Republican senator slams EPA chief: 'You don't run this country'

Senate Republicans on Wednesday accused Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy of trying to run America by proposing new rules to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants.

McCarthy is the public face of the agency's new carbon rules, which are a central pillar of President Obama's second-term climate change agenda. Republicans say the rules threaten to bring the economy to its knees, and on Wednesday, accused the EPA of staging a massive power grab.

"The American people run this country — you don't run this country," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told McCarthy during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing.

When given a chance to respond, McCarthy said she doesn't think she runs the U.S., and cited a Supreme Court endangerment finding on carbon pollution, backing up the agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

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Republicans sought to poke holes in the proposal, which mandates states cut carbon dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, by tethering it to environmentalists and alleging that the EPA did not seek input from the coal industry or utilities that would be impacted the most.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) pressed the administrator on a New York Times report that credited the green group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for providing the blueprint the EPA used to craft its carbon emissions standards.

Additional reports have found comparisons between the NRDC's plan to cut pollution from the nation's fleet of power plants and the one proposed by the EPA. The agency says it met with thousands of stakeholders to develop the rules.

Barrasso wasn't convinced.

"For those of you who don't know, the NRDC is a $120 million-a-year lobbying machine backed by Hollywood elites," Barrasso said.

"It is absolutely shameful to me that the EPA under the direction of this administrator would allow a group of lawyers and lobbyists to draft their regulations," he said. "If I'm wrong than NRDC and EPA administrator should provide all documents requested by this committee on how these new regulations on coal-fired power plants were crafted, because right now, it sure looks like the EPA let a trio of high powered of Washington lobbyists write their regulations for them."

Following the Times report, McCarthy sent out a staff memo mocking the newspaper, calling the story "preposterous."

"I will guarantee you that I have met many more times with utilities than NRDC," McCarthy said in response to Barrasso.

She said EPA staff got little sleep during the process, and dismissed the notion that the rule was designed "miraculously" months ago and that the EPA has had it in its pocket since then.

McCarthy stressed that the rules allow states a great amount of flexibility to find the best method for meeting reduction targets.

"It is designed to be moderate in its ask," McCarthy said.

"We are setting a course on climate change that is long term and flexible; we are sending a tremendous investment signal. This is not about a scrubber at the end of a smokestack; it is about investing in things that we care about," McCarthy said.

Senate Democrats praised McCarthy for the rules, which the agency says would protect public health and prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks.

Chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), drew attention to children and teenagers in the room who supported the EPA's action on climate change, pushing back at Republican accusations that the rule will hurt families. The teenagers in the audience wore shirt that said, "climate action now."

The EPA is currently in the midst of its 120-day comment period to allow stakeholders time to submit feedback on the new standards.

The agency has said it would finalize the regulations by the summer of 2015, but a number of industry groups are weighing legal action, and nine states have already sued the EPA over its proposal.