Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
June 2, 2014
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What you need to know about the carbon regulations the White House plans to unveil Monday

It would be toughest climate change rules yet

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency will unveil Monday what is poised to be the most stringent carbon control rules in U.S history. President Barack Obama is expected to propose regulations that would limit U.S. carbon emissions from power plants by up to 30 percent and give states the ability to choose how to achieve the cuts.

Many see the regulations as one of Obama’s last chances to shape his legacy and there’s plenty of detractors lining up to decry the proposal. There are a lot of moving pieces. Here are the most important things to know:

1)  What the rule will do?

The White House already has leaked enough information to make it clear that most environmentalists will be happy with the outcome.

The carbon rule is expected to limit the amount of CO2 pollution emitted from standing power plants, which emit about one third of the country’s CO2, by mandating that emissions fall within a certain range in every state. The emissions rule is expected to be based on a timeline to get carbon emissions down by 30 percent by 2030.

The rule essentially states that power plants are responsible for the pollution they release, and it will place the cost and burden of meeting the regulations on the power plants. But the plan will also give states the flexibility to determine how they will let plants meet the goals. Options include adding wind and solar power to states’ electrical systems, increasing energy-efficiency technology and creating state cap-and-trade programs.

2)  What is cap and trade?

Cap and trade is a way to help older plants meet the strict new carbon standards. States would agree to cap their carbon pollution and buy credits from the government to meet their goals.

The cap-and-trade concept would create a market for buying and selling government-issued pollution permits. The idea is that eventually cap limits would be softened as the market for government-issued credits pushes up the prices.

3)  It’s been done before.

OK, it might have been on a smaller scale, but cap-and-trade programs already exist in the United States. In fact, two Republicans — former Golden State Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney devised the programs.

4)  The White House will focus on health benefits to promote the rule.

In a private call with stakeholders last Friday, White House Counselor John Podesta, the lead guy on Obama’s climate plan, said the Obama administration will promote the EPA rule by focusing on the health benefits of limiting CO2 emissions, according to a source on the call. He said Obama himself will be featured in upcoming PSA’s on the benefits of decreased carbon in the atmosphere. Obama plans to discuss the details Monday with national health groups, including the American Lung Association.

5)  Republicans won’t be happy.

Republicans are already gearing up for a fight. Much of it has to do with the fact that Obama used executive actions to circumvent Congress in pushing the rule through the EPA. (During his first term Obama tried to push cap-and-trade through Congress but the bill died in the Senate in 2010.)

Many conservatives also are firmly against regulations that could hurt natural resource industries. You could argue that’s because those industries are big campaign donors, but the carbon rule also is expected to close many power plants that won’t be able to meet the EPA carbon limits — potentially costing thousands of jobs.

In the Friday call, Podesta said the White House was gearing up for fierce opposition from industry, according to the source.

6)  Coal fired plants will be the biggest losers.

Burning coal emits the most CO2 of any natural resource, and it’s coal-burning power plants that are at the biggest risk of being unable to meet the new EPA standards. Some environmentalists view the extra pressure on coal as a good thing because if they cannot meet the new EPA standards, the plants will close and allow clean energy alternatives to take their place.

But others see the risk of closures as a threat to jobs, stability and a moneymaking industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is against the proposed regulations. It issued its own report that claimed that complying with the rule would cost American industry $28.1 billion annually and that 224,000 jobs would be lost between now and 2030.

7)  We’ll likely see a big fight.

The White House and the EPA are proposing the carbon rule under the authority given the president through the Clean Air Act (CAA). According to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the EPA must regulate CO2 through the CAA if there is evidence of public endangerment. In 2009, the EPA ruled that it found CO2 endangers the population.

But some still oppose the legitimacy of the EPA’s claim and argue that the White House’s new rule cannot use the CAA. Republicans could challenge the presidents proposal, and it looks like most would like to, but they’d have to get 67 votes in the Senate to overturn Obama’s veto. Of course, there’s always the chance that Congress would ask for a repeal of the emissions standards under the CAA.

Congress won’t be the only group that will make the rule a living nightmare for the EPA. Before the EPA can enact its proposed rule, it has to take time to meet with stakeholders and conduct a comment period. That is likely to inflame a drawn-out fight with states and power companies that could delay the regulation for years.

“It’s going to be like eating spaghetti with a spoon,” Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, told the Denver Post. “It can be done, but it’s going to be messy and slow.”