BOULDER—Congress may be unwilling to pass climate-change legislation, but EPA chief Gina McCarthy said Wednesday that’s not going to stop the Obama administration.
In a speech at the University of Colorado Boulder, McCarthy said the administration intends to bypass Congress and use President Obama’s executive authority to advance its climate-change agenda.
McCarthy cited the president’s June 25 address at Georgetown University, where he unveiled his Climate Action Plan, calling it “a most remarkable speech by a president of the United States.”
“Essentially, he said that it is time to act,” McCarthy said. “And he said he wasn’t going to wait for Congress, but that he had administrative authorities and that it was time to start utilizing those more effectively and in a more concerted way.”
The comments came at the start of a panel discussion on the President’s Climate Action Plan featuring former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Colorado Oil and Gas Association president Tisha Schuller, and Brad Udall, director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources at the University of Colorado School of Law.
The Obama administration has come under criticism for its aggressive use of executive orders on issues ranging from immigration to welfare to education reform. Republicans have accused the White House of governing by executive fiat, saying it limits the power of the legislative branch and, by extension, voters.
McCarthy, who was confirmed as EPA administrator in July, said the executive branch’s push on climate change is necessary to show Americans that regulations to limit greenhouse-gas emissions can be implemented without hurting economic growth.
“[W]e’re going to do this this year, next year, the following year, until people understand these are not scary things to do, these are actions we can all do, they’re actions that benefit everybody, they’re that will grow the economy, and they’re actions that will protect the health and safety of individuals,” said McCarthy.
She also had praise for Colorado and Boulder as examples of jurisdictions taking the lead on climate-change policy.
“He [the president] told us to start paying attention to what’s going on in states and cities like Colorado and Boulder, and to start learning what you have already learned and to start getting the federal government to take the responsibility that it must take to face the challenge of climate change,” she said.
She didn’t mention specific policies, but the Boulder City Council voted in June to impose a one-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The state legislature passed a bill earlier this year to double the renewable-energy mandate on rural communities.
The bill, Senate Bill 252, touched off a backlash dubbed the “war on rural Colorado” and calls for a dozen northern Colorado counties to form their own state.
Even so, McCarthy received cheers from Ritter, who now heads the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. He said he met with the president in March as part of a group to brainstorm on ways to skirt Congress in developing climate-change policy.
“[W]e met to discuss what the president could do with his executive authority and his executive agencies that was within legal and constitutional bounds, what could he do to act on clean energy issues if Congress was not going to act in a significant or meaningful way,” said Ritter.
He said there was agreement that Congress is unlikely to act “in a meaningful way for a couple of years.” The next congressional election falls in November 2014.
“The hope is this: That this premise about congressional inaction is a temporary premise, and that we can demonstrate to the president and the executive agencies that there are things they can do to push a clean-energy agenda,” said Ritter.
He said his group is now working on recommendations for the White House on enacting its climate-change agenda without Congress, adding that he hopes “Congress can understand after time that this is not a false choice–that you can take energy and environment, economic development and equity, and pile those together and have a clean energy economy that works.”
The president’s plan includes proposals to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, accelerate green-energy permitting, and increase fuel-economy standards.