EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Defends Natural Gas

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy defended today the Administration's reliance on natural gas to meet its greenhouse-gas reduction goals.
EPA's draft Clean Power Plan, also known as "111D," gives states flexibility to determine how they will meet emissions limits set by the federal government, but it anticipates that many states will shut down old coal plants and replace them with new gas plants, which emit only half as much carbon at the smokestack. However, environmentalists have questioned those gains because methane leaks before it reaches the power plant, and because it may displace cleaner forms of renewable energy.
"While it's a great transition (fuel), and I think 111D will help accelerate that, I'm not in the business of picking winners and losers," McCarthy said at a Resources for the Future forum webcast from Washington D.C. "I'm in the business of reducing carbon pollution, and that's where I'm going."
A study released last week by Energy Innovations confirmed worries by environmentalists that gas loses much of its carbon advantage over coal at the power plant because so much methane leaks into the atmosphere on the way to the power plant.
McCarthy acknowledged the problem and described an Administration response at its earliest stages:
We recognize, and I think the president does, that methane remains an issue of concern with the natural gas sector, both oil and natural gas. We've taken some regulatory steps in that arena, to look at how you regulate VOCs from new and repeated fracking operations, but we know there's more to be done, and part of the challenge that the president laid on us was basically to produce some white papers, get some better data in, look at the whole methane gas leak opportunities as well as releases. And see where numbers show the leaks are coming from and look for strategies to get at it using all kinds of tools.
So we recognize that that's a challenge.
The Energy Innovations study emphasizes that gas only offers an advantage if it replaces coal, but it loses that advantage if it displaces renewables, or reduces demand for them. McCarthy expressed confidence that EPA's Clean Power Plan will encourage cleaner sources of energy across the board:
I recognize there's lots of concern on whether or not there's going to be too much reliance on natural gas—is that going to squeeze out the ability for renewables to move forward. But again I'd only remind you that the president's plan and EPA's actions is very multi faceted. It's not focused on any one energy supply. And as you're looking at the numbers I think you'll see that states are pretty bullish on renewables at this point, and they're bullish on efficiencies. And they're looking at all kinds of energy supplies.
States are addressing concerns about water use and water pollution by fracking operations, McCarthy said, adding that cheap natural gas—mostly from fracking operations—has improved air quality in the U.S. by replacing mercury-laden coal emissions.
"Natural gas in the U.S. has been a game changer," she said. "The abundance of low-cost natural gas has really started an energy transition that we are taking advantage of and hoping to follow through our 111D process. So it's been a significant benefit to the United States. It's been a significant benefit to air quality."

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