EPA chief, N.C. environment secretary disagree on legality of Obama climate plan

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks to the American Waste Management Association Conference in Raleigh.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks to the American Waste Management Association Conference in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — Although they were never in the convention hall at the same time, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy and North Carolina’s head environmental regulator still managed to trade barbs during the American Air Waste Management Association’s annual meeting at the Raleigh Convention Center.

N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart, who spoke on a panel before McCarthy’s speech, had said that while North Carolina would not have trouble meeting the targets in the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan to combat carbon dioxide emissions in section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, it was misplaced from a legal standpoint. But McCarthy said van der Vaart was wrong.

“It is the right section,” McCarthy said. “We did take a look at what section to put it in” and found 111(d) to be the best. McCarthy said that under 111(d), the EPA was “able to give significant flexibility to states,” and that it was “exactly the portion of the statute that fit the task at hand,” when asked to respond to van der Vaart’s comment on the carbon plan.

Much of the talk the first day of the conference revolved around the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the EPA’s proposal to tighten the ground-level ozone emission targets.

McCarthy, who lives in Boston, opened by joking that Raleigh’s heat was attributable to global warming and plugged a new EPA report released today that she said shows that climate-related disasters will cost the United States $5 trillion by 2100 in domestic impacts alone. McCarthy warned that the dangers of doing nothing were severe but that it was “not too late” to adopt President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which would “lead a global effort to reduce carbon pollution.”

Donald R. van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources

Donald R. van der Vaart, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources

Duke Energy’s Cari Boyce and van der Vaart sat on the panel together and mostly agreed with each other, even though the regulator and the utility giant have been at odds recently over a $25.1 million fine. Van der Vaart, who was appointed late last year by Gov. Pat McCrory, assessed the company the state-record fine for groundwater contamination violations from a coal ash pond near Wilmington.

“We need to bring nuclear power plants online,” said van der Vaart, who called natural gas “too valuable” to use as a baseload fuel in the long term, noting President Obama has likewise called natural gas a “bridge fuel.”

Boyce agreed with van der Vaart, saying that Duke Energy is looking to expand its nuclear capacity and build new nuclear plants at the same time as it invests in natural gas plants and renewable energy sources.

Van der Vaart had other sharp words for the federal agency in his speech, which began with a reference to “Richard Windsor,” a fake employee used as an alias by Obama’s former EPA chief Lisa Jackson. He repeated his call that the EPA not force states to implement plans developed to fight carbon dioxide emissions until any legal challenges are exhausted, claiming the EPA has lost two-thirds of its legal challenges when judges look at the law.