The long-anticipated – and hotly contested – carbon pollution plan is being finalized by the Obama administration Monday, setting off a scramble in the states to comply with it and one in Congress and the courts to stop it.
First proposed a year ago, the plan had been expected to be finalized this summer – a timetable the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stuck to despite push-back from some states and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a separate clean-air rule.
Called the “Clean Power Plan” by the EPA, the rule is a centerpiece of a major push by President Barack Obama to help the United States – and the planet – attack climate change by reducing the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air.
The rule was announced in draft form amid fanfare in June 2014, and Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy have talked up its benefits, saying it would be a boon to public health, helping to reduce asthma and other respiratory ailments.
The administration also has rebutted charges from Republicans in Congress and officials in many states that the EPA doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to push the rule.
Details on the plan emerged over the past several days in The Washington Post and other publications – and even in advance of a formal announcement Monday, opponents are preparing a legal and legislative battle to stop it. Its finalization is being accompanied by a big White House push, including a video from Obama.
“Climate change is not a problem for another generation,” the president says in the video. “Not anymore.”
The sales job accelerated Sunday, as McCarthy and a key White House adviser touted the benefits of the plan in a conference call with reporters – both explaining the detailed, technical changes from draft to final and anticipating some of the objections that are sure to come.
“Some special interest critics will tell you that it can’t be done,” McCarthy said. “They’ll say we have to focus on the economy at the expense of the environment. They’ll tell you EPA’s plan will turn the lights off or send utility bills through the roof. But they are wrong.”
While there were changes from draft to final, she added that the reasons for doing so were sound. With legal challenges certain to come, McCarthy said, “It is a legally very strong rule.”
In general, the plan is designed to shift power production from carbon-heavy coal to cleaner sources of energy. That’s already under way in many states – and those states could have an easier time adapting to the new rule.
But other states – those in the Rust Belt, for example – still are heavily dependent on coal to produce electricity. Those states might struggle.
What’s coming out Monday will be the final version of the plan. In the main, it is similar in structure to the draft. But there are some key difference.
According to the EPA and the White House, the plan seeks to cut power-sector carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels, while the draft had been for a cut of 30 percent. But states will be given more time and flexibility to meet the targets, which vary state-by-state.
As an example of the fight to come, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – a Republican from coal-rich Kentucky – in a recent letter to governors across the nation said he had “serious legal and policy concerns regarding this proposal” and urged them to be cautious in responding to it.
He wrote: “I hope you will carefully review the consequences before signing up for this deeply misguided plan. I believe you will find, as I have, that the EPA’s proposal goes far beyond its legal authority and that the courts are likely to strike it down. All of which raises the very important question of why the EPA is asking states at this time to propose their own compliance plans in the first place… Given the dubious legal rationale behind the EPA’s demands, rather than submitting plans now, states should allow the courts to rule on the merits of the CPP.”
Health and environmental advocates strongly support the plan, however.
As the first details on the plan leaked last week, American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer said in a statement that his group “strongly supported the Clean Power Plan proposal. The final plan, as described in press accounts, appears to be a robust approach to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.”
“Breathing is essential to life, and climate change seriously threatens the lung health of millions of Americans, including jeopardizing their lives,” he added. “To fight climate change successfully, carbon pollution must be cut significantly. Children, the elderly and people with lung diseases including asthma face some of the greatest risks, including from ozone and soot that climate change makes worse.”