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Administrator Gina McCarthy, Remarks at Columbia University, As Prepared

04/28/2015
Thanks, Jason. You know, the one reason people working at the White House or in the Administration look forward to their next gig is because, presumably, they get to slow down. I don’t think these guys ever got that memo. It’s incredible to see people like Jason and David build such a valuable, go-to resource to understand our most complex energy and environmental challenges. In a short time, this center has really become a premier platform for informed policy discussion and timely research—things we can’t get enough of. So thank you. And kudos to your efforts.

Let me start with a simple statement. One that explains the action EPA is taking, and the investments the energy world is already making. Our low carbon future is inevitable.

Don’t take my word for it. Last week, I met with top utilities at the CERA global energy conference in Houston. The point I made is this: industry already puts billions of dollars toward maintaining energy infrastructure and making it as high-performing as possible. For example: from 2000 to 2010, spending on electric and gas utility customer-funded efficiency programs more than doubled. And In 2013, investor-owned utilities spent nearly $17 billion dollars on transmission, which is up almost $6 billion since 2001. That’s on transmission alone.

So all we’re doing with our rule is adding wind to the sails of that existing investment inertia—
not adding a separate cost. Acting on climate is the morally responsible thing to do, and it also happens to be the economically prudent thing to do. How do I know? Because it’s already happening, and investments speak louder than words. Here’s more proof: according to FERC, over the past 3 years, the power sector brought online 60 gigawatts of cleaner generation, in which 24 gigawatts was natural gas capacity and more than 27 gigawatts was new, renewable capacity.

The value proposition is more efficiency, not more generation. On a levelized cost basis, new energy efficiency programs are about one-half to one-third cheaper than new power generation. The value of a carbon-conscious market extends to all sectors. The American auto industry’s resurgence was propelled by ratcheting up fuel efficiency. EPA has 1,600 Energy Star partners—many of them are Fortune 500 companies that are all-in on efficiency. Banks like Citigroup are investing hundreds of billions of dollars in clean energy.

Companies are responding to ongoing clean-energy market trends, bolstered by the long-term signal of our rule. Let me give you an example from a state that was my home away from home for five years. A company in Connecticut, called FuelCell Energy, innovated a way to capture carbon as a cheap byproduct of running a fuel cell. They’re now working to scale their operation to coal plants.

America is bullish on clean energy and a low carbon economy. EPA is doubling down on that trend, and we will
not threaten energy reliability or affordability. At the end of the day, the aim of our Clean Power Plan aims is to cut carbon pollution from power plants, plain and simple. Let me be extra clear: there is no standard or compliance scenario under the Clean Power Plan that I will accept where we are causing reliability to come into question. Period.

The final 111(d) rule will give utilities the time and space they need to take a reliability-first approach that’s in line with long-term planning, and provides the latitude to adapt with the market. I’m happy to get into details during discussion, but let me say generally why I’m so confident. First, this isn’t our first rodeo, and it’s certainly not mine. For 45 years, since EPA came into existence: we've been employing smart policies that’ve drastically reduced pollution, all while U.S. GDP has tripled.

And in all that time, energy reliability has never been compromised. The lights have never gone out. EPA has regulated polluting industries while our nation experienced its longest period of economic expansion.

That’s not unrelated, it’s not coincidental—it’s causal. Because a healthy environment isn’t just window dressing—it’s foundational to a strong, enduring economy. Those are the economics that make sense. Those are the economics that side with history. Those are the economics our kids are depending on us to follow.

Thanks to following those economics, and thanks to President Obama’s leadership, America is leading the world in our global climate fight. Today, we can confidently say that we’re living up to our legacy as a global leader in environmental governance. From the UN Climate Summit last September, to the joint U.S.-China climate announcement late last year, to the recent submission of our official carbon reduction target to the United Nations, it’s no longer a question of “if” the United States will act, it’s “how” we will. And EPA is proud to be a part of that answer.

I can’t tell you how many days of my calendar filled up with meetings with foreign environmental ministers, wanting to know if our rule was the real deal (the answer is yes it is, by the way). Our rule is a clear signal that Secretary Kerry, and chief US climate negotiator Todd Stern can point to, when they’re at the negotiating table. They are working hard with other countries to achieve an ambitious global agreement this year.

The size of our climate challenge may be daunting, but it’s dwarfed by the size of our opportunity. President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, including EPA’s action, is not about choosing winners or losers in our race to a clean energy future—it’s about choosing to lead that race.

Thanks so much for having me.