The EPA chief explains the real reason for Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Summary: The head of the EPA makes an interesting admission in the Q&A at the House Joint Committee hearing about the Fiscal Year 2017 EPA Budget on March 22. She explains what she sees as the big gain from the CPP. Video below; this starts at 2:14.

Timeline of the Clean Power Plan

David McKinley (R- WV): “If it {Clean Power Plan} doesn’t have an impact on climate change around the world, why are we subjecting our hard-working taxpayers in the coal fields for something that has no benefit?”

He refers to estimates that CPP will produce a tiny (~1%) reduction in world CO2 emissions (although it will have a significant effect on other forms of US pollution). The Administrator does not deny this, and gives a curious justification for such an expensive and wide-reaching regulation: It’s marketing!

Gina McCarthy (Administrator, EPA): We see it as having had enormous benefit in showing domestic leadership as well as gathering support around the country for the agreement we reached in Paris.


Coal is a dirty fuel to mine, to burn, and to dispose of the resulting toxic waste. Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) provides many benefits beyond reducing the emission of CO2. But the confused and often daft justifications for it weaken the public’s support for actions to protect the environment. Administrator’s McCarthy’s statement provides an extreme example.

If the courts strike down key parts of the CPP, much political capital will have been burned fruitlessly. It will be another chapter in the incompetently conducted 28-year-long struggle to craft a successful policy to fight (or at least mitigate the effects of) climate change.

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10 thoughts on “The EPA chief explains the real reason for Obama’s Clean Power Plan”

    1. I haven’t thought about natural gas for a while. There’s been some public opposition to drilling for nat gas, thanks to the ugliness coming from fracking, but I’ve never tried to compare the consequences of fracking to the consequences of coal. Is coal worse?

      1. Tice,

        Coal is much much worse to extract than natural gas — in many ways (e.g., few die from drilling nat gas wells, no polluted rivers and mountains of waste from nat gas). And burning natural gas releases almost no pollutants (other than CO2, which imo is not a pollutant in the usual sense — although can have inimical effects on climate).

  1. Drilling for natural gas and transporting it releases huge amounts of methane, which is a very effective greenhouse gas.

    1% reduction in global CO2 is actually a lot. The Europeans are doing their part, China and India will do something for energy cost savings reasons if no others.

    Emitted CO2 gets in part absorbed by plants and to some degree by the oceans, so a few per cent may change the outcome by much.

    Furthermore, coal burning emits many pollutants, not only CO2: SO2, NOx, small particles (relevant for lung problems), mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic…

    My stance on global warming is that I don’t favour a single measure becuase of global warming becuase I favour them for otherr reasons (sustainability, negative externalities, trade dependencies) already.

    1. Jurgen,

      “it releases huge amounts of methane”

      It can’t be too “huge” since global levels of methane in the atmosphere have been increasing quite slowly since 1990 — while use of natural gas has skyrocketed. See here for more information. See chapter 2 Section “Methane” of AR5 for detailed info.

      “1% reduction in global CO2 is actually a lot.”

      It is a reduction of 1% in annual global emissions — not levels. that is not “a lot”. Experts at the EPA and elsewhere have said the effect on global temperatures will be infinitesimal.

      “China and India will do something for energy cost savings reasons if no others.”

      There is near zero evidence that either is taking actions to reduce the growth rate of their CO2 emissions, let alone their level of CO2 emissions.

      “Furthermore, coal burning emits many pollutants”

      Yes, I said that.

    2. “Emitted CO2 gets in part absorbed by plants and to some degree by the oceans, so a few per cent may change the outcome by much.”

      By outcome I meant global CO2 level, by “global CO2” I meant the emissions. I was a bit lazy typing. CO2 half life in the atmosphere is a bit disputed, but appears to be somewhere close to 30 years, with average residence somewhere in the area of 40 or 50 years. Output level changes may thus have great atmospheric content changes as their consequences in a few decades. The bigger global warming disaster predictions are often about 2050…2080, and those would be affected by output level changes very much (unless self-reinforcing cycles such as disappearing polar ice sheets become dominant once triggered).

      But again, replacing coal with solar power makes a lot of sense, particularly in the sunny areas. Arizona, New Mexico, Spain (Estremadura region), Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, India (deserts), Australia and South Africa are examples for states that could make great use of solar power, and at competitive prices (superior prices if you consider the externalities). Some solarthermal powerplants can store the thermal energy for nighttime use, addressing the availability issue.

      If anything, clean power initiatives on the federal level justify inter-state conflicts, since some states are bound to be winners and others are bound to be losers of such initiatives.

      1. Jurgen,

        This is science. If you have a expert source for your claim that the CPP will have a substantial (“a lot”) effect on global temperatures, cite it.

        If not, then don’t make up stuff about it.

        “replacing coal with solar”

        Not remotely related to the subject of this post.

    3. LOL, no, you’re not dealing in science here. You’re dealing in opinion / commentary. The majority of your headlines are excessively dramatic or assertive. This particular topic was focusing one one particular interpretation of one particular aspect of some non-scientific speech.
      The click-baiting headline’s assertion isn’t even met by the article itself.

      I have two scientific degrees and recognise science when I see it. You don’t deserve a scientific comment because this is not the level of this website. To demand a scientific approach form me here is mere moving the goal post.

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