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Mr. Manchin this week became the first Democrat to oppose the president’s choice for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Ron Binz. A clean-energy advocate from Colorado, Mr. Binz is in danger of being blocked by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee because of his perceived hostility toward coal.

Mr. Manchin and other Democrats also are becoming increasingly critical of the president’s handling of energy-related issues.

Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Begich of Alaska appeared with Republicans at an event Thursday commemorating five years of delay on the administration’s decision to approve the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. They said it is time for Mr. Obama to approve the project or Congress will act to force the president’s hand.

“It is time to make this decision,” Ms. Heitkamp said. “Once this decision is made, if it’s not made in a way that Congress agrees with, I think they’ll probably hear about it.”

Mr. Obama might approve Keystone, but he has made no secret of his belief that coal’s share of the U.S. energy portfolio must be reduced.

Mr. Obama famously said during his 2008 presidential campaign that companies would go bankrupt if they tried to build coal-fired plants under his watch.

Administration officials have attempted to walk back that declaration over the past few years and reassure skeptics that coal — which provides about 40 percent of U.S. electricity — will remain a part of the mix.

“We believe coal will continue to represent a significant portion of the energy supply in the decades to come,” Ms. McCarthy told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Wednesday.

She also defended her agency’s ability and justification to carry out the president’s climate change agenda.

“We’re not doing anything at the EPA or in the climate plan that goes outside the boundaries of what Congress has said is our mission and our authority,” she said.

More rules in the pipeline

Pursuing its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions — which have been dropping because of market forces, such as the near-record low prices of cleaner-burning natural gas — the administration will take even more dramatic steps next year.

The first likely will be onerous restrictions on existing power plants, expected to be announced as early as next spring.

Friday’s announcement, by Ms. McCarthy’s own acknowledgment, won’t have a major impact on carbon dioxide emissions in the short term but regulations to come are likely to have more bite.

“This is just one of many actions that are being taken at various levels of government. Combined, they can have an impact on domestic CO2 emissions. But, again, it largely depends on what the EPA and the states do next when they’re regulating existing sources,” said Jonas Monast, director of the climate and energy program at Duke University.

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