New EPA head faces challenges from Congress, industry

Living on Earth

Recently confirmed Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy has the tough task of reducing global warming emissions from power plants — with the imperative of getting something in place before President Barack Obama's second term in office is complete

The Obama administration has previously instituted limits on emissions from cars and trucks, yet power plants remain unregulated.

McCarthy found her nomination stalled until July 18 when Congress finally came together and confirmed her nomination. She and the EPA now face a grueling schedule of rulemaking in the face of continued opposition from some in Congress as well as the electric power industry.

President Obama called on the EPA to move quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spoke out in a speech on June 25 against those who deny climate change.

"We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," he said.

On the same day, the president issued a memo directing the EPA to enact a carbon pollution standard by Sept. 20, 2013.

"I think he’s very supportive," said Carol Browner, President Bill Clinton's EPA chief. "He's done something that never happened to me in my eight years at EPA, which is he's signed an instruction to EPA saying ‘get this done’."

Browner said that President Obama's urgency to get rules set in place signals his belief that the process needs to be complete by the end of his presidency.

"He knows, believes, that climate change is real; he believes we have an obligation to do something. He wants to do something, he has done something, and this is the next step in the process," Browner said.

McCarthy vowed to fullfil the president's wishes in her first public speech as head of the EPA, delivered on July 30 at Harvard Law School.

“Climate change will not be resolved overnight,” she said. "But it will be engaged over the next three years. That I can promise you.”

Despite the momentum from the president's interest, McCarthy could find her efforts hampered again should a plan from the House Appropriations Committee, which would slash the EPA's budget by 34 percent, take effect.

Whether the proposal will pass in the Senate remains unclear, though Browner expects it to be defeated.

"The American people don't want the environmental cop off the beat, you know, there’s a lot of other work that EPA does in addition to this focus on greenhouse gas pollution," she said. "And I don't think these cuts are likely to stand up."

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