- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2015

The White House assault on the U.S. coal industry will culminate Monday with the release of long-awaited rules limiting carbon emissions from power plants — a move President Obama says will be the “biggest, most important step” ever in the fight against climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, opposed by lawmakers of both parties, is likely to spur a host of lawsuits and raise electricity rates across the country. It is the first set of federal restrictions aimed specifically at carbon pollution from power plants.

The initiative forms the foundation of Mr. Obama’s broader climate plan. The regulations are vital to meeting the president’s pledge to the rest of the world that the U.S. will cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions at least 26 percent by 2025.

The EPA predicts the plan — which requires a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions from the power sector by 2030 — will cost at least $8.4 billion to implement but ultimately will return public health benefits of at least $34 billion. Outside estimates put compliance costs much higher.

Mr. Obama is expected to personally announce the rules Monday, though administration officials over the weekend began revealing key details of the plan, including emission reduction requirements that were harsher than expected.

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore. That’s why, on Monday, my administration will release the final version of America’s Clean Power Plan, the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change,” the president said in a brief video address.

“Power plants are the single biggest source of the harmful carbon pollution that contributes to climate change,” he said. “Existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air we breathe. For the sake of our kids, for the health and safety of all Americans, that’s about to change.”

Under the plan, the EPA will set emissions targets and charge states with figuring out how to meet those targets, which critics say are wholly unrealistic and will slow the economy and kill jobs.

The administration’s own data have shown that the Clean Power Plan will raise electricity prices for most Americans, as coal increasingly will be pushed out of the energy generation mix. Coal generation likely will be replaced with natural gas or nuclear power, or more expensive renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The EPA has acknowledged that, if the plan goes into full effect, coal’s share of U.S. power generation will drop to about 27 percent by 2030. Today, coal provides nearly 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.

To help ease the transition away from coal, states will have flexibility to meet the goals without economic consequences, the president and other officials say. To that end, the EPA relaxed its initial timeline and will give states until 2022, rather than 2020, to start implementing plans to meet those targets.

“We want to make sure utilities have plenty of time to take carbon pollution into account … and make that shift to a low-carbon future,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters on a conference call Sunday.

In other ways, the plan is more stringent than anticipated.

The final regulations require a 32 percent cut in carbon emissions from power plants by 2030. Earlier drafts of the Clean Power Plan called for a 30 percent reduction. Meeting the targets will require the shuttering of coal-fired facilities, which emit more carbon than other fuel sources.

Under the plan, states will be encouraged — or forced, as critics say — to spend heavily on wind and solar power.

The proposal includes an incentive plan designed to drive up investments in wind and solar power. Some details of that incentive plan hadn’t been released as of Sunday night, but officials said states will be able to obtain credits for boosting renewable sources of energy and then use those credits to offset some emission reduction requirements.

The updated rule predicts that renewable energy by 2030 will account for 28 percent of power generation, as opposed to an estimated 22 percent in the first draft.

In addition to using more renewable energy, states also will be encouraged to enter into regional cap-and-trade or similar systems to meet the targets.

The rules are being proposed as the 2016 presidential race kicks into high gear. Virtually all Republican candidates deeply oppose the plan, but Democratic White House hopefuls are embracing it.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton vows to defend the Clean Power Plan and build on it if elected.

“It’s a good plan, and as president, I’d defend it,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement Sunday. “It will need defending. Because Republican doubters and defeatists — including every Republican candidate for president — won’t offer any credible solution.”

Indeed, Republicans in Congress have vowed to try to block the proposal, though their efforts are unlikely to succeed given Mr. Obama’s veto power.

The regulations also face an uncertain legal future.

Previous legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan have failed, with federal judges saying plaintiffs couldn’t contest the plan until it has been finalized.

With Monday’s announcement, new lawsuits almost surely will be filed, perhaps within days or weeks.

At the same time, a number of Republican-led states, such as Indiana, have said they would disregard the plan.

“If your administration proceeds to finalize the Clean Power Plan and the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved from the proposed rule, Indiana will not comply. Our state will also reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said in a June letter to Mr. Obama.

Coal backers say the EPA’s relaxed timeline does little to mitigate the disastrous effects the proposal will have on the nation’s economy and on families’ electricity bills.

EPA’s final Clean Power Plan reflects political expediency, not reality for supplying the nation with low-cost reliable power. Left in place are targets for replacing affordable energy with costly energy. These will burden Americans with increasingly high costs for an essential service and a less-reliable electric grid for delivering it,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association.

He also was unimpressed by the timeline delays, saying they make the already-bad regulations worse.

“Postponing the initial deadline merely forces ratepayers into steeper cost increases in later years than originally proposed. American households and businesses will be forced to accept higher electricity rates in exchange for what EPA admits are negligible environmental gains. Low-income families will be hit hardest now as they were before,” he said.

Supporters also called the delay unnecessary, albeit for the opposite reason, saying it could jeopardize Mr. Obama’s broader plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our analysis indicates that such an extension is not needed, as states are already on track to cut their emissions through actions they’ve put in place, including state renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and coal plant retirements,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“I’ll be looking for assurance that the overall emission reductions achieved by the rule stay strong, early action by states is incentivized, and any delay won’t jeopardize the U.S.’s 2025 international commitment of a 26-28 percent reduction in economywide emissions,” Mr. Kimmell said.

On electricity rates, the EPA is downplaying the administration’s own research showing that the plan will drive up utility bills for American families.

The Energy Information Administration in June released data showing that the Clean Power Plan will raise electric bills by 3 percent to 7 percent, though the study does say rates ultimately will stabilize.

The EPA insists that, in the long run, the plan will be good for American consumers. The agency said American families will save $85 on their energy bills each year by 2030. Consumers will save about $155 billion from 2020 to 2030 through reduced energy use and energy efficiency, the agency predicts.

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