Putting The “War On Coal” In Gina McCarthy's Mouth

What The Head Of The EPA Actually Said On Real Time With Bill Maher

Conservative media are claiming that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted she is waging a “war on coal” when, in fact, she has consistently stated that the EPA is simply meeting its obligation to serve public health with its new clean power plan.

In an interview with McCarthy on the June 13 edition of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, host Maher said that he has heard that the EPA's proposed “Clean Power Plan,” which will for the first time implement standards for carbon pollution from existing power plants, amounts to “a war on coal,” adding that he “hope[s] it is.” McCarthy responded, “Actually, EPA is all about fighting against pollution and fighting for public health. That's exactly what this is.” Maher responded “Oh, great.”

The Weekly Standard declared that this meant that McCarthy “agreed with Bill Maher” that “the Obama administration is engaged in a war on  coal.” National ReviewTwitchy and EHS Today all concurred. However, even the conservative Washington Examiner concluded that "[i]t appears Maher's glee was premature" after an EPA spokesperson clarified that McCarthy was not agreeing with Maher and has consistently stated that the agency is not waging a “war on coal.”

Indeed, McCarthy has always responded to claims that the EPA is waging a “war on coal” by explaining that the agency is simply serving its public health mandate and that it is not “fair” to claim the EPA is targeting any one energy source without regard for the facts. For example, McCarthy's testimony before Congress earlier this year:

SEN. DEB FISCHER (R-NE): And do you think it's fair to say -- maybe the EPA has somewhat of a war on coal so that we can lessen our dependence upon coal in this country?

McCARTHY: Senator, I -- I don't think that that's fair to say. What we're trying to do is our job to protect public health by reducing pollution from some of the largest sources ...


McCARTHY: Of those pollutions. [Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing, 3/26/14, via Nexis, emphasis added]

And in an interview with The New York Times:

“We don't have a war on coal,” [McCarthy] said. “We're doing our business, which is to reduce pollution. We're following the law.”

And an interview with Bloomberg News about the carbon pollution standards: 

PETER COOK (Bloomberg News): The argument is this is a war on coal. You are putting coal out of business with this proposal.

McCARTHY: Well if you take a look at it, what we're projecting is that coal in 2030 will still be a very significant portion of the electric generating capacity here. And what we're hoping that folks will do is realize that this is an opportunity to actually make investments in coal, to make them more efficient so that we can have the best and cleanest facilities moving forward. But the ultimate choice is going to be up to the states. Do they want to shift towards more renewables? Do they want to focus on energy efficiency? Do they want to do all of those things together?

And we'll see how they end up, but we know that the - that the reductions that we put in state by state were based on what - what states are doing today and what we think they can do in each of those states moving forward in a way that will maintain reliability and affordability of the electricity supply. But every fuel will have a place moving forward. They just have to get cleaner. And in the end, we have to produce the carbon reductions that we need for public health. [Bloomberg TV, 6/3/14, via Nexis, emphasis added]

The so-called “war on coal” is empty political rhetoric. Here are facts that put the EPA's plan in context -- facts you likely won't hear from The Weekly Standard or National Review:

  • The EPA is legally mandated to protect public health and welfare, and it has determined that carbon pollution poses a threat to public health and welfare -- as did President George W. Bush's EPA administrator.
  • States that rely heavily on coal and have delayed on moving to cleaner sources of energy, such as West Virginia and Kentucky,would be given less stringent clean-up plans than other states under the proposed carbon pollution standards:State-By-State
  • Coal jobs have long been declining in part due to automation in the industry, while clean energy provides more jobs per dollar of investment. Coal miners face significant health risks, which the Obama administration has attempted to address in proposed rules that have been stymied by Republicans.
  • The Obama administration has invested billions of dollars to Carbon Capture and Storage projects that, if successful, would allow coal plants to become compatible with a low-carbon future.