EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday said President-elect Donald Trump will fail in his efforts to revitalize America’s sagging coal industry and put fossil fuels back at the center of the nation’s energy portfolio, taunting an incoming administration that is primed to roll back some of her agency’s initiatives.
During a speech in Washington, Ms. McCarthy — who presided over President Obama’s ambitious plan to phase out fossil fuels and rein in greenhouse gas emissions — said the “train has left the station” with regard to America’s move toward clean energy.
She said she is confident that much of the Environmental Protection Agency’s work over the past eight years will stand the test of time and suggested that Mr. Trump will struggle to roll back initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, which limits emissions from coal-fired power plants.
But even if Mr. Trump does use executive power to nullify the Clean Power Plan or other EPA initiatives put into place under the Obama administration, she said broader market trends will make it impossible for the billionaire to fulfill his campaign promises.
“Folks, clearly there is more going on in our world and our energy sector than the Clean Power Plan can account for. … This is all about the energy transition that’s already happening,” she told an audience in Washington. “The clean energy economy, folks, that train has left the station.”
The Clean Power Plan remains caught up in the judicial system after a Supreme Court decision this year, though many states already are taking steps to meet the rule’s strict limits on carbon emissions. The regulations set emissions thresholds and require states to develop plans to meet them.
The standards would make it virtually impossible to build any new coal-fired power plants.
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump said he would put the nation’s coal miners back to work and would make it easier for the nation to tap into its fossil fuel reserves. More broadly, the president-elect intends to withdraw the U.S. from a global climate change deal requiring a 26 percent cut in emissions by 2030. The Clean Power Plan and other EPA regulations are key to meeting those targets.
Mr. Trump has said he would pull the U.S. out of that global climate deal. Although he hasn’t given many specifics on broader energy policy, he has suggested that proposals like the Clean Power Plan will be eliminated.
His pitch to rural voters throughout the campaign season centered on bringing back manufacturing jobs, coal mining and other battered sectors of the economy.
“I look around and hate to see what happened,” Mr. Trump told a crowd in Pennsylvania over the summer, promising to put miners back to work if elected and to fully tap the nation’s oil and natural gas reserves.
But Mr. Trump does face an uphill climb. The share of the nation’s energy produced by fossil fuels has been falling throughout Mr. Obama’s presidency as a result of cheaper renewable fuels and federal regulations.
In 2015, the U.S. got 33 percent of its electricity from coal, down from about 40 percent just a few years earlier, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
About 33 percent came from natural gas and other 20 percent from nuclear.
Renewables accounted for just 7 percent of electricity generation last year, though that number has been climbing during Mr. Obama’s time in office.
Mr. Trump also faces conflicting public attitudes about energy generation. A Chicago Council Survey released Monday, for example, found that 54 percent of Americans say it is important for the U.S. to invest in renewable energy. Just 41 percent said the same about oil and gas extraction.
Still, Republicans are eager to repeal pieces of Mr. Obama’s climate agenda. While market forces undoubtedly have made renewable energy more competitive, Republican lawmakers argue that EPA regulations have smothered the fossil fuels sector and put coal, natural gas and oil at a clear disadvantage.
“Early in his tenure, President Obama pledged to pursue an ‘all-the-above’ energy strategy. He then dedicated his administration to a smothering regulatory attack on the absolute majority of energy resources that Americans use in their daily lives,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill on Monday. “He tasked federal agencies to specifically target responsible oil and gas development. He forced unilateral rules and moratoriums, canceled lease sales, ordered the destruction of hydroelectric dams and directed an end to domestic coal. … This oppressive agenda, and the audacity with which it was executed, was on the minds of voters and apparently rejected on Nov. 8.”
Mr. Bishop warned that the administration may implement more regulations during its final days in office or take other steps designed to make it harder for a Trump White House to proceed with its own energy agenda.
Pressed on whether she was concerned that the Trump administration would reverse her years of work, Ms. McCarthy largely ducked the question.
“We’re going to have to wait and see,” she said. “My job right now is to do a smooth transition.”
Ms. McCarthy said the EPA has not had any contact with the Trump transition team. The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.