Only a few days before U.S. EPA announced its sweeping regulation to reduce power plants’ carbon pollution known as the Clean Power Plan, Administrator Gina McCarthy was scheduled to be in her office on a Saturday.
McCarthy’s calendar, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, has her attending a meeting at noon that day titled "111D Prep." Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act is what the agency argues grants EPA the legal standing to limit carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.
After meeting with senior officials during that prep session, McCarthy would start a last round of calls to environmentalists, union leaders and governors before announcing Monday — June 2, 2014 — the government’s most ambitious plan yet to tackle climate change.
Hundreds of pages of records reviewed by Greenwire detail McCarthy’s itinerary day by day, minute by minute. The documents provide a window on EPA’s internal process on drafting the rule last year and could provide clues on who the agency is consulting now before it finalizes the proposal later this summer.
The EPA chief was scheduled for a "Green Group Call" at 1 p.m. May 31 last year, according to records. The leaders of the biggest environmental groups were expected to attend, such as Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund; Frances Beinecke, then the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Margie Alt with Environment America; Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters; and Michael Brune with the Sierra Club.
"There is really nothing untoward or unusual about an agency letting allies and affected parties know that an announcement is coming," said David Goldston, NRDC’s director of government affairs. "It’s a quite last-minute heads-up. Congress and the administration do this all the time."
Others agreed with Goldston’s assessment.
"This was just a courtesy call to Fred Krupp and other environmental CEOs to give them a heads-up that the announcement was coming soon," said Sharyn Stein, a spokeswoman for EDF.
"It’s standard operating procedure for the EPA to give a heads-up to stakeholders before a major rulemaking," Sierra Club spokesman Trey Pollard said. "I’m sure that others across the spectrum — from industry to public health advocates — also heard from the agency before the carbon pollution safeguards were proposed."
Environmental groups had been pushing the agency for some time to act on carbon emissions. Brune, Karpinski and Beinecke would all attend the high-profile announcement at EPA’s Washington headquarters the Monday after the call (Greenwire, June 2, 2014).
The groups allied with EPA on combating climate change, especially NRDC, have often had to contend with Republican lawmakers charging that they have outdue influence on the agency (E&ENews PM, Sept. 2, 2014).
EPA itself has pushed back against that allegation, saying the rule was developed after consulting with several groups (Greenwire, July 8, 2014).
In addition, EPA touted its own transparency when it released its own list of stakeholder meetings regarding the Clean Power Plan last year (Greenwire, Oct. 13, 2014).
"The Clean Power Plan was developed through an extensive public outreach process — one that engaged tens of thousands of people across the country. EPA consulted with states, power companies, local communities, environmental groups, associations, labor groups, tribes and many more," EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said. "This process was a critical component in developing the proposed rule because it helped focus our attention on what was going on, on the ground, in states and communities across the country."
Goldston said NRDC saw the rule as a chance to make inroads against climate change.
"We view the climate as a top priority and the Clean Power Plan as the best opportunity to do something significant about it," Goldston said. "That’s what you would expect from a group that was pushing for carbon limits on power plants."
‘Lines of communications’
Environmental advocates were not the only people whom McCarthy spoke to the weekend before announcing the rule. Several union leaders received calls from the EPA administrator that Sunday, including Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America.
"It was just a call to inform President Roberts that the CPP was going to be announced and that she wanted lines of communications to remain open," UMWA spokesman Phil Smith said of the call, which was scheduled for 15 minutes.
UMWA has been one of the proposal’s most vocal opponents. The union has organized massive protests against the rule, and Roberts himself has called the agency rulemaking process "stinkin’ rotten" (Greenwire, July 31, 2014).
McCarthy also touched base with others in the labor movement that Sunday afternoon, making calls to International Brotherhood of Boilermakers President Newton Jones, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, according to her schedule.
"EPA Administrator McCarthy called many union presidents and offered anyone interested and or affected by the proposed Clean Power Plan to meet with her," said Gary Hubbard, a USW spokesman.
According to her calendar, McCarthy’s outreach would continue that afternoon, doing a "Group Call with Governors" and then a "Call with the Senate and the House" alongside John Podesta, the former senior adviser to President Obama who now leads Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Podesta would be in close contact with the EPA chief throughout 2014, according to the administrator’s schedule. The top White House aide would meet often with McCarthy, including on a Memorial Day conference call last year.
Going into the evening before announcing the Clean Power Plan the next day, McCarthy was also scheduled to individually call several Democratic governors from conservative-leaning states. On that call list were Govs. Steve Bullock of Montana, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Steve Beshear of Kentucky and Mike Beebe of Arkansas.
"It is not uncommon for federal agencies to reach out to states regarding updates on policies and procedures," said Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for Beshear.
The importance of the Clean Power Plan to the Obama administration is evident from the EPA chief’s schedule. On the day of announcing the rule, McCarthy was slated for a "POTUS Stakeholder Phone Call, RE: 111D" from the White House’s Oval Office.
The EPA administrator would call other governors the week of the rule announcement, with McCarthy scheduled to touch base with Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia as well as Republicans like Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Bill Haslam of Tennessee.
In addition, McCarthy would go on a jam-packed media tour. She was scheduled for appearances on NBC and NPR, interviews with The New York Times and The Washington Post, even to participate in an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, the social networking site.
‘Off the record’
McCarthy was also talking to the CEOs of the country’s top energy companies throughout the year.
On May 23 last year, she spoke by phone with Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Exelon Corp. The chat centered on the forthcoming power plant rule.
"The subject of the May 23, 2014, call was the Clean Power Plan," said Paul Elsberg, an Exelon spokesman. "As one of the nation’s leading energy providers, Exelon communicates with government agencies, such as the EPA, to share its views on energy policies that have the potential to affect its customers and other stakeholders."
The company has said EPA has the authority to issue the rule in the past. Exelon officials have downplayed industry concerns about the Clean Power Plan while calling for the final rule to provide more credit for existing and future nuclear reactors (E&ENews PM, Dec. 11, 2014).
Crane makes other appearances in McCarthy’s schedule as do other senior executives from power companies who pop up every now and then for meetings and phone calls with the agency administrator.
In January 2014, the EPA chief was scheduled for a "private breakfast" with the Edison Electric Institute’s leadership, the utility industry’s trade group, before she was slated to speak to their board at the Arizona Biltmore hotel in Phoenix. Several officials from companies such as American Electric Power Company Inc., Dominion Resources Inc., Southern Co. and Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. were expected to be there.
"This will be an informal off the record breakfast where YOU will have the opportunity to have a discussion with 10-15 EEI Senior Leadership members," McCarthy’s schedule says.