WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2016 – EPA will survive beyond the current political climate because environmental protection is supported by a majority of Americans, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said today in a speech at the National Press Club.
But underscoring the uncertain future her agency faces following the election of Donald Trump, McCarthy also said she had not been contacted by members of the presidential transition team to guide the change-over to a new administration.
Trump said on the campaign trail that he wanted to get rid of EPA, but that may be a bridge too far, even for the billionaire real estate mogul. Still, he may appoint someone such as Myron Ebell, the leader of his EPA transition team and a prominent climate skeptic, to head the agency.
McCarthy, however, said she is confident in the work EPA has done, and is “looking forward to a smooth transition.”
Asked whether the career staff at EPA is concerned about the agency’s future, she said most have been through transitions before and are “pretty confident that the mission of EPA is a good one, and it will be enduring.”
McCarthy defended the Clean Power Plan, a far-reaching regulatory scheme to reduce greenhouse gases nationwide. And she said those who claim EPA has been a driving force behind shifts in the energy market – such as the decreasing reliance on coal to generate electricity – give the agency too much credit.
“The Clean Power Plan was designed to follow the clean energy transition that was already underway, the one that the energy market depends on and the one that the energy market continues to demand,” she said.
“Just look at where the U.S. energy sector is now,” she said. “In 2014 alone, clean energy investment increased by 14 percent – that’s five times greater growth than the rest of the U.S. economy.”
And power plant emissions have been going down steadily. In 2015, U.S. power plants emitted 24 percent less carbon dioxide than they did 10 years earlier, she said.
Those emissions also were about the same as the CPP’s goal for 2022. “That’s a whole seven years ahead of schedule,” she said.
Twenty-four states had lower emissions in 2015 than their 2022 annual goal, the first year of compliance for the CPP, McCarthy said, naming as examples four states whose electoral votes are slated to be cast for Trump: Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
“The inevitability of our clean energy future is bigger than any one nation; we do not have to choose between the economy and the environment — we can and must choose both.”
The CPP, like most of EPA’s regulations, is the subject of court action: The full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the sprawling litigation in September.
Asked which regulatory actions she was most proud of, McCarthy listed two air actions and, perhaps surprisingly, the Clean Water Rule – also known as WOTUS, for “waters of the United States.” Farm groups have been among the many aggrieved parties suing to stop it from becoming law, claiming that it would transform puddles into jurisdictional waters that could not be filled without a permit.
“I’m really, really happy that we got the Clean Water Rule across the finish line, and I’m looking forward to EPA defending it in court,” she said. She said she had worked hard to respect the needs of farmers and provide them needed clarity on which waters should be considered jurisdictional under the Clean Water Act.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has stayed the rule while it considers challenges from both industry and environmental groups. Many observers expect the rule will be withdrawn once the Trump administration takes over.
Until EPA has new overseers, however, McCarthy said the agency would continue working to implement its agenda. The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing 30 regulations, including a final rule setting forth requirements for certification of pesticide applicators.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, emphasizing that the American system has “one president at a time.”
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