McCarthy: Supreme Court Decision on MATS Won’t Affect the Clean Power Plan Rule

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy remains firm in her resolve to create a landmark rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants later this year.

Speaking at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C., during an event sponsored by AREVA and hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, McCarthy said, “Last week’s ruling will not affect our efforts. We are still on track to produce [the Clean Power Plan] this summer, and it will cut carbon pollution that is fueling climate change from power plants.”

Acknowledging that the Supreme Court decision—remanding the case against the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) back to the D.C. Circuit Court—was disappointing, McCarthy was still confident that the agency was on track with its MATS rule.

“We have done a great job with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard[s], and we will actually get the reductions in that rule, even though there is a little more work to be done,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy pointed out that the court did not vacate the rule or question the EPA’s authority to control toxic air pollution; it simply said that the agency should have considered costs at an earlier stage in the rulemaking process.

The majority of power plants affected by the MATS rule have already made investments to comply with the regulations. Many other facilities have been permanently retired, at least in part, because of the rule and are unlikely to be returned to service. The fact is that the MATS rule remains in effect and McCarthy said that there are “very compelling reasons” for the utilities to continue to treat the rule as a requirement.

“The court seemed to go out of its way to narrow this decision in so many ways,” McCarthy said, suggesting that the ruling was really just about a single provision. “We have to go back and take a look at how they want to address this very narrow issue of cost,” she added.

In reference to the Clean Power Plan, McCarthy feels it offers the U.S. an opportunity to lead the international community. Stating that the Clean Air Act “is on quite solid footing,” she held that “carbon is no different than any other pollutant and we can regulate it under the Clean Air Act.”

As proposed, the rule would cut power sector carbon pollution 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. She noted that the country now uses three times more wind energy and 20 times more solar energy than it did prior to President Obama taking office.

“The momentum is here. This Clean Power Plan will capitalize on that momentum,” McCarthy said.

Noting that the Clean Power Plan will “absolutely be litigated,” McCarthy was adamant that the EPA would make sure that the rule is legally solid, technically accurate, and relies on science. She is confident that the agency not only knows how to do that, but also knows how to defend its rules in the courts.

“We have to get started,” she added. “If you don’t actually move off of the starting gate when you’re in a marathon, you clearly will not win.“

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)