- The Environmental Protection Agency is announcing emission reduction requirements of 30 percent Monday, basing its rule on the Clean Air Act.
- States and industry most impacted by the rule argue that it is not only overreaching the intent of the law, but could harm jobs and public health.
- It's also argued that the rule might not even result in the emission reductions it seeks.
The Obama Administration's plan to require power plants to cut emissions by one-third by 2030, which is being called the most significant of U.S. environmental regulation in decades, won't go down without a political fight.
"It's going to be like eating spaghetti with a spoon. It can be done, but it's going to be messy and slow," Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said.
Emissions spew out of a large stack at the coal fired Morgantown Generating Station, on May 29, 2014 in Newburg, Maryland. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
At the crux of the problem is Obama's use of a 30-year-old law that was not intended to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. Lawyers for states and industry also are likely to argue that it violates the Clean Air Act's intent.
The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of energy companies that maintains it has "long supported commonsense interpretation of the Clean Air Act," wrote ahead of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's announcement Monday that the agency basing its rule on a "seldom used provision of the Clean Air Act is unprecedented."
"Even if the EPA may address carbon emissions from power plants in some reasonable fashion, the way it does it can still be illegal," the ERCC wrote. "The EPA proposes a carbon reduction number not based on what an improved power plant might do, but rather on a whole range of changes in the way families and businesses can consume energy. All of this is based on a section of the Clean Air Act (section 111(d)) that is a few hundred words and doesn't mention demand-side reductions or carbon or even power plants."
What's more, the ERCC argues, in addition to several other issues, that the rule would not even lead to the emission reductions the administration seeks.
"This assumes that any power generation built to replace these plants would be carbon free -- an assumption that is obviously unrealistic," ERCC wrote, noting that efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in this manner might also be futile as other countries are unlikely to follow similar reduction procedures.
"There is little evidence that our trade competitors will 'follow our lead' on carbon regulation when the competitive advantage of their industries hang in the balance. Indeed, as manufacturing moves overseas in search of more optimal regulatory conditions, even more carbon will be released as less efficient factories churn out goods that must then be transported thousands of miles back to U.S. customers," the ERCC continued.
The new rule, as the president described it in a news conference in 2010, is another way of "skinning the cat" on climate change. The EPA is expected to offer a range of options to states to meet targets that will based on where they get their electricity and how much carbon dioxide they emit in the process.
"The purpose of this rule is to really close the loophole on carbon pollution, reduce emissions as we've done with lead, arsenic and mercury and improve the health of the American people and unleash a new economic opportunity," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has drafted a plan that informed the EPA proposal.
Watch this video from the Associated Press for more of a description of the basics about the rule:
While some states will be allowed to emit more and others less, overall the reduction will be 30 percent nationwide.
The options include making power plants more efficient, reducing the frequency at which coal-fired power plants supply power to the grid, and investing in more renewable, low-carbon sources of energy. In addition, states could enhance programs aimed at reducing demand by making households and businesses more energy-efficient.
When it comes to this flexibility though, the ERCC wrote that it worried over the EPA's inconsistencies over flexibility when it came to implementing other rules or working with states.
Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, which gets 96 percent of its power from coal, said Thursday that while he didn't have the details, "from everything we know we can be sure of this: It will be bad for jobs."
Some states, particularly those heavily reliant on fossil fuels, could resist taking action, leading the federal government to take over the program. That happened in Texas when it initially refused to issue greenhouse gas permits through another air pollution program.
Some states already have taken action.
Without waiting to see Obama's proposal, the governors of Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia signed laws directing their environmental agencies to develop their own carbon emission plans that consider the costs of compliance at individual power plants. Similar measures recently passed in Missouri and are pending in the Louisiana and Ohio legislatures.
Missouri lawmakers went even further in their defense of the coal industry. When activists proposed a ballot initiative barring local tax breaks for St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, state lawmakers quickly passed a measure banning such moves.
Some states have specifically empowered local regulators to develop emission plans that are less stringent than federal guidelines. According to measures passed recently, the state policies are to take into account the "unreasonable cost" of reducing emissions based on a plant's age and design and the "economic impacts" of shutting down particular power plants.
"The concern is that the federal standards — if they come out the way that most people expect them to — are going to drive the cost of electricity up for every single consumer in the state," said Missouri state Rep. Todd Richardson, a Republican.
In addition to being touted as an important move to curb global warming -- though it's still short of the reduction scientists say is necessary to stabilize global temperatures -- some believe it will be good for public health as well. But ERCC counters that the opposite is true.
"In fact, by increasing energy costs, the proposed rule could make public health worse. This is true in two ways: by increasing the cost of medical care and treatment; and by imposing real threats on human health by suppressing economic growth and the improved health it brings," ERCC argued.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.