EPA chief Gina McCarthy issued a strong defense of controversial proposed curbs on carbon emissions from power plants, telling a packed Senate hearing Wednesday the agency talked to all sides in the debate before issuing its draft recommendations.
“This is the most respectful rule at the federal level that I have ever been involved in,” the Environmental Protection Agency administrator told the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, citing what she said was the flexibility given to the states to design their own plans to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.
But Republicans and many in the business community have sharply criticized both the substance of the new rules and the authority of the EPA to issue the regulation. Opponents warn the rule could cripple the U.S. economy and raise electricity bills while having only a negligible effect on climate change and the environment.
Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, called the proposed rule, now out for public comment, “EPA’s most blatant overreach thus far,” and accused President Obama of carrying out a “war on coal” that will hurt states like Mississippi that are heavily dependent on the fuel.
The EPA’s proposals are up for public comments for 120 days, until Oct. 16. Republican lawmakers and industry groups are seeking to extend the comment period another 60 days.
Some conservatives argue that the EPA’s research is questionable because they conducted a cost-benefit analysis on a global scale, rather that on a state basis.
Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, said that without a domestic cost-benefit analysis, the EPA’s estimate for environmental improvements were merely helping other countries at the expense of the U.S. economy.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, scolded Republicans for ignoring what he called scientific proof of climate change caused by humans.
“For the first time to the best of my knowledge, we have a major political party which by and large is rejecting what the majority of the scientific community is saying,” he said.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, pointed out that the agency based its research on studies done by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental lobbying group.
Mr. Barrasso claimed that the EPA refused to meet with families negatively affected by the proposals, “all because EPA has decided to promote a rule drafted behind closed doors by an elite group of lawyers and lobbyists.”
But Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and Committee Chair, applauded Ms. McCarthy for working so closely with the NRDC and said that the EPA’s authority on the regulations should not even be up for discussion.
“EPA does have the authority,” Mrs. Boxer said. “I don’t know why we have to fight about things that have been settled three times by the Supreme Court.”