Obama says power plant rule will shrink power prices; critics warn of energy crisis
John Amis, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In a sweeping initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming, the Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third by 2030. But it delays the deadline for some states to begin complying until long after President Barack Obama leaves office.
The 645-page plan, expected to be finalized next year, is a centerpiece of Obama's efforts to deal with climate change and seeks to give the United States more leverage to prod other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year. Under the plan, carbon emissions are to be reduced 30 percent from 2005 levels, in what would amount to one of the most significant U.S. actions on global warming.
Obama, in a conference call hosted by the American Lung Association, said the plan would both shrink electricity prices and protect the health of vulnerable Americans. He scolded critics who he predicted would contend anew that the limits would crush jobs and damage the economy.
"What we've seen every time is that these claims are debunked when you actually give workers and businesses the tools and the incentives they need to innovate," Obama said.
The proposal sets off a complex regulatory process, steeped in politics, in which the 50 states will each determine how to meet customized targets set by the Environmental Protection Agency, then submit those plans for approval.
"This is not just about disappearing polar bears or melting ice caps," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "This is about protecting our health and our homes. This is about protecting local economies and jobs."
Some states will be allowed to emit more pollutants and others less, leading to an overall, nationwide reduction of 30 percent.
Many states that rely heavily on coal will be spared from cutting a full 30 percent. West Virginia, for example, must reduce the pollution it puts out per amount of power by 19 percent compared to the rate in 2012. Ohio's target is 28 percent less, while Kentucky and Wyoming will have to find ways to make 18 percent and 19 percent cuts in their electricity generation's efficiency.
On the other extreme, New York has a 44 percent target, EPA figures show. But New York already has joined with other Northeast states to curb carbon dioxide from power plants, reducing the baseline figure from which cuts must be made. States like New York can get credit for actions they've already taken, lest they be punished for taking early action.
Initially, Obama wanted each state to submit its plan by June 2016. But the draft proposal shows states could have until 2017 — and 2018, if they join with other states.
That means even if the rules survive legal and other challenges, the dust won't likely settle on this transformation until well into the next administration, raising the possibility that political dynamics in either Congress or the White House could alter the rule's course.
Although Obama doesn't need a vote in Congress to approve his plans, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have already vowed to try to block them — including Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who faces a difficult re-election this year in coal-dependent West Virginia. Scuttling the rules could be easier if Republicans take the Senate in November and then the White House in 2016.
Another potential flash point: The plan relies heavily on governors agreeing to develop plans to meet the federal standard. If Republican governors refuse to go along, as was the case with Obama's expansion of Medicaid, the EPA can create its own plan for a state. But the specifics of how EPA could force a state to comply with that plan remain murky.
S. William Becker, who heads the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said it was good that the rule will give states more time to develop strategies and will grant credit for previous steps to cut emissions.
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