Coal and the new Obama EPA/Energy team

March 4, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

President Barack Obama announces in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 4, 2013, he will nominate, from left;  MIT physics professor Ernest Moniz for Energy Secretary; Gina McCarthy to head the EPA;  and Walmart Foundation President Sylvia Mathews Burwell to head the Budget Office. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The news is finally out that President Obama has nominated MIT physics professor Ernest Moniz to be his news Energy Secretary and Gina McCarthy to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Here’s the some of the New York Times’ report on the announcement:

Mr. Obama described Dr. Moniz as “another brilliant scientist” to succeed Dr. Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, at the Energy Department. And for the E.P.A., the president said Ms. McCarthy was well suited with her experience as a state environmental official in both Massachusetts — for former Gov. Mitt Romney — and Connecticut. She has “a reputation as a straight-shooter” who “welcomes different points of view,” he added.

Together, Ms. McCarthy and Dr. Moniz are “going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy, that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place,” Mr. Obama said, implicitly addressing the criticism, especially from Republicans, that environmental policies inhibit the economy.

Here in West Virginia, Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall was first out of the box with a predictable anti-Obama response:

 The outgoing head of the EPA took direct aim at coal miner’s jobs and circumvented Congress, targeting and wreaking havoc on the Appalachian economy,” said Rahall. “It is because of this destructive track record that I believe the country would have benefited greatly from an outside voice at EPA rather than an Agency insider. I hope that Ms. McCarthy brings an understanding of the need for balance in our energy policies but should she chart the same harmful regulatory course as the previous Administrator, I will to fight to the maximum degree against such an ideologically driven agenda that is contrary to the will of Congress, public opinion, and our country’s economic well-being.

Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito was not far behind with this:

I am disappointed, but not surprised, that President Obama has decided to double down on his job killing policies by nominating Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator. Ms. McCarthy was the force behind many of the anti-coal regulations issued by this administration, including the CSAPR rule that was struck down as unlawful by a federal appeals court.

This nomination represents a missed opportunity for the President to chart a new course that balances environmental regulations with the need for jobs in our local communities.

Coal jobs are not the only ones put at risk by the President’s environmental policy. On Friday another study found that the Keystone pipeline would have no significant environmental impact. Nonetheless, the President continues to delay approval of a project that will create thousands of American jobs and improve our energy security at a time when gas prices climb higher and higher.

It is a shame the President continues to put his extreme partisan agenda ahead of jobs and energy security in West Virginia and across the country. I will continue to fight for a common sense energy policy that takes advantage of American resources to power our future economy.

Oddly enough, though, the headline in the National Journal (not a particularly left-wing publication) read Gina McCarthy, Obama’s ‘Green Quarterback,’ Has a History of Working With Industry:

Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has been called the president’s “green quarterback” for her efforts to tackle industrial pollution …  throughout McCarthy’s long career as an environmental regulator, she has developed a reputation as a political pragmatist who works with and listens to the polluting industries – even as she writes rules that will force them to change the way they do business.

One passage of the story stood out, and might be important for West Virginians who care about the coal industry to read:

The coal industry and coal-fired power plants will feel the biggest economic pinch from EPA regulations on greenhouse gases. American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility with a fleet of generators that depends heavily on coal, protested the Obama administration’s first-term clean-air rules and is deeply concerned about coming climate rules.

But officials in that company still have grudging praise for McCarthy. “Early on, Gina brought us in to talk about the rules,” said John McManus, AEP’s vice president of environmental services. “We talked about timing, technology, and cost. My sense is that Gina is listening, has an open mind; she wants to hear the concerns of the regulated sector.”

AEP told McCarthy that a rule aimed at cutting soot emissions was so stringent that it would cripple the company. Eventually, McCarthy agreed to loosen a portion of the rule—a move that saved AEP about 10 percent of the cost of meeting the rule’s requirements, McManus said.

“Did she do all the things we thought would be best? No, but we do see that she’s trying to do things that would achieve regulatory balance.”

And then there was this line on McCarthy, reported by Scientific American:

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, offered his support for McCarthy’s confirmation …  “I supported Regina McCarthy’s nomination today because I think she possesses the knowledge, experience, and temperament to oversee a very important office at EPA,” Inhofe said in a statement.

Heck, the United Mine Workers took a pretty calm approach in its statement:

Being the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is no easy task. I commend Gina McCarthy for being willing to take the job on.

The UMWA is prepared to sit down with Ms. McCarthy and discuss the very serious issues active and retired coal miners, their families and their communities confront in an increasingly challenging regulatory environment.

It’s interesting that neither Rep. Rahall nor Rep. Capito mentioned anything about the nomination of Dr. Moniz to run the Department of Energy.  Now, there has been some concern expressed by national environmental groups about this DOE nomination, as explained in this piece from The Hill:

That’s not sitting well with green advocates, who say Moniz’s support for natural gas is at odds with the risks of “fracking,” the controversial drilling process, and the need for tough steps to address climate change.

“Moniz is a status quo pick at a time when we can’t afford the status quo,” said Tyson Slocum, who heads the energy program at Public Citizen.

The Cabinet decision arrives at time when environmentalists are putting intense pressure on the president to confront global warming. They held a major rally last weekend in Washington, D.C., urging Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and take steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Moniz has argued that natural gas can play a major role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a “bridge” to a low-carbon future, riling activists who believe that fracking creates risks to water supplies and other harms.

But what about coal? Well, the Washington Post story today notes:

In a voluminous written and spoken record, Moniz has come out in favor of nuclear power, research into carbon capture and storage for coal, renewable energy and shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing.

And in fact, Dr. Moniz has worked on major reports from MIT that supported major increases in federal funding for research and deployment of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology for coal-fired power plants. Moniz has said:

There is no credible pathway toward prudent greenhouse gas stabilization targets without CO2 emissions reduction from existing coal power plants. We urgently need technology options for these plants and policies that incentivize implementation. We may not see a strong CO2 price signal for many years. In the interim, we need a large, focused, federal program to develop and demonstrate commercial-scale technologies.

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller has been trying to chart a more reasoned and middle-of-the-road path on coal issues, including climate change. I asked if Sen. Rockefeller had any thoughts on Moniz’s nomination, and this is what he said:

Dr. Moniz has a great deal of experience as a physicist and former top energy official under President Clinton.  He has reiterated the need for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.  I’m hopeful that his support of research into carbon capture and storage for coal means that, if confirmed, Dr. Moniz will help us to advance new technologies to create a strong future for coal.  He has also recognized the importance of natural gas which holds great promise for West Virginia’s economy

Leave a Reply