WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2016 – EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy continued her farewell tour today, telling an audience in Washington, D.C., that she’s confident her successor will understand the importance of the agency’s mission to protect the nation’s air, water and land.
“We have a great mission that I know will sustain, because people kind of like clean air and water and healthy land. I think people still pretty much care about those things,” she told a group of journalists and other interested parties at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor at the St. Regis Hotel.
Asked by Agri-Pulse whether she would have done anything differently in rolling out the Clean Water Rule, aka WOTUS (“waters of the U.S.”), McCarthy reiterated the message she has conveyed at previous forums and before Congress.
“I think the agency did a great job with the Clean Water Rule in terms of doing outreach,” she said. “I know I went to every agriculture forum I could.”
The agricultural community has been nearly unanimous in criticizing the rule, which has been stayed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Thirty-one states and dozens of industry and municipal groups, including agricultural trade associations, challenged the rule, claiming it stretched the limits of the Clean Water Act well beyond its legal authority.
McCarthy, however, said the agency tried to be as respectful as it could be towards the needs of the farm community, especially by not “adding to the permitting burden” faced by farmers.
McCarthy said 117 million people in the U.S. rely for their drinking water “on rivers and streams that are essentially unprotected today” and that “half of rivers and streams don’t have living ecosystems – that’s not a statistic I cite with pride.”
Rather than build expensive water treatment systems, “It’s a lot easier to work with agriculture and with the stormwater challenges in urban areas,” McCarthy said.
“I expect we will have our full day in court; I expect the next administration will understand the challenges that we faced and hopefully work with us to make the case to agriculture and others,” McCarthy said. “If we can do that, I think we will get this over the finish line.”
The administrator touted the new Renewable Fuel Standard requirements, released Nov. 23. The final biofuel usage mandate includes 15 billion gallons of conventional corn ethanol, the same level as the annual target in the 2007 energy law.
The message gleaned from that rule “should be (that) we’re doing the best we can to move our fuels towards a cleaner and cleaner system but there needs to be consistent investment in advanced (biofuels) in order to be effective.”
Advanced biofuels include biodiesel, cellulosic biofuels and other biofuels that have 50-percent lower carbon emissions than conventional fuels, including sugarcane ethanol produced in Brazil.
As she did at her speech at the National Press Club a couple of weeks ago, McCarthy defended the agency’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, most significantly through the Clean Power Plan, and said the changes in the energy sector – such as the continued move away from coal as a source of electricity – are a result of market forces. The CPP, which also is being challenged in court, includes goals for states to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil-fueled power plants.
McCarthy said she is dedicated to a smooth transition to the new administration, but that except for “one individual who came a couple days before Thanksgiving,” no one from the transition team for President-Elect Donald Trump has contacted the agency.
Asked whether she could name a Republican who could be her successor, McCarthy said, “Oh, good Lord, I’m not going to answer that question.” As far as a message for the incoming administrator, she added, “The only thing I would impress upon anybody is to make sure people understand the mission of the agency, and follow science and the law in implementation of it.”
A number of names have been floated as possible EPA heads in the new administration, including Kathleen Hartnett White, former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general; Jeff Holmstead, who headed EPA’s air programs under President George W. Bush and is now a lobbyist for Bracewell; and Myron Ebell, who heads up energy and environment programs for the Competitive Enterprise Institute and is leading the administration’s transition efforts for EPA.
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