Energy and EPA Defend Administration’s Climate Change Approach in Congress

Energy and EPA Defend Administration’s Climate Change Approach in Congress

On September 18, 2013, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing on "The Obama Administration's Climate Change Policies and Activities" in response to the President's Climate Action Plan released on June 25, 2013. The Subcommittee, chaired by Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky), had invited thirteen federal agencies to attend the hearing. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy appeared to testify on behalf of the Administration.

In the majority's memorandum announcing the Subcommittee's hearing, its purpose was described as part of the subcommittee's oversight of federal agencies' work on the issue of climate change. As background, the memorandum noted that the federal government had been spending billions on climate change related issues each year since 1993. The memorandum emphasized, however, the Obama Administration's increased focus on the issue.

In prepared remarks, EPA Administrator McCarthy stated that, "Responding to climate change is an urgent public health, safety, national security, and environmental imperative that presents an economic challenge and an economic opportunity." She described the President's plan as directing federal agencies to cut carbon pollution in America, prepare for climate change impacts, and lead international efforts, all within "existing executive authorities." Administrator McCarthy described EPA's role in all three activities, but primarily focused on EPA's role in addressing carbon pollution. She highlighted EPA's role in developing vehicle GHG emission standards and for controlling emissions from new and existing power plants.

In Secretary Moniz's prepared remarks, he began by emphasizing that the scientific basis for the "drivers of climate change" and the likely expected impacts. In describing the Department of Energy's role in the President's Climate Action Plan, he described the role of various methods of energy production in reducing CO2 emissions. He focused in particular on the need for energy efficiency and the development of technologies for a "low-carbon future." The principal action his agency has taken in the short term is to issue a draft solicitation for $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil energy technologies. He also stated that coal continued to play "a key role in our energy mix," and that his agency sought to invest in advancements in clean coal technologies. He concluded by describing the President's plan as "an all-of-the-above approach to ensure that this energy is used wisely and cleanly in a low carbon economy…."

The questioning of Secretary Moniz and Administrator McCarthy by Congressional members of the Subcommittee included the following topics:

• The Administration's commitment to coal and nuclear power, both of which the Administration's representatives agreed played important roles in the country's energy future.

• The effect of the upcoming proposed New Source Performance Standards for new power plants and the future rules for existing plants. Administrator McCarthy refused to discuss any details of the proposed rule to be released two days later. Chairman Whitfield later said that the Subcommittee would hold a hearing on the new proposed rule soon after it was released.

• Whether there was scientific support for the anthropogenic source of climate change. Both Republicans and Democrats stated their con and pro positions and submitted competing studies into the record.

• The President's emphasis on pursuing climate change strategies within his executive authority, which Republicans found offensive to their legislative powers.

The day before the hearings began, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) introduced legislation to prevent EPA from issuing rules regulating CO2 emissions from power plants unless the rules were "explicitly authorized by an Act of Congress." (S. 1514) Unlike Congress's relatively quiet response to the Administration's first-term regulations of CO2 under the Clean Air Act, Congress now promises to respond earlier in the regulatory process to President Obama's use of executive power to address climate change.

 By Gabrielle Sigel, Partner, Jenner & Block

Read more at Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog by Jenner & Block LLP.

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