- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2014

Having failed to ram a key piece of his climate agenda through Congress in 2010, President Obama on Monday will endorse far-reaching new restrictions on carbon pollution widely expected to push states to embrace cap-and-trade-style systems.

Details of the new regulations, to be announced by Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Gina McCarthy, have been kept under wraps, but leaked reports Sunday night suggested the administration will go even farther than many had expected, setting a goal of reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The agency already has proposed carbon emissions restrictions on future power plants.

The power plant proposal would block an estimated 650 million tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere in less than two decades, according to The Associated Press. EPA officials would not confirm or deny any details of the plans for Monday’s announcement, which were first reported on the website of The Wall Street Journal.

Existing power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gases, making up roughly a third of all emissions, and older coal-fired plants are expected to have particular difficulty meeting the new standards without major and extensive overhauls.

Mr. Obama first tried to rein in carbon pollution with the failed 2010 cap-and-trade bill, which would have set limits on carbon emissions and required companies to purchase credits if they exceeded the cap.

That bill fell apart amid strong bipartisan opposition, and since then, the president and his EPA have turned to executive actions to accomplish specific aims in their larger fight to address climate change.

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The looming regulations, according to energy analysts, environmental activists and others closely tracking the administration’s strategy, likely will call for major reductions in carbon pollution but will allow states flexibility in achieving the goal.

One option is expected to be regional cap-and-trade systems modeled after the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which includes Maryland and eight other northeastern states. The system sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions and requires power plant operators to buy credits for each ton of carbon they emit. Those credits can be obtained through state-run auctions or from other companies within the program.

States in the Midwest, for example, could band together and begin a similar program in order to jointly meet the EPA’s new goal.

Critics contend that the new EPA proposal, regardless of supposed flexibility offered to states, is designed to accelerate the end of coal as a power source in the U.S.

Mr. Obama and supporters in the environmental community dispute that characterization and say the plan won’t tank the economy and will allow states ample time and leeway to meet the new targets.

“Special interests and their allies in Congress will claim that these guidelines will kill jobs and crush the economy. Let’s face it, that’s what they always say,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address. “But every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water and our children’s health, the warnings of the cynics have been wrong.”

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Supporters of the president’s strategy argue it will be far more effective — and affordable for states, power companies and other stakeholders — if a range of options are presented.

“You can get a whole lot farther for the same or even less money if the reductions are made by taking into account all the flexible opportunities in the power system to cut pollution,” said David Doniger, policy director for the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group.

The group authored a 2012 report that Mr. Doniger and others say the administration is borrowing heavily from for its new regulations.

Based on suggestions from that report and elsewhere, the EPA could allow states to meet the new goals by retiring older, less efficient coal plants; installing expensive, and not yet viable, carbon-capture technology; replacing coal power with more windmills or solar panels; creating regional cap-and-trade partnerships; or through a host of other options.

Regardless of the specific options given to states, some energy analysts believe the underlying goal is to starve the fossil fuel industry.

“They set standards that will force states to do what the feds can’t [do] legally and say they’re leaving it up to the states. Sort of like, ‘Our goal is for you to be dead, but you get to pick your poison,’” said Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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