EPA head says U.S. pollution rules could help China tackle smog

PARIS (Reuters) - The Obama administration’s new pollution rules are under attack from Republican critics at home, but its top environmental official is telling China that similar regulations offer a solution to the air pollution currently choking its major cities.

Vehicles using lights travel on a bridge amid heavy smog after the city issued its first ever "red alert" for air pollution, in Beijing, China, December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator, has been talking to Chinese officials at the global climate negotiations in Paris this week, describing how the Clean Power Plan introduced in August would improve air quality by cutting carbon emissions from power plants.

“Our Clean Power Plan will not only reduce carbon pollution but significantly reduce the pollutants that cause smog and soot, which is one of their major concerns,” McCarthy told Reuters in an interview at the Paris climate summit.

China’s capital, Beijing, has been shrouded in smog this week, prompting the government to issue its first ever “red alert”, which closed schools and brought a halt to outdoor construction.

McCarthy is in Paris to sell the merits of the climate plan to officials from other countries - and to reassure them that those regulations can withstand challenges from the Republican-controlled Congress, more than half the U.S. states, and industry groups.

She said her main message was that the federal Clean Air Act, a 1970s law that underpins the latest wave of EPA rules to tackle carbon emissions from U.S. power plants, was based on sound science and legal principles.


But in talks with Chinese officials, she has also been suggesting that the Clean Air Act and the Clean Power Plan that has sprung from it offer China a solution to tackle the source of the heavy smog that is paralyzing Beijing and causing civil unrest.

McCarthy said she was also working with China on developing its national cap-and-trade system, under which firms will be able to trade permits-to-pollute from 2017, and on improving monitoring technologies.

“What folks may not realize is that the EPA has had a strong relationship with China for a very long time,” she said.

The EPA worked with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to install a sensor to detect fine particulate pollutants in the air. McCarthy said this had helped build “a really strong relationship with China’s central government”, and led China to set up its own air monitoring systems throughout the country.

McCarthy said any climate deal reached in Paris needed a strong system of emissions monitoring, reporting and verification to ensure countries meet - or strengthen - their national emission reduction commitments.

And she said the United States still had room to broaden the scope of emissions cuts beyond power plants and vehicles.

Other areas being considered for future regulations to limit emissions include the aviation sector, the oil and gas sector, including methane emissions from refineries, and heavy-duty vehicles.

“We know that oil and gas and coal are going to be part of energy mix for a while so we need to make sure we move those forward as safely and responsibly as we can,” she said.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bruce Wallace and Kevin Liffey