EPA head says her agency isn't sweating SCOTUS Clean Power Plan rulings

Policy & Regulations

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said on March 2 that while she was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s recent decision to stay the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and that EPA will respect that, "in no way does that change the direction of energy in this country."

She continued: "In no way does that signal that the Clean Power Plan is not legally defensible and will not in the end win because nobody ever said that the Clean Power Plan was driving the energy change. We were always saying that the Clean Power Plan is a reflection of what is already happening in the marketplace and the best tool that we know to address climate change and action effectively, in a way that would follow that change and make sure that people understood that that change was not only good for energy, but incredibly good for public health, for energy security, for national security and for the people and the families that we love and the future of our children."

Speaking at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Energy Innovation Summit held in Maryland, McCarthy said that the Clean Power Plan will continue, survive, and "it will be litigated on its merits – as we know everything EPA does is – so if this is the first time you’ve been involved in looking at EPA in terms of the courts, don’t sweat it. We do really well and we’re going to do great here."

The reason why EPA will succeed with the plan, she said, is because the plan is flexible and relies on innovation as well as "on the ability for states to take advantage of new technologies, to make adjustments in their plan, to adapt that plan to whatever is best for the economy and job growth and those greenhouse gas reductions that we are looking for in this rule."

McCarthy also noted that in many respects, 2015 was a remarkable year with major milestones on climate action and major transition in the U.S. energy sector. That progress will continue, she said, adding that over the last few years, renewable energy costs have plummeted and clean energy technologies accounted for well over half of the installed power sector capacity last year.

Furthermore, with long-term extensions to the renewable energy tax credits at the end of 2015, Congress assured that renewable energy resources will continue to dominate in the marketplace, she said, adding, "[C]urrent estimates suggest well over 100 GW of wind and solar are going to be installed over the next five years, which will roughly double our installed base of these technologies and reduce our power sector emission by 10 percent."

To those who are in the business of developing new technologies, she said: "EPA is behind you. We are looking closely at the technology developments that are happening, and we are making sure that we take advantage of those and looking for cost-effective opportunities to reduce pollution and protect public health."

The U.S. solar industry is creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy, she said.

"I don’t have to argue with any single governor that jobs are where their head is at and what they want to see," McCarthy said. "Today, every major U.S. automaker is offering electric vehicles, not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because they will make money on it. People are now looking at those technologies differently – it’s what they want to buy."

Since 2009, the American auto industry has added 250,000 jobs "because they’re selling cars people want to buy," she said.

People like cars that are cleaner and go further on a gallon of gas, and they are buying them "because they want to do what’s best for the planet and their families in the future," McCarthy said.

During the "fireside chat" portion of her presentation, McCarthy noted that the momentum surrounding the issue of climate change is not just coming from the states anymore, and while the national government is engaged, it is also coming from the business sector, as well as from consumers themselves.

The reason why EPA designed the Clean Power Plan to be flexible, she said, "is that the world is changing – it’s all heading in the direction that we need and so why wouldn’t we allow everybody to develop technologies that get better and better – more energy efficiency, more renewable energy and allow states to take advantage of that."

While some were confused given the flexibility, McCarthy said that over time, "it opened up a lot of dialogue that we had not really been able to kind of engage before. It was a very good idea to leave it that flexible because states started working together."

Through the dialogue, the states have learned from each other and EPA has learned from the states, resulting in the final version of the Clean Power Plan being more legally solid as well as a much better proposal than the draft version, she said.

Among other things, she addressed a question on integrating renewable energy to the grid and intermittency issues, saying in part, "I am not seeing, at least from my vantage point, that companies are worried about this as much as they’re excited about it."

She also noted the growing interest in storage capacity and said that renewable resources are competing more now than ever before.

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