Energy & Environment

Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy

Aaron Schwartz

Republicans senators pressed one of President Biden’s nominees for a major environmental post on a power plant regulation she helped promulgate during the Obama administration. 

The lawmakers on the Environment and Public Works Committee particularly honed in on the regulation during a hearing to examine Janet McCabe’s nomination to be deputy Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator and that of Brenda Mallory to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). 

“Do you believe that the EPA has the authority to … regulate a power plant’s carbon dioxide emissions outside the fence line as the Clean Power Plan did?” the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (W.Va.), asked McCabe.

“The Clean Power Plan was one of the most important and impactful rules that we worked on during the Obama administration,” McCabe said. 

“We’ve never had a legal ruling on that very question and certainly we would not have put that rule forward if we did not believe we were acting within the four corners of the Clean Air Act,” she added. 

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) called the Clean Power Plan “one of the most overbearing, big government impositions on states,” and told McCabe she has “a lot to answer for.”

“I know that there were many who disagreed with the outcome of that rule, but in terms of listening to people and hearing people and taking everybody’s perspective into account, we certainly did that,” McCabe replied. “The rule was about carbon emissions … but what we tried to do in that rule was build a very flexible approach.” 

During his own confirmation hearing, Biden’s pick to lead the agency, Michael Regan, pledged to operate with a “clean slate.”

During the Obama administration, McCabe served as acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. If confirmed, she’d be the agency’s second-in-comment. 

Mallory served as the CEQ’s top lawyer during the Obama administration. In her new role, she would take charge of an office that deals with the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and advises the president on issues like environmental justice, public lands and wildlife conservation. 

She may take action to reverse the Trump administration’s rollbacks to protections provided under NEPA, which requires environmental analyses ahead of projects like pipelines, highways and drilling on public lands. 

The Trump administration sought to reduce the amount of time that environmental reviews under the law take, from about 4 1/2 years to two years. 

It also removed requirements to consider climate change impacts, complicated the procedure for community input and allowed more industry involvement in environmental reviews. 

“I view the challenge of finding a way to ensure that NEPA is serving its multiple purposes in a way that allows the president’s full agenda to be met as the challenge that we face,” Mallory said during the hearing on Wednesday.  

“It not only has to create an opportunity for there to be a full, robust analysis of the impacts on major projects, it has to create an opportunity for there to be a way for citizens and the community to engage, but it also has to be done in a way that ensures that we have significant infrastructure projects and that economic recovery which is based on those projects can occur,” she added 

Cramer questioned Mallory about her stance on pipelines in light of her work with an environmental group that has opposed some of them in court, asking, “Have you ever supported a pipeline?“

“In my life as a private practice lawyer, I worked with pipelines and helped pipelines get permitted as well but that was 20 years ago and what I’m focused on now is serving President Biden’s agenda.”

Cramer also asked the nominee to guarantee that the White House would not “interfere politically” with a decision before the Army Corps of Engineers about whether to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline after a court ruled against a permit that allowed it to move forward. 

“I can commit that I will carry out the president’s agenda in making sure that decisions that are made are based on sound science,” Mallory replied. 


Tags Brenda Mallory Climate change Environment Joe Biden Kevin Cramer Michael Regan NEPA power plants

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