Obama EPA Head: Tired of Hearing Trump EPA Helps Manufacturers

Gina McCarthy / Getty Images
June 11, 2019

President Obama's former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency complained in a congressional hearing about the direction the agency had taken under the Trump administration, especially as those changes relate to the growing U.S. economy.

"I'm tired of hearing decisions being made where we solely talk about how much it's reduced manufacturers' costs," Gina McCarthy said towards the end of the hearing. "That's not the mission of the agency."

Democrats called former EPA administrators to testify before an oversight subcommittee under the larger House Energy & Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

While those comments from McCarthy came at the end of the hearing, some Republicans on the committee had already promoted ideas challenging her conclusion and that were more closely aligned with the current administration.

"Too often people fall into the trap of assuming a clean environment is incompatible with economic growth and job creation," said Greg Walden of Oregon, the top Republican on the committee. "But we can and must have both."

Less than a month ago, the agency announced it would be pursuing new efforts to streamline and standardize how cost-benefit analysis are undertaken within the agency.

"Many EPA statutes contemplate the consideration of benefits and costs as part of regulatory decision-making," Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote in a memo. "However, benefits and costs have historically been treated differently depending on the media office and the underlying authority." He said the memo seeks to rectify these inconsistencies.

"This action supports the Trump Administration’s efforts to identify regulations that impose costs that exceed benefits, providing clarity, transparency and consistency in how regulations are written," he concluded.

Republicans drove their point home again with remarks from West Virginia Congressman David McKinley.

"We can all agree that we want a cleaner environment, and I think we’ve made tremendous strides in air, water, and the environment over the years," McKinley began.

"However, the recent EPA has had a history of overreach, and misleading Congress and the American people in the process."

"Under her [McCarthy's] leadership, I think the EPA went rogue," he added moments later. "And it deviated from these historic missions that you all were talking about."

McKinley pointed to what are commonly known as the mercury and air toxics standards finalized in 2011.

"We were told in this committee that the EPA rule would only cost about 4.7 gigawatts of power would be lost across our grid," McKinley said. "But the North American Electric Reliability Corporation –NERC– has found that 54 gigawatts of power have been lost. 11 times more than we were told by the EPA."

McKinley's numbers were based on a 2011 document from the EPA, and NERC's follow-up assessment in 2014.

While campaigning for president in 2016, Trump promised to greatly rollback or restrict the agency "in almost every form."

"We're going to have little tidbits left, but we're going to take a tremendous amount out," he said during a Fox News debate.

At the beginning of 2019, a report from the D.C.-based think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute estimated that the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda was still moving ahead, but the pace had probably decreased slightly in 2018 compared to the first year. Those estimates would have applied across the government, and not just strictly to the EPA.