President Obama gave his second-term global warming agenda a lot more definition Monday with a new Environmental Protection Agency chief to replace Lisa Jackson. Picking Gina McCarthy, one of her top lieutenants and the architect of some of the agency’s most destructive carbon rules, is a sign he intends to make good on his vow of “executive actions” if Congress doesn’t pass cap and tax.
Over the last four years running the EPA’s air office, Ms. McCarthy has been a notably willful regulator, even for this Administration. Her promotion is another way of saying that Mr. Obama has given up getting Congress to agree to his anticarbon agenda, especially given the number of Senate Democrats from coal or oil states. The real climate fight now is over the shape of forthcoming rules that could be released as early as this summer, and a brutal under-the-table lobbying campaign is now underway.
The main target, as usual, is the U.S. power industry, which accounts for 40% of U.S. carbon emissions and about one-third of greenhouse gasses. Last year Ms. Jackson and Ms. McCarthy imposed a moratorium on new coal-fired plants, plus other rules that are forcing utilities to shut down older plants and invest billions of dollars to upgrade everything else. The agency is about to go after the leftovers.
The moratorium is known as “new source performance standards,” which the EPA issued because it declared carbon a dangerous pollutant under the clean-air laws of the 1970s. These standards say that all future power plants running on fossil fuels—coal or gas—must not emit more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
Even the most modern, efficient coal boiler emits 1,800 pounds, while combined cycle natural gas turbines come in barely under that threshold. To adapt what Henry Ford said about the color of the Model T, utilities can build any plant they like as long as it runs on natural gas.
This being Washington, new source standards also apply to old sources. But when the EPA issued the diktat last March, it claimed it lacked sufficient information to impose them on existing power plants and heavy manufacturers, refineries and the like. Which is to say the information it did have is that costly new rules in the middle of an election campaign were politically verboten. Now that the election is over, the EPA suddenly knows enough to proceed.