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McCarthy tells science educator Bill Nye her agency 'rocks' at writing regulations

EPAAdministrator Gina McCarthy poked fun at her trademark Boston accent andaddressed the struggle her agency faces when trying to regulate anything, be itcarbon emissions from power plants or methane emissions from the oil and gassector, during an interview with science educator Bill Nye.

Thepair chatted at the Climate Action 2016 conference in Washington, D.C., on May6, where climate change activists from around the world met to discuss therecent successful global agreementto limit temperature rise associated with climate change.

Theadministrator hit back at critics of the EPA's Clean Power Plan and those whoshe believes have mischaracterizedthe U.S. Supreme Court's February stayof the rule.

SNL Image

SNL Image

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy chatted with science educator Bill Nye at the Climate Action 2016 conference in Washington, D.C., on May 6.
Source: Annalee Grant/S&P Global Market Intelligence

"Forcrying out loud, what we have is a pause in the Clean Power Plan. If anybodyknows anything about EPA and writing rules, we rock at it. Legally, we do themon the basis of sound science and while there is a pause, there's no pause onthe action in the United States," McCarthy said. "We are going inexactly the direction the rule demanded, and we're doing it because the marketsare demanding it. We could not be in better shape than we are today."

McCarthyexplained that more money is being invested in renewable energy and energyefficiency than fossil fuel generation infrastructure, and job growth in thesolar power industry is growing at a rate 12 times faster than in the overalleconomy.

Butthe transition cannot leave behind those that are losing their jobs as themarket pushes out coal-fired generation, McCarthy said. Nye asked ifout-of-work coal miners would be receiving "welfare checks" ascompensation, or if there was a bigger plan to aid these coal communities.McCarthy noted President Barack Obama's POWER Plus job training that was released inFebruary 2015. She also said communities need infrastructure that will attractbusinesses; for example, broadband needs to be expanded in communities that donot already have it.

Nyeasked McCarthy about clean coal and whether she thinks the technology couldeventually allow coal generation to operate without releasing carbon. McCarthysaid her agency has left the door open for carbon capture and sequestration,including the technology as a requirementfor new coal plants in the Clean Power Plan's sister rule for new and modifiedpower plants. The agency faced challenges creating an accounting system toensure that once the carbon is sequestered, it stays there, McCarthy said. Butthe captured carbon can also be used for enhanced oil recovery and in chemicalmanufacturing, she said.

Nyealso asked for McCarthy's thoughts on a carbon tax, which drew laughs from theaudience as she joked that she would only do so if Nye pronounced carbon withher signature Boston accent. "Everybody acknowledges thatthis is, at one level, fantastically intrusive — where everything you ever dowill somehow have a tax on it," Nye said on carbon taxes. "But thenthe other thing … is it would be inherently fair for the people who make themost carbon to pay the highest fee."

McCarthysaid Obama explored a carbon tax in his first term in office, but efforts tomove the initiative through Congress were unsuccessful. Regulation, however,is, in a way, putting a fee on carbon, she said, but rules like the Clean PowerPlan are not possible across the whole economy.

"Wedon't regulate every sector. We're not going to do in every sector what we didwith the Clean Power Plan because it is after all a carbon pollution standard,it is not a fee," McCarthy said. "The president spent a lot of timein his first term [looking at] whether he could do something broader throughthe legislature. That didn't happen, so the second term we just took a look atwhat authorities are available to us, and we're using them. That does not meanthey're the most elegant of tools available to us."

McCarthyand Nye took some shots at climate change skeptics. "I haven't met a lotof them here. It's weird," Nye quipped.

McCarthysaid Obama's leadership in saying the science of climate change is notdebatable has helped, and the debate has quieted down. "Youhear it but not a lot. And the great news about the U.S. right now is … theenergy sector [has] turned a corner and there are innovations and solutionstoday that we didn't have before. So the fight on economics is not there anymore,"McCarthy said.