Republican former heads of EPA publicly support Obama’s action plan

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, August 5, 2013

As Capitol Hill Republicans prepare to make the case to their constituents over the August recess that President Obama’s Climate Action Plan will ruin the U.S. economy, four former U.S. EPA administrators from their party wrote in an editorial today that the plan would “ensure a strong economy along with a livable climate.”

Former Administrators William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman — who all served under Republican presidents — praised Obama in a New York Times op-ed piece for directing their former agency to regulate carbon dioxide from new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act.

“A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but that is unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington,” the four wrote.

Republicans in Congress have been engaged in a full-court press against the idea of a carbon tax, culminating this week with votes on several amendments on the House floor. The chamber is expected to pass an amendment today by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) opposing a levy on carbon (see related story).

“Dealing with this political reality, President Obama’s June climate action plan lays out achievable actions that would deliver real progress,” the former administrators said.

In addition to the power plant rules, they applauded the administration’s efforts to phase down the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol, which controls ozone-depleting substances.

The president brokered an agreement in June with Chinese President Xi Jinping that the two countries would collaborate on an amendment to the protocol dealing with the chemicals, which are used in refrigeration and air conditioning and can be hundreds or thousands of times more climate-forcing than CO2 in the short term.

The four former EPA heads said that — contrary to what many in their party believe — “there is no longer any credible scientific debate about the basic facts” of climate change.

But they said climate change could be addressed using the same basic strategy that allowed the United States to cope with ozone depletion, acid rain and other environmental threats.

These include “protecting the health of the American people, working with the best technology available and trusting in the innovation of American business and in the market to find the best solutions for the least cost,” they said.

“If we could articulate one framework for successful governance, perhaps it should be this: When confronted by a problem, deal with it,” they said.

The op-ed comes after new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said earlier this week in her first public appearance since being confirmed that addressing climate change need not compromise the U.S. economy (Greenwire, July 30).

“The truth is, we need to embrace cutting carbon pollution as a way to spark business innovation,” McCarthy said in an address hosted by Harvard’s Environmental Law Program. “We need to cut carbon pollution to grow jobs. We need to cut carbon pollution to strengthen the economy.”

While critics jeered in June when Obama announced EPA would regulate greenhouse gases from existing power plants, he said those rules would be crafted with stakeholder input. And this week, McCarthy began gathering that feedback, meeting yesterday with West Virginia lawmakers concerned about the way the rule could affect their state’s struggling coal industry (Greenwire, Aug. 1).

The West Virginia delegation at the meeting included Gov. Earl Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, all Democrats. Also present were White House climate adviser Heather Zichal and Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley.

“This was a good and productive meeting,” said EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson afterward. “It is always helpful to hear views of the West Virginia delegation as we work together to find the best solutions to protect public health and reduce carbon pollution while promoting job growth.”

Rahall said in a statement following the meeting that although he appreciated that McCarthy took the time to talk to his delegation, “the proof will be in the pudding” when it comes to how her agency treats coal in its regulations.

“I explained today that the regulatory barriers that EPA has erected with respect to permitting go well beyond coal mining and are now reaching across into highway construction,” said the congressman, who serves as senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“As long as the door remains open for productive conversation, as the Administrator has pledged, there may be an avenue to reach some balance,” he added

Manchin’s office did not return calls for comment on the meeting.