The Obama administration is preparing an ambitious agenda on climate change for its final year in office, pushing ahead on multiple fronts to ensure that the United States keeps its promises to rein in greenhouse gas pollution, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency says.
Despite last month’s major win at the Paris climate talks — and in spite of a shrinking timeline for new regulations — 2016 “is not an opportunity to relax,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in an interview. The agency’s chief cited new efforts to lock in progress in lowering air pollution and predicted that the administration’s signature regulatory accomplishments would survive challenges from a hostile Congress and from the courts.
“We’re not just going to stay with what we’ve already done,” said McCarthy, who will complete her third year as administrator in July. “We’re going to look for other opportunities.”
McCarthy made the comments in advance of a speech Thursday before the Council on Foreign Relations, in which she outlined environmental priorities for the administration’s final year. In the address, she described plans to increase technical assistance to foreign governments in monitoring and controlling emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — aid she said would “make sure the [Paris] agreement is cast in stone to the extent that we can.”
The Obama administration insisted that the Paris agreement include strong accountability provisions requiring countries to monitor pollution and show verifiable progress in reducing it. McCarthy said many countries — including major economic powers such as China — lack the technical experience or know-how needed to carry out the agreement’s provisions, and the EPA is preparing to help fill the gap.“Countries want to do it, but many of them don’t have the capacity at this point,” McCarthy said. “A lot of what the EPA is doing is sharing expertise — on how to do the work, and also on the benefits it brings, so it’s not seen as a chore but as an opportunity.”
The challenge for many developing countries, she said, is how to continue to grow economically while still lowering air pollution that can harm human populations as well as the environment. “It can be done,” she said, “and it can drive the new technologies you need to come to the point where you’re not being forced to do it, but you’re embracing it .”
On the domestic front, the EPA will formally adopt new regulations aimed at cutting pollution from heavy trucks and curbing methane leaks from oil and gas operations, she said. The agency also is working with state regulators to implement the so-called Clean Power Plan, the controversial rule adopted in the summer that requires states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, the country’s biggest single source of greenhouse-gas pollution.
The administration’s signature regulation on climate change faces fierce opposition from the Republican-led Congress, as well as lawsuits by states and utilities opposed to the plan.
McCarthy expressed confidence that both the regulation and the Paris agreement would be on solid footing by the time the next president assumes office in 2017.
“Congress did give us a job to do, and that’s the job we’re doing,” she said. “If there are members of Congress who don’t like it, they’re going to have to figure out a way to address it legislatively. And so far there are no opportunities to do that, that we can foresee.”
Opponents of the administration’s climate agenda repeated vows this week to repeal much of it. On Tuesday, the president of the country’s largest trade organization for oil and natural gas companies criticized the administration for policies that he said favored certain types of energy over others — or that simply sought to keep fossil fuels in the ground. “There are some in government who will advance their favored forms of energy to that dubious and untested end,” the American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard said in a policy speech, “heedless of the potential harm it could cause to our economy or how much it could cost the American consumer.”