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President Barack Obama

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Obama to slash carbon pollution

  • Article by: CORAL DAVENPORT
  • New York Times
  • June 1, 2014 - 9:09 PM

 

– The Obama administration on Monday will announce one of the strongest actions ever taken by the U.S. government to fight climate change, a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to people briefed on the plan.

The regulation takes aim at the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, the nation’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. If it withstands an expected onslaught of legal and legislative attacks, experts say that it could shutter hundreds of the plants and also lead, over the course of decades, to systemic changes in the American electricity industry, including transformations in how power is generated and used.

It is also likely to stand as President Obama’s last chance to substantially shape domestic policy and as a defining element of his legacy. The president, who failed to push a sweeping climate change bill through Congress in his first term, is now acting on his own by using his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to issue the regulation.

Under the rule, states will be given a wide menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.

Flexible approach

EPA officials have said they hope the flexible approach will allow states to comply with the regulation more easily and cost-effectively, by adopting policies best tailored to regional economies and energy mixes. But industry groups planning to sue to block or delay the rule have said that approach makes the rule more legally vulnerable.

The details of the proposed regulation were first reported Sunday afternoon by the Wall Street Journal online.

Because burning coal is the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for trapping heat in the atmosphere and dangerously warming the planet, the rule is expected to have a powerful environmental impact. It comes on top of a regulation Obama issued in his first term that sharply increased the required fuel economy of vehicles, the second-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

Experts said that the new regulation would set the country on track to meet its target set forth in a U.N. accord in 2009, when Obama pledged that the United States would cut its greenhouse gas pollution 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050.

On Sunday, environmental advocates praised the proposed rule for its breadth and reach while the coal industry attacked it as a symbol of executive overreach that could wreak economic havoc. Republican campaigns plan to use the rule to attack incumbent Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections.

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report warning that the rule could lower the gross domestic product by $50 billion annually.

The proposal to be presented Monday will be a draft, open to public comment, and is certain to set off a wave of lobbying from states, industry groups and environmentalists seeking to shape the final version of the rule. While there is no legal deadline for finalizing the regulation, Obama has directed the EPA to issue the rule by June 2015 so that the administration can begin putting the program in place before he leaves office.

World is watching

Nations around the world are closely scrutinizing the climate change rule and its prospects.

The timing of the rule signals that Obama may be more interested in achieving a legacy-making global deal on climate change than in short-term political concerns. While the rule could make things politically difficult for incumbent Democrats from coal states in November, it could make things easier for American climate change negotiators this fall at the U.N. General Assembly, where governments are expected to hold side meetings intended to forge a global climate change treaty that negotiators hope to have signed by 2015.

© 2014 Star Tribune