The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adamant its signature regulation to fight global warming is legally sound in the face of a major legal blow by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week, but the agency hasn’t always been so confident in its authority to force states to stop burning coal.
Audio obtained by the Independence Institute, a Colorado-based conservative think tank, suggests former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was more cautious about the agency moving forward with such sweeping regulations than the current agency chief.
“At the end of the day, if you are going to talk about something as vitally important as climate, and if you’re going to come back to try to really change direction, and we are, we are trying to change the country’s direction fairly significantly on climate, that should not be able to be done easily,” Jackson said in a 2009 speech at Georgetown Law School.
“It’s not going to be able to be done easily,” Jackson said. “And not without lots of discussion and lots of thought about what’s legal, what’s illegal, what’s good policy, what’s bad policy, what makes sense cost wise, what doesn’t make sense cost wise.”
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 vote, issued a stay on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) — a sweeping rule forcing states to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The rule is expected to force coal-fired power plants to shut down and even discourages using natural gas.
States suing the rule hailed the Supreme Court ruling as the beginning of the end for CPP. EPA critics were thrilled to see the high court step in after a lower court refused to halt its implementation.
“This will be a fatal blow to the president’s climate agenda,” Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, said Tuesday. “This shows just how far the Obama administration has gone — they went too far.”
But the Obama administration is adamant CPP will withstand legal challenges. Current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy even took to Twitter to express how confident she is the agency will prevail in court.
— Gina McCarthy (@GinaEPA) February 12, 2016
The utility lobby has also said the Supreme Court’s decision changes little in terms of power companies cutting carbon dioxide emissions, since some of these long-term investments have already been made.
“We’re still reducing CO2, and the general curve, in terms of our emissions reductions, that’s not going to change because of what happened yesterday,” Quin Shea, the vice president for environmental policy at the Edison Electric Institute, told Wall Street executives Wednesday.
“You don’t simply put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to major strategic investments that the captains of industry are making,” Shea said.
For power companies, cheap natural gas and existing EPA regulations are driving investments away from coal and into less CO2-intensive energy sources, like gas and wind. But these economic factors weren’t always in play when Jackson was EPA chief.
In 2009, Jackson was speaking when the U.S. was gripped by recession, and there would have been much more resistance to pushing more expensive green energy sources. EPA had also not yet promulgated its costliest regulations on coal-fired power plants.
Jackson said “all the science questions yet to be answered, and most importantly… are the legal issues that have to be carefully thought out and carefully choreographed.”
She noted any plan to tackle global warming would also need to address “people’s real fear about what this will cost them, how much it will cost them on their electric bill, or what it will cost them in jobs, or competitiveness, or what it will cost in terms of a move to a new energy economy.”