Congressional Greens Taking Climate Package Home for August

Six Republicans, in a vote of 59-40, joined in to elevate Gina McCarthy, who, for four-and-a-half years as assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of every Clean Air Act contortion necessary to advance the Green left’s anti-coal agenda.

By Richard Bornemann | August 6, 2013

Heather Zichal

Congress is beginning its August recess after a July whirlwind that subjected Washington to a multi-prong spin and promotion campaign for the White House’s announced plans to have EPA regulate carbon emission from existing coal-fired power plants. There was a reality to some of it, in terms of building EPA’s capacity to do the job, but for the most part it was a vaporous and content-free cheerleading call to ideologues – from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Reality began and ended with the Senate’s July 18 confirmation of Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator. The vote was 59-40, and Senate floor action came about only after Republicans had been forced by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to allow full Senate consideration of McCarthy, and other White House nominees, as a condition for preserving minority rights to use the filibuster. Six Republicans joined in to elevate Ms. McCarthy, who, for four and a half years as assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was the architect of every Clean Air Act contortion necessary to advance the Green left’s anti-coal agenda.

But July was otherwise very vague, apart from the McCarthy ascension. First, White House energy and climate advisor Heather Zichal made the rounds on Capitol Hill to brief Senators and House members. But to brief them on what, exactly? For instance, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) was quoted as having said that the Senate is “fleshing them [regulations] out in terms of timeframe for the rollout . . .”

But everybody knew in late June the timeline for carbon regulation of the existing coal fleet under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act: proposed EPA rules by next June 1, and final rules a year after that. It doesn’t take visits by senior White House emissaries just to present calendar milestones.

The spin was applied to describe visits to key House Democrats a week later, when according to The Hill, “ . . . Zichal detailed a timetable for the actions the White House will take to implement Obama’s climate plan, which relies on a host of executive actions that don’t require congressional approval.” Again, one has to wonder what else, besides timelines, is going on behind the scenes here in terms of EPA’s regulatory agenda. After all, one wouldn’t expect that scheduling matters alone would inspire Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to tell the press how “positive and encouraging” everything was.

As we’ve detailed on this site before, section 111(d) is a vague and little-used provision of the Clean Air Act. States are supposed to have the lead in developing performance standards that are consistent with EPA “guidelines” and an EPA-determined “Best System of Emission Reduction.” So, what is there that’s so “positive and encouraging” about state standards for carbon that don’t yet exist in most of the country?

The more conspiracy minded among us might believe that EPA has plans that it hasn’t shared yet, a framework for “guidelines” that EPA intends to impose on the states as the agency goes through the motions of “collaboratively” working with governors and state environmental authorities. Indeed, we’ve already discussed a plan by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to impose on each state a pounds-per-megawatt-hour carbon dioxide emissions ceiling, under which coal’s percentage contribution to the weighted fossil generating mix would be ratcheted down to 1,500 pounds per megawatt-hour by 2020, and an all-but-impossible 1,200 pounds by 2025.

While the degree of control being sought by the NRDC probably appeals to the EPA, it’s doubtful that the imposition of state ceilings – as opposed to source category regulation – by rulemaking alone could survive legal challenge. No, the numbers are nice and punitive, but roads different from the NRDC’s are going to have to be taken to reach them.

That’s as good a reason as any to believe that there probably isn’t already a finished plan lodged in an EPA computer, awaiting release after the requisite consultations with states and “stakeholders.” But climate alarmists don’t need a plan today to see everything as “positive and encouraging.” And, their congressional allies don’t need a final real plan today either.

But they have, instead, something that’s just as nice and, to them, just as real as a plan. They have fodder to take home to Green groups during the August recess. They can rile suburbanites and college students with speeches, talking points and videos.

There’s one video of the July whirlwind, though, that the “carbon pollution” community in Congress might not want shown, an example of every campaign’s having its slips and glitches. The subject is a long July 18 hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, entitled “Climate Change: It’s Happening Now.”

In a nutshell, two Republican members, Senator David Vitter, the Committee’s Ranking Republican, and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) decided to press Chairman Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) star witnesses on the accuracy of a statement President Obama had made during a May fundraising event: “ . . . we also know that the climate is warming faster than anybody anticipated 5 or 10 years ago.”

“Can any witness,” asked Senator Vitter, “say they agree with Obama’s statement that warming has accelerated during the past 10 years?” Chairman Boxer’s witnesses were suddenly silent, unable to either back a falsehood, or contradict the faith by citing the truth.

It finally fell to Dr. Heidi Cullen of “Climate Central” – an “organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate . . . ” to change the subject. She wanted to talk about periods longer than 10 years, which is strange for a phenomenon that’s supposed to be so imminently threatening, so “happening now.”

This is the same Heidi Cullen, who used to have her own show on the Weather Channel, and once blogged that the American Meteorological Society should strip the Society’s “Seal of Approval” from members who strayed from the catastrophe consensus of anthropogenic global warming. But even Cullen was silent when Senator Sessions sought a straight answer to Senator Vitter’s question.

But that’s the frightening thing. Congressional Greens are going home with August talking points that can’t be corroborated even by somebody who’d destroy the livelihoods of others for the crime of disagreement.

Richard Bornemann has provided strategic legislative and regulatory counsel to American energy and surface transportation companies of all sizes for more than 20 years. He is an energy and environment analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research, and author of American Energy Independence: A Policy Review 1973-2012. Mr. Bornemann is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.