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EPA chief Gina McCarthy to GOP Congress: bring it on (+video)

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday that Americans want President Obama to take action on climate change. But a GOP challenge to the administration’s carbon-cutting policies is expected.

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    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on Monday in Washington, DC.
    Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
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President Obama won’t budge on his climate agenda, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says, even as the incoming GOP Congress gears up to fight Mr. Obama on EPA regulations.

“I feel very confident that the president has the best interests of the EPA in mind, and he’s made very clear what his priorities are,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor Monday. “There may be challenges ahead, but the president will do the right thing.”

The Obama administration has made climate change a priority in the second term, and EPA is doing much of the lifting through its authority to regulate climate-warming emissions.

But a GOP challenge to the administration’s carbon-cutting policies is expected. Under next year’s GOP Senate, EPA will face increasing scrutiny from Republicans who blast Obama’s environmental regulations as job-killing and excessive.

Incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) has signaled that one of his top priorities will be fighting proposed EPA rules that Republicans fear would shutter coal-fired power plants. Target No. 1 is EPA’s forthcoming Clean Power Plan, which would cut US emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Senator McConnell has indicated that Republicans may target EPA regulations by including language in must-pass spending bills that would restrict the EPA. That would force Obama either to accept scaled-back EPA rules and pass the spending bills or to veto the legislation and create a budget showdown.

“The American people spoke against the President's climate policies in this last election,” Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma said in a statement last week. “As we enter a new Congress, I will do everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA's unchecked regulations.”

Senator Inhofe, one of Capitol Hill’s biggest climate change skeptics, is expected to chair the subcommittee overseeing the EPA.

Obama’s latest climate actions include a breakthrough deal with China, committing the United States to bolder emissions cuts and committing China to peak its emissions by 2030. And over the weekend at the G20 summit in Australia, the president pledged the US would contribute $3 billion to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Given those promises, Obama will probably push back on GOP efforts to roll back EPA rules. According to Ms. McCarthy, Americans expect action on climate change out of Obama.

“When you survey folks, they’re worried about climate change and they want us to do something,” she told reporters.

Republicans say the GOP’s success in the midterm elections is a signal that Americans want Congress and the president to focus on creating jobs – not on cutting carbon.

"The House will continue to fight this administration's cavalier approach of jamming through harmful regulations without regard to economic consequences," House majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R) of California said in a statement.

Last week Republicans questioned the impact of the US-China climate deal. Inhofe called the agreement a “non-binding charade.” McConnell called it “unrealistic” and said it allows China to do nothing for the next 16 years until 2030.

Administrator McCarthy says GOP criticism ignores the significance of a China climate deal.

“The commitment of China is a big step forward,” she said. “China has never put an absolute reduction on the table. The commitment they have made [to peak emissions by 2030] ... really does require immediate action.”

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