Former EPA Head: ‘Despair’Over GOP Inaction on Climate

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By Andrew Childers

Sept. 12 — Lack of Republican action or urgency on climate change provokes “despair,” a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush said Oct. 12 as he defended the agency’s carbon regulations.

Two weeks before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is to hear argument over the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, William K. Reilly, the former EPA administrator, predicted the rule will survive judicial scrutiny in some form, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases can be air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

“The Supreme Court is not likely to say zero, nothing, not after the [endangerment] finding the EPA has made in response to what the Supreme Court requested,” Reilly said Sept. 12 at a forum sponsored by the Brookings Institution

The Clean Power Plan (RIN:2060-AR33) sets a limit on carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in each state.

The rule, challenged by two dozen states as well as utilities and industry groups, is the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s domestic efforts to address climate change. The entire D.C. Circuit will hear more than three hours of oral argument on the rule Sept. 27 ( West Virginia v. EPA, D.C. Cir. en banc, No. 15-1363, 5/16/16 ).

Reilly said other nations, which joined the U.S. in agreeing to the first global deal to address climate change in Paris at the end of 2015, are also watching the course of the litigation. Reilly and former EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus, both of whom served Republican presidents, have supported the agency in the lawsuit. Ruckelshaus was the EPA’s first administrator and served in the Richard Nixon administration. He later served as EPA administrator under President Ronald Reagan.

“If the [Clean Power Plan] were to go away we’d not even be close to achieving the commitments that were made recently with so much hope and excitement in Paris,” Reilly said.

Reilly said he spoke with Chinese negotiators prior to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement and they were watching the Clean Power Plan litigation and wondering how it would affect the U.S. ability to meet its greenhouse gas reduction pledges.

“They’re laser focused,” Reilly said.

Other Approaches Favored

Whether or not the Clean Power Plan survives judicial review, Adele Morris, director of Brookings’ Climate and Energy Economics Project, questioned whether regulating greenhouse gas emissions sector-by-sector as the EPA is doing is the optimal approach.

“This is a very protracted process and this is one sector of stationary sources in the economy,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of other emissions that have to be regulated.”

Additionally, regulations—unlike something like a carbon tax or a legislative approach—cannot be used to address the needs of the poorest communities hit by climate change or by coal workers who may lose employment as cleaner energy sources expand, Morris said.

Though he predicted the Clean Power Plan will survive in some form, Reilly acknowledged arguments that the EPA has delved too deeply into the economy to dictate how electricity must be generated. However, “EPA has attempted to anticipate it by giving considerable authority and responsibility to the states,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers at AChilders@bna.com

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

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