Climate Plan Relies on States

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 @ 08:06 AM gHale

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the largest step toward addressing climate change in its history Monday when it unveiled a proposed rule to slash power sector carbon emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

President Obama’s new plan to fight climate change depends heavily on states’ devising individual approaches to meeting goals set in the nation’s capital, a strategy similar to the one he used to expand health care.

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Rather than imposing a uniform standard for reducing power plant carbon emissions, the regulation offers the states flexibility to pick from a menu of policy options. But as with health care, the policy could lead to a patchwork of rules that frustrate businesses and invite resistance from states that oppose the policy.

Largely welcomed by environmentalists, the plan generated a torrent of criticism from industry, coal-state lawmakers from both parties and Republican leaders who called it a job-killer that would raise utility costs.

The proposal aims mainly at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. It assigns each state a separate pollution reduction target, but gives each wide leeway in tailoring its plan. The idea, Environmental Protection Agency officials said, is to allow states to design plans that best fit regional economies and mixes of energy sources.

While Rust Belt states rely heavily on coal, farmers in Iowa and Minnesota generate up to 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, and Southeastern states like North Carolina depend on nuclear power. California and nine Northeastern states have enacted cap-and-trade programs, putting a cap on carbon pollution and creating markets to buy and sell pollution permits. Those programs have substantially lowered the states’ carbon footprints.

In order to comply with the new national rule, states can, among other actions, shut down coal plants, install wind and solar power and energy-efficiency technology, or join the California or Northeastern cap-and-trade programs. EPA officials said states could even choose to comply by enacting a state-level tax on carbon pollution.

The regulation, which must go through a public comment period before taking effect, could face a challenge in the courts and in Congress, but Obama has past judicial rulings to cite in his defense and enough votes on Capitol Hill that would allow him to veto any opposing legislation and make it stick.

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