EPA air chief groans about agency's acronyms

McCarthy confessed after accidently referring to the rule by its predecessor’s acronym, CAIR, which refers to the Bush-era Clean Air Interstate Rule that was shot down in court.

“I just don’t like the name. Sorry. I have trouble with casper,” McCarthy said at a briefing hosted by ICF International. “My mother always used 'casper' when she said somebody was a ‘Caspar Milquetoast.’ My mother was just a fabulously creative person.”

“Caspar Milquetoast meant you were a total coward,” McCarthy added, and drawing more laughs when she cited the captain of the wrecked Italian cruise liner who reportedly abandoned ship as an example.

Caspar Milquetoast was a cowardly character created by cartoonist H.T. Webster in the early 20th century.

Oh, and McCarthy’s also not a fan of the nickname for rules to curb air toxic emissions from industrial boilers. The so-called "maximum achievable control technology" standards are known as the “Boiler MACT.”

“Talk about a name you don’t like. Boiler MACT?,” McCarthy joked before letting out a long, exasperated sigh. But names aside, McCarthy offered a defense of EPA regulations that have come under fire from many Republicans and industry groups.

“The health benefits from the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule are incredibly significant,” said McCarthy, who heads EPA's Office of Air and Regulation. The rule finalized last summer limit emissions that blow across state lines and worsen particulate pollution and smog in the eastern half of the country.

EPA has estimated that the rule will provide annual benefits including prevention of tens of thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of cases of aggravated asthma and other respiratory problems, and other major public health gains.

McCarthy expressed confidence that the rule will withstand the court challenge by power companies and others. She is also gearing up to defend separate rule to curb mercury and other air toxics from coal-fired power plants.

The “Utility MACT” is under fire from Capitol Hill Republicans who call it overreaching. The House passed legislation to block the rule last year, but it didn’t advance in the Senate. More Capitol Hill efforts, however, are likely.

“The most important thing that we can do is try and explain to Congress in every way we can what the rule is, what it isn’t,” McCarthy said of the Utility MACT. “I feel pretty confident and comfortable doing that. I think the merits of these rules are very clear, and I think people will see that we used the process correctly.”