EPA taking UN climate report 'very seriously,' agency chief says

EPA taking UN climate report 'very seriously,' agency chief says
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Thursday the agency is taking a recent United Nations report on the dire future of climate change "very seriously" while touting a number of new EPA rule changes that critics say will only worsen emissions.
Speaking at a signing event with the Israeli ambassador on cross-country environmental collaboration, Wheeler pointed to new data that found emissions dropped across the U.S. by 2.7 percent in President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani says he is unaware of reported federal investigation Louisiana's Democratic governor forced into runoff Lawmakers focus their ire on NBA, not China MORE’s first year in office.
“The 2.7 percent reduction shows what an advancement in technologies can do in the private sector without government intervention stepping in. I think that’s very important,” Wheeler said.
The numbers released Wednesday by the EPA found that between 2016 and 2017 emissions had a notable drop, continuing a downward trend since 2007.
Energy sector experts have largely attributed the emissions decline to increased usage of cleaner-burning natural gas as the fuel became cheaper.
The acting EPA administrator was pressed Thursday on the agency's role in addressing the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which warned that current efforts to mitigate global warming were not enough to stop the earth’s temperature from rising 1.5 degrees celsius overall.
Wheeler responded by pointing to a newly proposed agency regulation that scientists have largely labeled as a weakening of Obama-era policies.
The EPA chief said the Affordable Clean Energy rule proposed in August as a replacement to the Obama administration's landmark Clean Power Plan (CPP) “would allow more flexibility."
An EPA analysis of the rule suggests that carbon emissions could be cut to 34 percent below 2005 levels, but does not offer a firm timeline. Instead the EPA says it could occur once "states fully implement the new rule."

That compares to a 2030 goal under the Obama administration's plan of hitting a 32 percent decline below 2005 levels.
President Trump previously vowed to unravel the CPP regulations, which aimed to impose new restrictions on coal-fired power plants.
Coal is a major contributor to greenhouse gases.
Environmental groups argued the new plan would exacerbate global warming and have promised to fight it in court. 
Wheeler also said that the EPA was looking to the Clean Air Act as well as Supreme Court decisions to determine how to move forward.
Trump on Wednesday announced he was directing his Cabinet secretaries to work toward a 5 percent budget cut to balance out the federal deficit.
Wheeler told reporters at the event Thursday that he was holding a senior staff meeting that morning "to discuss it.” 
Since Trump took office, the EPA has weathered a number of budget cuts including hundreds of layoffs of policy staff.
The decreased ranks have concerned experts, who see the cuts as a way to tamp down input from scientists at the agency.