The Environmental Protection Agency has rolled out an ambitious Clean Power Plan to get states to cut their carbon emissions. And it has run up against a chorus of critics charging the agency with vast overreach.
To get an inside look at the fight, Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker spoke with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.
Not an overreach
MR. BAKER: Your Clean Power Plan is the topic on everybody’s lips. It’s run into some legal challenges. Is this constitutional overreach on your part?
MS. MCCARTHY: We’re doing an extraordinary job making this the best, cooperative proposal EPA has ever put out. I am confident that we are not violating the Constitution. I feel confident we are going to get this rule over the finish line in a way that’s reasonable, appropriate and necessary in terms of actions we need to take on climate.
MR. BAKER: It is a pretty remarkable, constitutional move, isn’t it, for the EPA? Remaking the American power sector by federal instruction to the states to make these changes, without a congressional mandate.
MS. MCCARTHY: I am following the direction of the Supreme Court, that they’ve given me three times, to say that carbon has to be addressed as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. This is a rule that is regulating carbon pollution from the largest source of carbon pollution in this country. It is being done consistent with exactly what the statute tells us we’re supposed to do. And we are doing it in the way that brings the most flexibility to the states so that they can understand what direction they want to take. We are not saying that they need to get a 30% reduction by 2030. We are saying that each state needs to start where they are today, look at what’s reasonable to achieve, and then they need to work with us to develop their plans for how to get there in 2030. The accumulation of those state plans result in 30% reduction.
MR. BAKER: Mitch McConnell has called on states to not cooperate with the mandate. A lot of Republican states seem to be perhaps inclined to do that. Where does that leave it?
MS. MCCARTHY: I think states are much better off crafting their own plans.
MR. BAKER: But if they don’t, what are you going to do?
MS. MCCARTHY: We’re going to initiate a federal plan. Here’s the situation. We have done outreach on this rule that has been enormously respectful of the states. I am seeing states staying at the table, rolling up their sleeves, recognizing that we presented them with an opportunity. They can create their own path moving forward. I am not seeing them run into the night. I have every respect for states. They know how to do this, and they know that we’re going to make it reasonable.
The broader picture
MR. BAKER: This is part of the broader Climate Change Initiative, the deal announced between the president and the Chinese government in November. One of the criticisms is that, as significant as this may seem in the United States, in the global context, it’s pretty meaningless. When you look at China and India, these are small, symbolic gestures, and they aren’t going to make a big difference to how our climate change is.
MS. MCCARTHY: I couldn’t disagree more. The reason why the president was able to sit down and do the joint announcement with China was because of the seriousness of domestic action. What China did was really an unprecedented commitment.
MR. BAKER: If you look at what’s happening to Chinese growth and to the energy composition of Chinese growth, they were going to do that anyway. Does that represent a commitment?
MS. MCCARTHY: I’ve said that about the states. I’ve said, “You know, what we’re asking you to do in the Clean Power Plan is what you’d be doing anyway if you were smart economically.” So you made my case.
MR. BAKER: You can’t claim that the Chinese are making a big, bold move and a dramatic concession and then acknowledge that, well, it was going to happen anyway.
MS. MCCARTHY: They finally understood that the environment and climate change have to be part and parcel of how you grow a country and its economy. One of the reasons I think China could make the transition they’re making to increase renewables and cap emissions is because of all the challenges they’re having on air pollution. They have to address it anyway. Why wouldn’t you address it with investments in renewables? Investment in energy efficiency? Looking at low-carbon solutions right out of the gate? That was the choice China made with the joint announcement.