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Obama-Era EPA Chief Becomes Head Of One Of The Country’s Largest Enviro Groups

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Chris White on January 7, 2020

  • Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy became the president of the National Resources Defense Council, a group responsible for pushing the Clean Power Plan (CPP). 
  • McCarthy’s role in the group comes less than five years after reports showed NRDC members working as a type of shadow staff for the EPA while the agency worked to implement CPP. 
  • The NRDC is also one of the largest environmental groups in the country with hundreds of millions of dollars in net assets, according to financial documents.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy joined an environmental group that was one of the chief lobbyists for former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

McCarthy announced her decision to lead the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Monday on Twitter, notifying her followers of the new gig. Reports show NRDC pushed and prodded then-EPA chief McCarthy and the agency in 2014 to press ahead with Obama’s chief regulatory victory.

“The NRDC proposal has its fingerprints throughout this, for sure,” Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, told The New York Times in 2014 while describing how the NRDC influenced how the CPP was rolled out.

The CPP was intended to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 before the Supreme Court decided in 2015 put a stay on the rule, which conservatives suggested walloped American businesses and all-but destroyed the coal industry.

President Donald Trump repealed the CPP in June 2019 and replaced it with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which asks states to improve coal plant efficiency. Critics say the president’s replacement does not sufficiently enforce the EPA’s rules. Still, activists at the NRDC worked to establish rules that would make producing fossil fuels virtually impossible.

Senate Republicans who sat on the Environment and Public Works Committee in 2014 pushed back against what they saw as McCarthy’s close ties to the group, which has more than $349.4 million in net assets, the Washington Examiner reported Monday, citing public documents.

“It appears that NRDC’s unprecedented access to high-level EPA officials allowed it to influence EPA policy decisions and achieve its own private agenda,” former Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and other Senate and House Republicans wrote to McCarthy in a September 2014 letter.

They added: “Such collusive activities provide the NRDC, and their financial backers, with an inappropriate opportunity to wield the broad powers of the executive branch.”

The Energy and Environment Legal Institute obtained and published in 2015 a slew of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests that showed former NRDC members Dan Lashof, David Doniger and David Hawkins effectively wrote the rule. One of the group’s members used private emails to disguise the ploy, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2015.

Michael Goo, who worked at the NRDC before becoming the EPA’s associate administrator for the Office of Policy, used a private Yahoo email account to provide drafts of his options for the rule to officials at the Sierra Club, Clean Air Task Force and NRDC. The emails show Goo kept them regularly appraised about what the agency was doing.

Activists and journalists have published reports showing close coordination between Trump’s EPA and the fossil fuel industry. The president’s first EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, for instance, registered as an energy lobbyist in April 2019 for a group that is fighting to block the closure of coal power plants in Indiana.

A series of reports in 2017, for instance, showed photos of the coal tycoon meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry that year to craft policies designed to prop up the coal industry. The coal industry has hit hard times due to several factors, including a boom in natural gas production and Obama’s regulations.

Nearly “34.1 [gigawatts] of coal capacity from 170 coal-fired generators at 85 plants have retired — 36 of those plants remain operational” since 2016, Glenn McGrath, an engineer at the Energy Information Administration, who is responsible for calculating electricity generation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. One gigawatt can power roughly 300,000 homes.

Neither NRDC nor McCarthy responded to the DCNF’s requests for comment. She did say in an NRDC blog post Monday that she sees “2020 as the year we jump-start a decade of breakthrough climate action to give our children the future they deserve. There can be no regrets.”

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