The growth of renewable energy does not depend on the Clean Power Plan and will live beyond the Obama administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy told the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 21.
McCarthy used her speech and subsequent question-and-answer period to offer a spirited defense of EPA policy during the Obama administration.
The speech, which was webcast, was interrupted a couple of times by protestors. McCarthy did not spend time on whether the EPA Clean Power Plan to reduce power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will be upheld in court.
Since Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, many analysts have predicted that the Trump administration will ultimately gut the carbon plan – even if it survives the current legal challenge.
McCarthy, however, stressed positive trends.
She said that more than a dozen states are already on track to comply with the Clean Power Plan target of cutting power sector CO2 emissions 32% by 2030. Even more states, including some challenging the rule, are already on track to meet 2022 CO2 reduction targets, McCarthy said.
The train toward clean energy has already left the station, McCarthy said.
President Obama showed environmental leadership by deciding to invest in clean energy during the middle of a recession, McCarthy said.
“I’ve heard some people talk about the Clean Power Plan like it is the driving force … toward clean energy,” said the EPA administrator. “They give us too much credit.”
The clean energy business is growing several times faster than rest of the economy, McCarthy said. CO2 emission reductions are also well ahead of the CPP 2030 target, McCarthy said.
Non-emitting power sources, mostly solar and wind, account for a growing share of the new electric capacity being built in the United States, McCarthy said.
Unfortunately it’s tough to express the benefits of the Clean Power Plan in a 140-character tweet. “I’ve tried it. I know,” McCarthy said.
“EPA is here because the American people demanded it,” McCarthy said. Because of EPA, pollution is not as bad “as it was in the good old days.”
The departing EPA chief said there is no bigger threat to American strength and prosperity than climate change. Under the Obama administration, the United States has assumed an international leadership role, McCarthy said. Many nations now wonder if the United States will abandon its commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions, she added.
“We can and we must choose both” strong economy and environment, McCarthy said.
The EPA has overseen electric power plant rules that reduce mercury emissions from power plants. “We have [also] clarified the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Air Act” and passed important new rules on the handling of coal ash.
When asked about non-CO2-related rules that have a big impact, McCarthy said the cross-state air pollution rule “was really important to me in the New England area,” McCarthy said of “I know there is a lot of anxiety these days. But I am very optimistic for the future,” McCarthy said.
Progress will continue. “If you have worked at the state level and the local level, you cannot run away from people,” McCarthy said. Otherwise, you won’t be around long. “There are thousands of mayors who have signed climate pledges,” McCarthy said.
Renewable energy sources are cheaper than they have ever been before. “People want it,” and it doesn’t matter if people want clean energy for environmental or economic reasons, McCarthy said.
On another issue, McCarthy expects EPA to release a scientific report on hydraulic fracturing before the Obama administration leaves office.
McCarthy said EPA “has not been contacted” by the Trump transition team yet, but is committed to a smooth transfer of power. As for advice to her successor: “Listen to the great staff at EPA.”