President Obama has nominated long-time environmental regulator Gina McCarthy to take over for the departed Lisa Jackson at the EPA.
Anyone who believes the move will mean a respite in the “war on coal” is sadly mistaken.
McCarthy served as a top official under Jackson where she spearheaded efforts to adopt pollution policies in an effort to reduce the impact of climate change.
Before that, she was an environmental regulator in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The University of Massachusetts Boston, in an alumni profile, says McCarthy “has operated at the front line of environmental regulation, overseeing the development of the nation’s first efforts under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.”
McCarthy, like her predecessor, believes the EPA has the authority to adopt rules and regulations that specifically target coal-burning power plants. The Wall Street Journal says she was a central player in developing greenhouse gas rules that “effectively rule out new coal-fired power plants.”
The primary difference between Jackson and McCarthy may be in style.
Jackson seemed forever engaged in public fights and court challenges. Critics made her name and her face synonymous with the struggles of the coal industry, while citing the EPA as an example of regulatory overreach.
McCarthy is expected to spend less time in public brawls and more in meetings with utility executives, pushing them away from coal and toward natural gas and alternative fuels.
John McManus, vice president for environmental services at American Electric Power, told Politico that McCarthy “has always been willing to engage in dialogue with the industry to understand our concerns.”
That view reinforces the notion that McCarthy is a pragmatist.
During one of her visits to her alma mater, she told students, “every day in government you are faced with a constant push and pull of how far and how fast you can move vs. the decision to insist on getting it all and ultimately getting nothing. Paste this on your wall and remember it: Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
Of course that progress will mean a deterioration of the coal industry and, ultimately, higher electric costs for Americans, as well as reduced reliability of the power grid.
Currently, natural gas is the favored alternative for electric generation. It’s the cleanest of the fossil fuels and it’s cheap, at least for now. Energy commodities are notoriously fickle and eventually prices will rise again.
But coal has no place in the Obama Administration’s energy portfolio vision for America. As the President said in his State of the Union speech, if Congress won’t take on climate change, he will through executive actions.
The heated and emotional rhetoric of the “war on coal” has cooled a bit since Lisa Jackson’s departure, and the appointment of McCarthy signals a different means to an end.
But that end remains the same.