Trump White House Reverses Obama-Era Curbs On Coal Plants

Oct 10, 2017
Originally published on October 10, 2017 8:15 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, will move to officially repeal the Clean Power Plan. This was a rule President Obama had put in place to try to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt had promised to eliminate the regulation for months. He says the EPA overstepped by setting standards that power plants could not reasonably meet.

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SCOTT PRUITT: The past administration was unapologetic. They were using every bit of power, every bit of authority to use the EPA to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity in this country. And that's wrong.

MARTIN: Let's bring in a member of that administration. Gina McCarthy was EPA administrator under President Obama. She joins us on the line from Massachusetts. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GINA MCCARTHY: It's great to be here, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Let's start with the Trump administration's argument here. President Obama put the Clean Power Plan into place after he couldn't get cap and trade through Congress. So he and his advisers did the Clean Power Plan by executive action instead of legislation. Was this a case of executive overreach?

MCCARTHY: No, I think people really get confused by the words executive action. Really, the EPA is not just taking steps under the prior administration to regulate carbon pollution. But we were doing it because the law tells us to. And the law - and the science tells us to. And the challenge that we face here is that we have an administration that wants to deny the science. And now they're outright denying their legal obligation to protect our kids' health and their future.

And so that's what we're seeing here today, not overreach in the prior administration because the courts were very clear that carbon pollution is a challenge. And if we find that it threatens people, then we have to regulate it. And the science has been very clear.

MARTIN: Although we should say, the Supreme Court...

MCCARTHY: And the Supreme Court looked at this...

MARTIN: But you mentioned the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court actually stayed the Clean Power Plan. It was never fully implemented. They had questions with it.

MCCARTHY: Well, they wanted to make sure that the D.C. Circuit and others had time to look at this. But they're going back, you know, decades here now to try to deny the fact that they have all the information available to them that says that we not only have an obligation to regulate climate change but we also have a law that requires it. They are trying to read the Clean Air Act in a way which it fits in to their idea of what they've promised in the campaign, instead of looking at their legal obligation, their moral obligation and looking at saving lives and protecting our kids' future.

So they're just...

MARTIN: The Clean Air Act, which was passed decades ago - but that was under what - the Clean Power Plan was passed under the auspices of the Clean Air Act.

MCCARTHY: And really, the Supreme Court thought that the agency would move forward in that the D.C. Circuit would move forward to look at the very issues that Scott Pruitt, as the administrator of the EPA, now continues to raise up. And so the Supreme Court was looking for an expedited way to get this done. And what this action that Scott Pruitt took was not a re-proposal to say how it should get done legally. It was actually simply a deferral of the entire obligation that the agency has...

MARTIN: Let me...

MCCARTHY: ...To actually protect public health. It's just a repeal and then maybe we'll ask more questions later.

MARTIN: Let me ask...

MCCARTHY: It is - go ahead.

MARTIN: Let me ask you this. I'm sorry to interrupt. But to get a sense of what difference this will make, I mean, many states were already moving away from coal power in favor of natural gas and renewable energy. The market was essentially working in that direction anyway. So does repealing, rolling back the Clean Power Plan, will it actually make much of a difference?

MCCARTHY: Well, the challenge is that it makes a difference because it doesn't really set the appropriate investment signal between now and 2030 that we actually need to continue this momentum moving forward. It really is Scott Pruitt basically saying that the Clean Air Act doesn't allow him to look at how the energy system is working today. Let's not count the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency in the public health, the lives that are saved.

If you take a look at how viable and why they're the best solution today. And let's now force utilities to go back and start investing in coal facilities that are outdated, that cannot control their pollution effectively. And let's just charge consumers for all those updates and keep coal running longer because they've decided politically that it fits their rhetoric instead of looking at the reality of today. So, no, we won't have huge rollbacks because the energy train, the clean energy train really left the station.

But the challenge we face, Rachel, is the uncertainty it brings to the industry. You know, they need signals moving forward. We gave them a signal about how to meet our energy needs in a way that was reasonable, cost effective, gave states lots of opportunities. And instead...

MARTIN: So they were working to meet those goals. And now the goal posts are changing, and that creates havoc in the market.

MCCARTHY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Let me...

MCCARTHY: Just simply said, they're not in the game anymore, never mind moving the goal posts.

MARTIN: The - when we - we spoke with you in August, NPR did. And we asked if you'd felt like years of your work, your own work, had been undone in months. And at the time, you said, no. But given this latest development, have your thoughts changed?

MCCARTHY: No, they have not because this is a proposal to do one and only one thing. And that is to repeal a rule on the books that makes sense, that the court told us we really were obligated to do based on the science and the law. And I think you will find that this proposal will fail miserably. You know, people will speak up. You know, they have to get active and they have to comment on it. But we have covered these discussions in many different ways.

We did our job. We followed the law that we're supposed to. We're protecting people, and we're taking - we took sound action on existential challenge. And I think you'll find that this will fail miserably in the court of public opinion. And it's going to fall flat on its face in the courts itself.

MARTIN: Gina McCarthy, she headed up the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama. Thanks for your time this morning.

MCCARTHY: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.