EPA Head Unbowed on Plans to Finalize Power Plant Carbon Rules This Summer

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By Dean Scott

March 11 —The head of the Environmental Protection Agency said March 11 she remains unbowed in the face of attacks on the EPA’s power plant carbon pollution limits—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent call for states to ignore them.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy vowed the power plant limits—which call for cutting carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels—will be finalized this summer.

McCarthy also downplayed complaints from some states and industry groups, as well as some lawmakers including the Kentucky Republican, who wrote a March 3 op-ed urging states to “think twice” before sending the EPA their plans for complying with the carbon limits.

“I am happy to leave it to the states, including the state of Kentucky, to speak to the folks on the Hill who think that the best thing is for states to put their heads in the sand—and pretend like EPA isn’t going to regulate,” McCarthy said. “EPA is going to regulate—mid-summer is when the Clean Power Plan is going to be finalized.”

McCarthy said that in general, states and the federal regulatory agency have had an “incredibly robust” back-and-forth over the requirements, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, which the EPA proposed in June as the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s domestic climate policies (RIN 2060-AR33).

Significant Dissension Among States?

McCarthy suggested tensions between the agency and states has been overstated, and she touted what she said has been an “unbelievable job” by the EPA to provide states flexibility in meeting the carbon reductions.

McCarthy said she sees no evidence states are “pulling away from the engagement, and it is incredibly robust.”

Some legal scholars and opponents of the EPA regulations have argued that states opposed to the agency’s approach should refuse to comply with the rule once it is finalized, a tactic they have dubbed “just say no.”

Some states—Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas—have expressed concerns about complying with the mandated carbon reductions the EPA has set for them.

Other states—such as Colorado, Minnesota, New York and Washington—are generally supportive of the standard but have quibbled with specific provisions, such as the EPA’s use of 2012 as the baseline year in its proposal. That would mean states wouldn't get credit for emissions reductions made before then.

States Shouldn't Be Deterred by Opponents 

But McCarthy said all states should bank on the fact that the EPA will proceed with the carbon pollution limits and not be deterred by opponents.

“If folks are thinking any of those pieces aren’t going to happen and this isn’t going to hold up and [that] this isn’t going to be implemented, I think they need to look at the history of the Clean Air Act a little more carefully,” the EPA administrator said. “That’s not how we do business.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com