White House's Zichal discusses EPA efforts on greenhouse gas regulations

How will last week's announcement of U.S. EPA's proposed rule for new power plants influence next year's anticipated rule for existing sources? During today's E&ETV Event Coverage of a Bipartisan Policy Center Energy Project event, Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, gives context to last week's move by EPA and discusses the future of air regulations coming out of the agency.


Heather Zichal: Thank you, Jason, for that introduction, and thank you for having me here this afternoon. I also want to make sure to thank both BPC and NARUC for hosting this series of workshops focused on GHG regulation of existing power plants, an initiative that is front and center in the president's comprehensive Climate Action Plan.

As I understand it, the goal of today's discussion is to provide an overview of the context, precedent and contours of the future GHG regulations. To that end, I thought it might be first instructive to back up and give a 30,000-foot view of the administration's action on climate change and where that brings us today.

To set the stage, less than two months ago President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University that laid out both the case for action on climate change and the steps we will take to address it. The president made it clear that the carbon pollution that causes climate change is a significant threat to public health and our environment.

When it comes to extreme weather, last year was the warmest year ever in the continuous United States. The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years, and last year we saw 11 different climate and weather disasters with more than $1 billion in damages. All in all, we spent $110 billion on damages, which is the second costliest year on record.

On top of that, this week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its fifth report on the science of climate change. The central conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone in the room. Humans are altering the climate, and we're feeling and suffering from those changes now. Now more than ever, the evidence is clear. The debate on science is over.

The proof on climate change is right in front of us, and the president has repeatedly called on Congress to take action. But to date that hasn't happened. So while Congress stalled, the rest of the country saw the writing on the wall and took initiative. We saw it in 1,000 mayors signing agreements to cut carbon pollution, city councils encouraging energy efficiency in our homes and factories, and nearly a dozen states that are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.

Outside of the Beltway, the rest of the country knows that climate change is real, and they know that we have to act. If anything, Washington needs to catch up with the rest of the country. So in his speech, President Obama made clear that if Congress wouldn't take action on climate change, put our nation on the path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, he would.

For those of you who haven't necessarily memorized the Climate Action Plan like I have, it's broken down into three key areas. First, cutting greenhouse gas emissions here at home. Second, helping communities prepare for the impacts of changing climate, and third, advancing international efforts to tackle this global challenge.

So to give you a little bit more detail on one, what we're doing here at home. One of the largest and most obvious pieces here are EPA standards to cut carbon pollution in the power sector, and we'll loop back to those in a few minutes.

Across other agencies we're also making progress in taking steps to cut the carbon pollution ... program energy and save consumers money. The president, for example, charges the Department of Interior with permitting of nonrenewable energy projects on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes. They're moving forward with renewable projects across the country and just recently moved forward with the first-ever competitive offshore wind resale on the East Coast.

The Department of Energy is also moving forward with energy efficiency standards that cut carbon pollution and save consumers money. In August, the Department of Energy actually issued three new proposed energy efficiency standards for metal halide lamps, commercial refrigeration equipment, and walk-in coolers and freezers.

But potential carbon dioxide reductions from these three standards alone would be the equivalent of taking over 80 million new cars off the road for a year. Or to put it another way, the energy saved in these proposals would be equal to the amount of electricity used by 85 million homes in the area.

The Department of Defense is also doing its part. The Army, Navy and Air Force have committed to deploy 3 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025. The second, I think this is one of the most challenging pieces for us in the administration, which is to identify ways to help communities, states and local governments prepare and plan for a more resilient community.

One of the things that we hear from state and local stakeholders is that the federal government has great data on climate risk, but that we don't always do a great job of getting it out to the people that need it. So one of our key deliverables here is developing a climate resilience tool kit that can be used by cities, states and local governments to help protect our local communities.

The president also called for the creation of a task force to help bring in leaders from outside the Beltway to help identify policies to make our communities more resilient. You can expect to hear more news on that shortly.

On top of that, we have announced public, private and intergovernmental partnerships to help communities respond to extreme weather. We've released a number of reports that identify vulnerabilities to climate change in the energy sector, and we've recognized local leaders for helping our communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The third piece of this international front, and stating the obvious, no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, and no country can meet this challenge by itself. The world looks to the United States for leadership on climate change, and we feel we must deliver it both at home and abroad.

Leading up to the Georgetown speech, President Obama and China's President Xi met in Sunnylands, Calif., and agreed to phase down use of powerful hydrofluorocarbons. A global phase-down of HFCs could potentially reduce up to two years' worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions by ...

Building on that success, earlier this month G-20 leaders as well as other countries expressed support for using the Montreal Protocol to phase down climate-damaging HFCs. We've advanced conversation between U.S. and China with a strategic and economic dialogue, and tomorrow the State Department is going to release the 2014 Climate Action Report that outlines how the U.S. action on climate change puts us on the path to meet our ... reduction goal by 2020. This report fulfills our commitment to report information on greenhouse gas emissions and climate efforts to the United Nations every few years.

This biennial report is the first ever of its kind, and will serve as a benchmark for other countries, and will hold them accountable for action on climate change. So in a nutshell, a lot of progress and a very comprehensive framework for action for the president. The backbone of that framework of course can be found in the important work that the EPA is doing on power plant rules and is certainly what brings us all here together today.

Going back to the Georgetown speech, the president directed EPA to take new common-sense steps to cut carbon pollution from the power sector, and to complete this work in a timely manner and to sign a presidential memorandum requiring EPA to move forward on both new and existing on an aggressive timeline.

One of the first milestones in the presidential memorandum was for EPA to repropose the carbon pollution standards for new power plants, which I'm pleased to say were announced on schedule last Friday. I think Administrator McCarthy downplayed all the footwork that led up to that announcement. But she certainly hit the ground running as the administrator.

EPA did some very thoughtful work on that reproposal based on important modifications, and engaged closely with industry and other stakeholders. The agency also responded to more than 2.5 million comments on the rule, which goes to underscore how important this work is and how committed the EPA is to getting the rules done right.

Looking back on last week, we can see that all of the preparation and work paid off. From the environmental and public health groups we received broad support. From some industry leaders, we heard that this is a common-sense proposal in line with current market dynamics.

The utilities are also seeing the carbon capture and storage. Coal is being demonstrated at scale right now across the country. And these companies are proving that the technology works, and that all fuel sources have a role to play on the grid. So the EPA will take public comment on that reproposal, and then ultimately work towards finalizing that role for new sources.

Going forward you're going to see separately a lot of work from the agency on issuing final regulations for the existing power plants by June 2014. And unfortunately for all those that came here today expecting to hear all of the details of what we were going to do on the existing role, I can't, we're not in a place where we have identified what the substance is going to be.

But what I can tell you is that you can expect a similar inclusive process from EPA. The president specifically directed the agency mostly with states and other stakeholders on the existing source ... ramping up for a very reluctant engagement plan, including conversations like this one here today.

Later this afternoon, I know you're going to hear from my colleague Joe Goffman, a senior counsel in EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. He'll be the guy that looks like he just spent the summer reading 2.5 million comments but will also have more to say on exactly what the agency is planning with respect to the engagement process.

In a nutshell, I'd say that we're holding our own feet to the fire, and this shows just how serious the president is about moving the ball down the field. Administrator McCarthy is committed to running an open process, and she's put in place a fantastic team to do just that.

To wrap up, we've come an incredibly long way since the president's speech in Georgetown. Taken by itself, the EPA announcement last Friday would be big news. But on top of that announcement we made serious progress on renewables, on energy efficiency and working with our international partners. We have a lot of work left to do, but if the last three months are any indicator, we're going to go far. Thank you all very much, and I wish you luck with this conference.

[End of Audio]



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