Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy did not know the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, information that is fundamental to the EPA’s regulations, at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing titled "Examining EPA’s Regulatory Overreach" which examined the scientific justifications for EPA’s rules and how they impact the lives of the American people. One of the rules in question was the Clean Power Plan, announced on June 2, 2014, which would require that states meet requirements for limiting carbon emissions.
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Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) asked McCarthy, "What percentage of the atmosphere is CO2?"
"What percentage of the atmosphere is CO2? I don’t have that calculation for you sir," said McCarthy.
"Maybe you could tell us what your personal guess is on what percentage CO2 is," said the congressman.
"I don’t make those guesses sir," McCarthy said.
"You’re the head of the EPA and you don’t know—you’ve based all of these laws based on—oh you’re going to get your staffer to tell you now," said Rohrabacher. "But you’re the head of the EPA and you did not know what percentage and now are basing policies that impact dramatically on the American people and you didn’t even know what the content of CO2 in the atmosphere was, which is the justification for the very policies you’re talking about."
"No that isn’t—if you’re asking me how much CO2 is in the atmosphere, not a percentage but how much we have just reached levels of 400 parts per million," McCarthy read from her notes.
"I was very clear in what I was asking and it was very clear you didn’t know," said Rohrabacher. The congressman went on to explain that from his understanding CO2 is "only one half of one tenth of one percent of the atmosphere" and "only ten percent of that is actually man made."
"Of course whatever you’re suggesting and is being suggested as the basis for creating these—what we consider draconian controls—is that one tenth that is man made of the one half of the one percent, that that will have an impact on the weather to the point that it will actually impact peoples health," he said.
Proponents of the Clean Power Plan argue that it is a "commonsense plan" that will improve the health of the American people and the environment. The EPA says, "this proposal will maintain an affordable, reliable energy system, while cutting pollution and protecting our health and environment now and for future generations."
Opponents of the plan, such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) who chaired the hearing, call it a "power grab" and say it gives "government more control over Americans’ daily lives."
"These regulations stifle economic growth, destroy American jobs, and increase energy prices," said Smith. "That means everything will cost more—from electricity to gasoline to food, which disproportionately hurts low income Americans."
"Even EPA data shows that this regulation would reduce sea level rise by only 1/100th of an inch, the thickness of three sheets of paper," he added. "This rule represents massive costs without significant benefits. In other words, it’s all pain and no gain."