Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Republicans Not Happy With McCarthy's Nomination Responses

May 6: U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released Gina McCarthy's responses to questions he submitted for the record following her April 11 nomination hearing [See WIMS 4/12/13]. McCarthy who is nominated to head U.S. EPA faces the Committee vote, the next step in her confirmation process, on Thursday, May 9. On May 3, Senator Barbara  Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the EPW Committee, reported that McCarthy, who currently serves as the Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, had responded to all of the questions submitted by members of the EPW Committee, including over 1,000 questions submitted by Republicans on the Committee.

    Senator Vitter said, "With days left before her confirmation hearing, McCarthy has not shown any greater commitment to a higher standard of transparency, one that the Agency desperately needs -- if we are to judge from her responses to the Committee Republicans' requests. So far, we have generously allowed her the time to respond to our questions and five specific transparency requests. However, the unresponsive answers received are unacceptable, and I do hope the nominee provides more detailed and adequate information before this Thursday."

    Sen. Vitter indicated in a release that during the nomination process, he and Committee Republicans "have repeatedly emphasized the importance of transparency within the EPA and the federal government." They reiterated the five transparency requests in addition to their questions for the record.  They said a recent poll shows that the vast majority of Americans are in support of transparency when it comes to federal data funded by taxpayers and utilized for Agency actions. The following are a few examples of the questions posed by Republicans and McCarthy's responses:

- Can you identify language in Section 109 of the Clean Air Act that specifically prohibits the consideration of costs in the setting of National Ambient Air Quality Standards?

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, 531 U.S. 457 (2001) that in setting national ambient air quality standards that are requisite to protect public health and welfare, as provided in section 109(b) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA may not consider the costs of implementing the standards. The Court's reasoning is found at 531 U.S. 464-472.

- What do you think the social cost of a ton of carbon is?

The social cost of carbon (SCC) is an estimate of the net present value of the flow of monetized damages from an incremental increase in carbon dioxide emissions in a given year. It is intended to include (but is not limited to) changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services. The Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon reported central estimates in 2020 of 6.8 to 41.7 dollars per metric ton in 2007 dollars, depending upon the discount rate, and up to 80.7 for extreme damages.

- Where are the most cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gases likely to be?

EPA analysis has shown that there are numerous cost-effective reduction opportunities across the economy. As indicated in my testimony before the Committee, EPA's regulations addressing greenhouse gas emissions from light- and heavy-duty vehicles are projected to achieve dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time substantially reducing oil consumption and saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump. EPA economy-wide and electric power sector models show that electric power supply and use represents the largest source of emissions abatement potential. Additionally, the EPA report, Global Mitigation of Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases (EPA 430-R-06-005, 2006) demonstrates that non-CO2 greenhouse gas mitigation can play an important role in climate strategies, and that methane mitigation from the energy, waste, and agriculture sectors can provide a substantial quantity of cost effective reduction opportunities. Finally, energy efficiency also offers a low cost energy resource with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the economy. For example, consumers, home owners, building owners and operators, and industrial partners have saved more than 1.8 billion metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent over the past twenty years of the ENERGY STAR program.

- How many electricity reliability experts are on EPA's staff in the Office of Air and Radiation? In the Agency as a whole?

EPA has significant expertise with regard to analysis of the effects of environmental regulation on the power sector, and has examined the impact of agency rules on resource adequacy and the reliable operation of the sector. In addition, EPA has worked closely with a range of entities directly charged with reliability responsibilities, including DOE and FERC as well as state regulatory authorities and grid planning authorities, to help ensure that EPA rules are developed and implemented in a manner consistent with maintaining electric reliability.

In March 28, 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published updated emissions standards for power plants under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). The MATS rule imposes sweeping new emissions requirements for power plants, and EPA expects that the MATS rule will entail upwards of $10 billion in compliance costs, making it the most expensive rule in EPA's history. In promulgating the MATS rules, EPA relied heavily on the claim that the rule will benefit public health through decreases in particulate matter pollution (PM). However, regulation of PM is primarily accomplished through National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which are required to be set at levels that provide adequate protection for the public health or welfare. Accordingly, it appears that the agency has set a NAAQS standard for particulate matter at a level insufficiently protective of public health and welfare. Can you share your thoughts on this?

Even after several decades of pollution control laws, until MATS there were no national limits on emissions of mercury and other air toxics from power plants. Power plants emit mercury, other metals, acid gases, and other air toxics – as well as particulate matter – all of which harm people's health. The rule regulates mercury and other air toxics, but the control technologies installed to reduce these air pollutants also yield significant reductions in particulate matter.

    Access a release from Sen. Vitter (click here). Access the 123-pages of questions and responses (click here). Access the 4/11/13 hearing website for links to Gina McCarthy's testimony and a webcast of the hearing (click here). [#All]