Politics Biden EPA nominee takes heat for role in Obama Clean Power Plan
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Republican lawmakers told Janet McCabe, President Biden’s pick for the Environmental Protection Agency’s second-in-command, that they don’t fully trust her given her involvement in crafting climate mandates during the Obama administration.
During a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee nomination hearing Wednesday, several Republicans from fossil fuel states pointed to McCabe’s role, alongside then-EPA Administrator and now Biden climate czar Gina McCarthy, developing the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate rule, known as the Clean Power Plan. McCabe served seven years as a political appointee in the EPA’s air office during the Obama administration, ultimately as its acting chief.
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“You have a steeper hill to climb, frankly, that most,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, told McCabe. Cramerto support Biden's nominee to lead the EPA, Michael Regan, with hopes he will "keep an open mind."
Cramer recalled that McCabe, during a prior nomination hearing, promised to work with states on environmental regulations.
“And yet the Clean Power Plan proved to be one of the most overbearing big government impositions on states ever,” Cramer said.
The Clean Power Plan issued first-time carbon limits for existing power plants, setting a nationwide goal for the sector to cut its emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the rule, each state had its own reduction target, and state regulators were tasked with crafting a plan to meet it.
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Cramer said his state felt blindsided after the Obama EPA significantly ratcheted up North Dakota’s emissions reduction target between the proposed and final versions of the power rule, from an 11% to a 45% required cut.
Several other GOP senators told McCabe they also felt their states were cut out of the decision-making process on climate regulations.
“There was a feeling back in the Obama administration in developing the Clean Power Plan that there was a Washington, D.C., decision forced on the states, and we didn’t have a practice of cooperative federalism,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.
McCabe, if confirmed, would likely play a significant role in developing the Biden administration’s version of power plant carbon controls. Just before Biden’s inauguration, a federal appeals court, essentially giving Biden’s team at the EPA a blank slate to craft a regulation that helps meet his aggressive climate agenda.
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McCabe didn’t directly answer a question from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the top Republican on the committee, about how broad of a regulatory reach she thinks the EPA has over power plant emissions.
Republicans slammed the Clean Power Plan for encouraging generation shifting from coal to cleaner burning natural gas and renewable energy, a “beyond the fenceline” approach they said far exceeded the EPA’s authority.
McCabe, however, noted the courts never ruled on the legality of the Clean Power Plan, which was put on pause by the Supreme Court in 2016 and then rewritten by the Trump administration.
“Certainly, we would not have put that rule forward if we did not believe that we were acting within the four corners of the Clean Air Act. I understand that people have different views about that,” McCabe told Capito. McCabe added she wasn’t sure whether she would be directly involved in crafting a new power sector rule but noted the EPA would solicit input from all stakeholders on the issue.
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McCabe also defended the development of the Clean Power Plan, which she called “one of the most important and impactful rules” she worked on during the Obama administration. She said the Obama EPA undertook a “lengthy” process that involved “hours and hours” of conversations with state officials about how to cut emissions.
“My state is also a state with a lot of fossil energy, and it had a large reduction expectation as well,” she said, referring to Indiana, where she previously led air policy in its Department of Environmental Management. “But what we tried to do in that rule was build a very flexible approach” to give states as many options as possible, she added.
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