U.S. EPA will consider industry's suggestion that it revise its proposed greenhouse gas rule for future power plants to create separate standards for new coal- and natural-gas-powered units, EPA administrator nominee Gina McCarthy told a Senate panel today.
Responding to Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe's question about whether EPA would consider amending its proposal to create different standards for different technologies, McCarthy said the idea had been proposed in some of the 2.7 million comments EPA received on the rule.
"I will assure you that we are going to take that comment into consideration as we look at finalizing the rule," McCarthy said.
EPA is going to miss its statutory deadline, this Saturday, for finalizing the Clean Air Act rule, a new source performance standard for new power plants.
Despite her pledge to consider the comment, McCarthy defended EPA's original rule, which would limit emissions for all new power plants to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour of carbon dioxide.
"We actually took a look at the two categories, and we made a policy decision that was the most appropriate way to look at energy generation, which was to combine those categories," she said. "But we believe that the proposal we put out provided a pathway not only for natural gas facilities but also for new coal."
She added that she continues to believe coal is an important part of America's energy mix.
The EPA rule's emissions limit is easily achievable by most new natural gas plants but would require coal plants to eventually phase in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Coal-fired utilities say that CCS isn't commercially viable and that the rule would effectively ban new coal-fired power generation in the United States.
McCarthy also fielded questions from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) about the state of climate science. He disputed that scientific research shows that temperatures are rising more quickly than past estimates of predicted warming. He asked to be provided with data showing that. She agreed but cautioned that she is not a climate scientist.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked what the Obama administration is prepared to do to combat climate change, McCarthy said the White House continues to prefer congressional action to using existing authorities.
"President Obama has indicated that he would look forward to congressional action on climate, but in the meantime he has asked the agencies including EPA to look at our administrative authorities and at what reasonable, common-sense steps can we begin to take that can effectively address the challenge associated with carbon pollution," she said.
McCarthy also acknowledged that the agency "has bridges to build with the agriculture community" in response to a series of questions from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).
Fischer said she has heard from constituents and agriculture representatives who "have become frustrated with the bureaucracy" and feel burdened by EPA rules. Especially of concern, Fischer said, was the release of personal data from livestock operations by EPA to three environmental groups in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice have returned the data and vowed to destroy all paper records, and EPA has promised an investigation.
McCarthy promised to do "everything I could do to make sure those errors are not repeated."
Fischer also questioned McCarthy about bipartisan legislation introduced last month that would exempt farmers who store oil in aboveground tanks from federal oil spill regulations.
McCarthy said she would work with Congress to resolve the issue. Under EPA's Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Rule, farmers would have to hire a licensed engineer to design a spill prevention plan for aboveground storage tanks, which they say is a paperwork burden.
"I know just how hard the farming community works to protect their resources," McCarthy said. "I want to make sure we have an opportunity to change the relationship between that community" and EPA.