President Obama is guided solely by science when it comes to fighting global warming, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told a Senate panel Wednesday, rejecting claims the administration is doing the bidding of left-wing environmental groups and urging Congress to approve a 6 percent budget increase to help fund the agency’s ambitious climate change agenda.
In heated exchanges with Republicans on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee — who have helped lead the charge against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies — Ms. McCarthy defended her agency’s request for a $8.6 billion discretionary budget for fiscal year 2016. Some of the funding increase, laid out in the president’s broader budget proposal, would be dedicated to the White House’s Clean Power Plan, a highly controversial initiative to limit carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants.
Critics from both parties and energy industry leaders claim the plan could ultimately drive coal-powered electricity from existence. They charge the EPA has not yet demonstrated that the benefits of the proposal will match the feared costs, such as significantly higher electric rates for consumers.
But Ms. McCarthy said the administration has a larger goal in mind — to save the planet from rising sea levels, devastating superstorms and other manifestations of climate change.
“Climate change is real. It is happening. It is a threat. Humans are causing the majority of that threat … the impacts are already being felt,” she said. “Climate change is not a religion. It is not a belief system. It’s a science fact. And our challenge is to move forward with the actions we need to protect future generations.”
The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by at least 30 percent over the next 15 years. By the EPA’s own admission, coal-generated electricity would drop dramatically as a result of the plan, which is expected to be finalized this year.
But Republicans say the EPA has not offered firm proof of exactly what impact the plan would have on sea levels and global temperatures. Even if the agency could demonstrate such benefits, it still may not be worth the cost, said Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican.
“It might be when all this is said and done, you’ve got the whole international community agreeing what we should do — this is going to prevent the sea level from rising a quarter of an inch. I might decide that’s not worth it for a 177 [billion dollar] increase in electric rates for my citizens in my state,” Mr. Wicker said, citing one recent study of the plan. “It might be they would conclude it’s going to help by one degree globally and I might conclude that’s just not worth the loss of jobs for Americans.”
Pro-coal groups charge that the administration has simply disregarded the financial costs and other consequences in favor of a radical environmental agenda. Specifically, some EPA critics say the Clean Power Plan not only would raise electricity rates but also might reduce the availability and reliability of power, potentially leading to blackouts.
“The well-being and security of our nation’s electricity grid is being put in serious jeopardy as a result of EPA’s energy policy,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “The administration and EPA have all but ignored concerns raised by industry experts, lawmakers and consumers, and continue to push forward with narrow-minded regulations that threaten the well-being of our most vulnerable communities.”
Ms. McCarthy and her Democratic allies in Congress counter that doomsday economic scenarios haven’t come to pass as a result of past EPA regulations and will be proven false this time, too.
“We hear the same arguments over and over again every time we propose a rule. But every time, I have not seen those lack of benefits come through or those excess costs realized,” Ms. McCarthy said.