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) defended EPA’s actions at a June hearing.

“Stricter pollution limits have historically led to innovation and the creation of new technologies that have wound up creating jobs while protecting our environment,” Johnson said. “I am confident American industry will continue that record of innovation and job creation as new environmental standards are adopted.”