NASHVILLE, Tenn. — U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy yesterday argued her agency is supporting, not quashing, economic growth with sweeping environmental rules like the Clean Power Plan.
"I can’t find one single bit of evidence that we have destroyed an industry or significantly impacted jobs other than in a positive way," McCarthy said yesterday at a meeting of the Environmental Council of the States, an association of state environmental agency leaders.
McCarthy reiterated a long-held EPA stance that incentives for renewable energy in its climate rule for power plants, the Clean Power Plan, underpin growth in the industry that existed before the rule was finalized. The rule was blocked in February when the Supreme Court issued a stay of the regulation.
"You have to ask yourself a question like we did when we were looking at the Clean Power Plan: How do you recognize where the market is heading, and if it is heading in the direction in which we are going to be better protecting health and it meets our mission, how do we continue to underpin that and advance it moving forward?" McCarthy said. "That is the key, not to fight against the direction it’s heading if it’s heading in the direction you want it to go."
But McCarthy also urged state environmental agencies to address concerns about the economic consequences of regulations.
"You can’t expect people to come with just their environmental hats on and say, ‘Yeah, we all want clean air,’ but on the other side say, ‘But don’t worry about losing those jobs,’" McCarthy said. "It just doesn’t work like that — we serve people, not individual parts of their needs.
"The real challenge is to speak to people about what the impacts are. Talk honestly about where the shifts in jobs might occur and talk about how you deal with those," McCarthy continued. "But be sensitive to it. Even in the rulemaking, you need to really make the case that you are paying attention to more than your little corner of the world, you are serving the people in their entirety."
Environmental regulators from coal states discussed having to walk a fine line with federal climate regulations.
Wyo. won’t ‘bury our heads in the sand’
Asked about how his agency is approaching the Clean Power Plan following the Supreme Court stay, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director Todd Parfitt brought up the series of bankruptcies and layoffs the state’s coal mining industry faced in recent weeks (see related story).
"Right now, we are seeing our coal communities struggling economically," Parfitt said, adding that the layoffs plus budget constraints in Wyoming have led to "very difficult discussions" in his state.
"It’s not projected to get any better over the next two years, and I am sure we are going to have more difficult discussions about what’s really important to move forward with in our agencies, because we can’t do it all with the current funding regime that we have," Parfitt said.
"Even the groups that may support more aggressive action on CO2 recognize that we are in a difficult time economically in this part of the country," he added.
Wyoming’s Legislature recently passed a budget restricting the state environment agency’s spending on Clean Power Plan preparation (ClimateWire, March 7).
But the language in the budget does not bar "the expenditure of funds by the department to attend meetings and otherwise be informed as to any potential need to develop and submit a state plan."
Parfitt said while his state has mostly stepped back from working on Clean Power Plan compliance following the stay, this language in the budget "was very key to us."
"What we conveyed throughout was that we have to be able to stay engaged with discussions with EPA, discussions with the utilities and other states and stakeholders so that we know what’s happening," said Parfitt. "It would be a mistake to bury our heads in the sand and think that this whole thing is going to go away just because the stay was issued."
Several other state environment agencies are negotiating political pressure to halt work on the climate rule following the stay. Republican members of Colorado’s Legislature are attempting to bar some funding from the state’s air pollution programs over concerns about its work on the Clean Power Plan (ClimateWire, March 28).
In an interview, Martha Rudolph, the director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said she opposed the funding block because the agency staff that was working on the Clean Power Plan is also devoted to work on other federal air regulations on pollutants like ozone and sulfur dioxide.
"They are pretty tapped out with so much work," she said.
Rudolph said her state must address tensions between a desire to address climate change and its communities that are economically dependent on coal.
"We have coal, too, and so it’s very important to us that we look at those communities that rely on coal, both the mines and the coal-fired power plants," Rudolph said. "I know the governor is looking very hard at what we can do to address those changes in a positive way."