Obama’s EPA choice signals tougher line on climate

McCarthy backed ban on coal-fired power plants

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For proof that President Obama is getting serious about climate change in his second term, look no further than his pick Monday to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

By tapping Gina McCarthy, a veteran of environmental rule-making at both the federal and state levels, the White House has sent a undeniable signal to Republicans and the fossil fuels industry — the EPA will play a central role in White House efforts to battle climate change.

“The president is making it clear that he wants to continue pursuing an aggressive climate agenda at the EPA,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and ranking member of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the EPA. Mr. Inhofe, one of the agency’s most vocal critics, added that while Ms. McCarthy has spearheaded “some of the agency’s most costly and controversial rules” — including an effective ban on new coal-fired power plants — he hopes they can find common ground.

Ms. McCarthy, a tough-talking Massachusetts native who currently heads the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation and is known around Washington for her blunt style and sense of humor, was one of two key appointments announced by Mr. Obama on Monday. He also chose renowned physicist Ernest Moniz to take over the Energy Department.

Mr. Moniz, who heads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative and served as undersecretary of energy in the late 1990s, replaces outgoing Secretary Steven Chu.

The two picks come at a crucial time in American energy development and in the debate about climate change. Fossil fuel industry leaders fear that the next four years could bring about new regulations, many in the name of addressing climate change, that hinder the nation’s march toward energy independence.

Mr. Obama on Monday again reiterated his commitment to addressing climate change, saying that it remains “one of his highest priorities.”

The president has also said that, if Congress won’t cooperate, he’ll use executive action to unilaterally lower carbon emissions and fight climate change. It’s unclear exactly what steps the White House is planning to take.

While the oil and gas industry has its own concerns about those potential steps, it’s the coal sector that may be the most worried.

Republicans in coal states such as West Virginia are gearing up to continue their battles with the EPA.

“I expect that challenging the EPA and ensuring that regulations are adherent to the rule of law will be one of my top priorities over the next few years,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in an interview with The Washington Times last week, well before the McCarthy announcement.

“This president has made no secret of the fact that he’d be very happy if every coal-fired [power] plant went out of business. That’s not acceptable for the state of West Virginia,” Mr. Morrisey added.

Ms. McCarthy’s role in cracking down on coal plants has earned her strong support from the environmental community. She also took the lead in crafting new fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. Those two moves are widely seen as the most important steps taken by the White House over the past four years in the fight against climate change.

Gina has already made some important steps in that direction and we certainly expect her to do more,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit environmental group.

While the McCarthy appointment has been met with great enthusiasm, there was a more cautious reaction to the selection of Mr. Moniz. Some groups remain skeptical because of his role at the Energy Initiative, which has financial ties to energy giants BP, Shell and others.

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