Charlie Rose Talks to Gina McCarthy

The Environmental Protection Agency chief discusses new carbon limits on the U.S. power industry

“This plan doesn’t ask the world to change. It follows the way the world is changing”

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama’s speech introducing the Clean Power Plan was an emotional one. How important is climate change for him?
I think we all know the president is a thoughtful person. The day he asked if I’d become the next administrator at EPA, I asked him if he would do something on climate, because that was the big unfinished business. He talks about his two daughters. He talks about the science that he’s seeing. He talks about it as a moral responsibility, and he means that. To him, it’s just unconscionable that we wouldn’t recognize the fact of climate change and actually take action today, because he sees what it’s already doing to the world we live in.
Is this plan intended as a message to the rest of the world, as well?
There are really three parts to his climate action plan. The first is mitigation, which is what we’ve been talking about. The second is adaptation. And the third is the international global solution. Basically, Obama said the one thing we know for sure is that we’ll never have a global solution on climate change unless the U.S. takes action domestically and shows a sense of seriousness, because we’re the second-largest carbon polluter in the world.
But will it have an effect elsewhere?
When he actually proposed this carbon pollution plan for our power industry last year, the rest of the world did notice. We had China stepping up and doing a joint announcement where they, for the first time, got away from their carbon-intensity goals and said, ‘We’re going to get serious, we’re going to cap, and we’re also going to look at renewables.’ Then you have Brazil come in just a short time ago. We’ve had good conversations with India. For the first time, probably in the history of the United States, we were failing to do anything to take charge of a problem. And failing to recognize that if we did—and stepped forward—we could be the ones producing the renewables that the rest of the world wants to buy.
Why is this so difficult? Why are so many people opposed?
I’ve been looking at the data for 20 years. Back then we were talking about projections of a problem with literally no solutions we could talk about, and that’s just not going to work. People need to know there’s hopefulness before they’re going to even admit there’s a problem. If you give them a problem with no solution, they pretend it isn’t happening or they stand still, because they’re too afraid of it. What we see now is, we actually have solutions—and we’re actually being hit with the problem now.
Put this in context. What’s the impact on the power industry?
The reason we can move forward in the power sector is because the power sector is transforming already. We’re not making it look at renewables—it’s happening because the market is demanding it. People want them. There is a transition from really heavy carbon-polluting fossil fuels to natural gas, which is much cleaner. And now we’re seeing that the growth in renewables, between last year when we proposed this rule and when we finalized it, is beginning to take off.
Is that because renewables are finally becoming competitive?
While they may not be exactly there, they’re there in many places. You go to places where they’re not hugging a tree, they’re hugging their wallets. Renewables are succeeding. That’s why we can build on it. This plan doesn’t ask the world to change. It follows the way the world is changing.
Marco Rubio said electric bills will rise, a catastrophe for a single mom in Tampa.
The first year of compliance, it’s going to be equal to about a gallon of milk, $3. By 2025, that will go down to a dollar, and then the savings begin to accrue. So there’s no way we’re imposing an unaffordable plan on the very people we’re trying to save.

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