What revoking the Clean Power Plan means, from both sides

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has begun the process to roll back the Obama-era rule aimed at cutting carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. The move comes as part of President Trump’s pledge to unwind many of former President Obama’s signature policies. John Yang gets two views from former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Bob Murray of Murray Energy Corporation.

Read the Full Transcript


    President Trump has repeatedly pledged to unwind many of former President Obama's signature policies, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

    The Trump administration has already taken a number of steps to do so, but today made the biggest move yet. Environmental Protection Agency Administration Scott Pruitt will roll back a plan to limit emissions from existing power plants.

    John Yang has more on this story.


    The Obama era rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, aimed to significantly cut carbon emissions from the nation's power plants by 2030. The goal? Reduce emissions by a third of 2005 levels.

    But utility companies and more than two dozen states' attorneys general sued, including Scott Pruitt, who was the Oklahoma A.G. at the time. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court put the Obama rule on hold.

    Now Pruitt has started a process to kill it outright.

    We invited Scott Pruitt to join us tonight. But the EPA didn't get back to us.

    We get two views on this decision now, beginning with Gina McCarthy. She headed the EPA for President Obama and was an architect of the plan. She's now at the Kennedy School at Harvard University.

    Gina McCarthy, thanks so much for joining us.

    First, let me just ask you about your reaction to what Mr. Pruitt did today.

  • GINA MCCARTHY, Former EPA Administrator:

    Well, it doesn't surprise me. It's a campaign promise they pledged to actually get rid of actions that would protect our kids and their future. And that's exactly what this is.

    So, there are surprises in it, but I'm not surprised they moved forward with repeal of this rule.


    What are some of the surprises?


    Well, I was surprised that they decided to repeal the rule without proposing anything else in its stead, because, as the science dictates and as the law dictates, the EPA's obligated to regulate carbon pollution from this sector.

    So it surprises me that they weren't a little bit more sensitive to the court challenges and what the courts have been telling EPA for many years, which is, you need to regulate this.

    So, instead, they took a look at it and decided that they'd repeal, and then sometime later in the future, they would start asking questions, even fundamental ones, about whether or not they actually have to do anything. So I think that's a big risk to how that is being framed.

    And I think the other concern that I have with this is, you know, our Clean Power Plan was really based on a solid understanding of how the energy system was working. It gave states maximum flexibility to achieve reductions. And it recognized sort of the low-cost renewable and energy efficiency that was coming into the market, and it anticipated the reasonable and cost-effective reductions we could achieve without threatening the energy system itself.

    But it appears that the legal interpretation they want to take right now is that the administrator is supposed to be blind to how the energy system works, and instead the only things states are going to be allowed to do is look at their coal facilities, shift consumer money into keeping them alive, even if they're not marketable, which will limit the kind of protections you will get for public health, and take a significant bite out of our ability to address climate change and keep our kids' future safe.

    So, it makes really very little sense in the energy world to even be looking at it like this, because states are already far ahead where we anticipated. And recent studies show that because of the low-cost renewable energy, we're going to be better off than we ever anticipated. The benefits are going to be larger and the costs are going to be smaller.


    Let me pick up on a couple points you said there.

    You said that the administrator said — what the administrator said today was that it went beyond regulatory norms, by asking the regulated utilities to do things beyond their specific individual plans, what they call beyond the fence line.

    But isn't that the reason why the Supreme Court put this on hold, so that the lower courts could look at this and decide whether that was true?


    Actually, no.

    This very legal issue has been fully briefed in front of the D.C. Circuit. And the D.C. Circuit is now going to have to decide whether they continue to put this on hold, which will give pause to the Supreme Court, because EPA is obligated to move forward.

    This administrator didn't question the science in this decision. It just simply said they wanted to craft a narrower interpretation and figure that out later, which is not going to sit well. And so it's going to be very challenging for them to defend this in court. And, in the meantime, we have a rule that's actually working.

    It has actually looked at how the energy system works, and it's helping to underpin that. So we perfectly expect that the clean energy system is going to continue to move forward. But what they're trying to do is shift resources at states to coal industries only. And that's just not the way the Clean Air Act works.


    But even with this rule on hold, it's not — these regulations aren't in place right now — there are studies that show that emissions for electrical plants — electrical power plants are actually going to decline to the targets envisioned by the Clean Power Plan anyway because of economic forces.

    So is the worry overstated about what happened today?


    Well, actually, I don't think it's overstated, because they're still trying, between the EPA and DOE, to set a case to go backwards to more coal, even though it's not marketable, even though the future is in clean energy.

    And so we just have to be cautious and careful. The one thing that this does — and you're right — you're giving a great case for why the Clean Power Plan should continue, because it is continuing to underpin the way the energy world is heading.

    But what this could do is create uncertainty. That's what the utility industry doesn't want, because they make long-term investments. The utility industry themselves are some of the big power producers, and they will tell you that they are investing where the future is, not in the past, because that is where money will be made, that's where reliability will be stronger, that's where it's less expensive for consumers.

    They know we're moving to clean energy, but the worry is, will uncertainty cause us to hesitate? Will uncertainty cause us to not invest in the next tranche of great technologies and cede all of that to other countries, so they can claim the jobs, they can make the economic growth impacts that are associated with looking to the future, instead of going back in time to a technology that is no longer marketable?

    That's what we're talking about here.


    Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, thank you very much for joining us.




    For a different view, we're now joined by Robert Murray, the founder, chairman and CEO of Murray Energy Corporation, the nation's largest privately held coal company.

    The company filed the first lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan.

    Mr. Murray, thank you for joining us.

    First of all, let me just ask you your reaction to what Administrator Pruitt did today.

  • BOB MURRAY, Murray Energy Corporation:

    We fully support President Trump and Administrator Pruitt's decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

    It will preserve low-cost, reliable electric power in America for those families on fixed incomes that are paying out 21 percent of their earnings for energy and for those single moms that are paying out the same amount.

    Ms. McCarthy was wrong in her statements, blatantly wrong and misleading. We paid out $15 billion, the American taxpayer did, last year for windmills and solar panels in subsidies. It costs 26 cents a kilowatt hour. Coal-fired generation costs 4 cents a kilowatt hour.

    Gina McCarthy and Barack Obama destroyed reliable, low-cost electricity in America, and Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt are trying to bring it back.


    Let me ask you also about this question about whether or not there should be regulation on carbon dioxide at all.

    The Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Edison Electric Institute say that there — acknowledge there probably will be some regulation on CO2.

    What's your stand on that?


    My stand is that the endangerment finding needs to be repealed, that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.

    I have 4,000 scientists that tell me that it is not a pollutant. A lot of people, John, have made money off of promoting the politics of climate change and the politics of the Democrat Party, in promoting their windmills, their solar panels, and all other restraints and alarmist restraints on low-cost reliable electricity.

    We need to get back — we have an energy poverty problem in this country, John. We need to have low-cost reliable electricity for all Americans, and coal is 4 cents a kilowatt hour. A windmill and a solar panel is 25 cents that they have promoted.

    And they can — it's all going back now to the science, back to what should have been. Low-cost electricity is a staple of life in this country. We must have it for jobs, for manufacturers, for people on fixed incomes, for that single mom. And Obama and McCarthy destroyed it. We're putting it back.


    You mentioned the endangerment finding. That's the basis for the EPA's regulation of CO2. You want it reversed.

    I know you talk to the president. Is that something that is also on the president's agenda, do you think?


    I don't know, John, whether it is for sure or not. We have discussed it. It should be.

    It was never intended in the Clean Air Act of 1971, John, where all of these regulations of Obama came from, that carbon dioxide be a regulated pollutant. That was only recently decided.

    And all of this that they have been doing has been illegal. What McCarthy did here is illegal. I was joined by 29 states. I filed a lawsuit and got a stay on February 9, 2016, before the United States Supreme Court. I was joined by 29 states that thought Obama and his director of the EPA had done something illegal.

    And they have. And so we're trying to put it back now and put it right. I believe that there needs to be a lot of discussion as to what the effects are of any climate change on the society, on our standard of living. We have an energy poverty problem. We do not have a climate change problem.


    You don't see climate change as an issue or a problem at all, despite what other scientists say?


    I do not. I do not, because I listen to 4,000 scientists, and who tell me that mankind is not affecting climate change.

    Climate change has occurred over the cycle for decades. The Antarctic ice field is larger than it has ever been right now. The Earth has cooled for the last 19 years. It's a natural cycle. And to cause people to pay too much for their electricity or have unreliable electricity because of this scare, which a lot of people, like Albert Gore, have made a lot of money off of, is wrong.

    It's wrong for Americans. And Scott Pruitt and President Trump are trying to put it back to where it should be, in the best interests of all Americans.


    Robert Murray, the founder and chairman of Murray Energy, thank you very much for joining us.

Listen to this Segment