ClimateWire's Massey previews EPA climate rule hearings

Next week, U.S. EPA will hold a series of public hearings in four cities -- Denver; Atlanta; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C. -- to receive comments on its Clean Power Plan proposal. How will these hearings shape the direction of the debate over the rule, and how heated could lobbying efforts become during the listening sessions? On today's The Cutting Edge, ClimateWire reporter Nathanael Massey discusses his expectations for the hearings and the future of the Clean Power Plan.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan in full focus next week here in Washington. ClimateWire's Nathanael Massey joins me with a preview of what is expected to be a very crucial week for the proposal. Nathanael, EPA has set up a series of four public hearings -- Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington -- all on the Clean Power Plan. They're expecting about 1,600 comments total. How do you expect those hearings will shape and inform the direction of the debate over the proposal?

Nathanael Massey: So as I see it, EPA really has two battles to win here. It needs to put forward a proposal that has a legitimate chance of being implemented by states, state agencies, utilities -- it's got to work. At the same time it has to sell its plan in the court of public opinion. The comment period is going to be very important for both of those goals. I think as a public forum it's going to be a little more -- it's going to showcase the latter. This is really where EPA gets to sell its rule to the public. It's where opponents of the rule are going to try to tear it down.

Monica Trauzzi: The League of Conversation Voters is spending a quarter of a million dollars next week in these four cities firing back at the Chamber of Commerce for its opposition to the rule. We're seeing the lobbying really intensifying surrounding this proposal. How heated could we see things get in these hearings?

Nathanael Massey: Very.

Monica Trauzzi: Yeah.

Nathanael Massey: We've already seen this rule test the collegiality of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Certain speakers at this week's Senate ... oversight hearing didn't pull any punches. This is -- both sides have a narrative to advance here. The EPA is going to frame this as our last best shot to do something about climate change, an issue that is more or less popular with voters. The opposition is going to paint this as broad federal overreach. I don't expect either side to mince their words.

Monica Trauzzi: And Administrator McCarthy testified earlier this week before the Senate EPW Committee about the Clean Power Plan. What cues will you be watching for from her and her team?

Nathanael Massey: To be honest I think EPA at this point is playing this pretty close to their chest. They are on pretty solid ground with the ruling last month by the Supreme Court which affirmed their ability to regulate carbon dioxide. Outside of Washington and a number of state governments, there hasn't been a whole lot of pushback to the rule yet. Even big utilities have at least conditionally embraced the rule. I do think that given McCarthy's prior statements that she and her staff will be stressing their commitment to be working with states, both as a way to undercut criticism that this is unilateral federal overreach, but also because they do need states to participate. Without state participation they don't really have a rule to stand on.

Monica Trauzzi: And we're starting to hear lots of questions coming from state regulators in particular about how the states will comply. I want to highlight a fantastic piece you wrote earlier this week in ClimateWire about the formula that EPA used to assign carbon reduction targets to the various states. How are we going to see that formula and those four famous building blocks -- they're becoming very famous -- how is that going to play into these hearings next week?

Nathanael Massey: Well, thank you. In the conversations I've had with state agencies they definitely do have some concerns about particular building blocks. The building blocks of course are strategies that EPA put forward as ways for states to curb their emissions, but they're also the way that EPA set the targets, which would be binding under a final rule for each individual state. State agencies are less concerned about the overall shape of the plan as they are certain logics underpinning each of the building blocks. So there are concerns about energy efficiency, whether states can really achieve annual efficiency gains of 1.5 percent. There are some concerns from some states about natural gas dispatch, whether it can be dispatched at the levels that EPA has predicted. I think that, these comments being a little more technical in nature, they might come up at the public hearings, but they also lend themselves by nature a little bit more to a long email or a letter.

Monica Trauzzi: Right. All right, we'll end it there -- a lot to watch next week. Thanks for coming on the show.

Nathanael Massey: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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