Administration fires first shot in carbon war
The Obama administration is releasing its first rules governing carbon emissions at power plants today, effectively firing the first shot in what is bound to be a long, legal tussle over greenhouse gas emissions.
The target is a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, and a 25% reduction by 2020.
The proposed rule, which EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will formally announce Monday, would put the United States well beyond the 17 percent of emissions reductions Obama committed to at the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen. It comes as nations are preparing for key negotiations next year in Paris, and Obama has tried to position the proposal as a model to get significant commitments from other big polluters like China and India.
The 2005 baseline year is less ambitious than some environmental groups had hoped. That's because the EPA is looking to allow states to use already implemented policies — such as renewable electricity mandates and energy-efficiency programs — as credits toward meeting the rule, the Journal reported. Using a more recent year would have required steeper emissions cuts, as states would have fewer options to use as credits.
But that baseline is what the electric utility industry had pushed for. It heartened some because it would give them and states more flexibility to meet the standard, though others felt the nearer-term target of cutting emissions 25 percent cut below 2005 levels by 2020 was asking too much.
Twenty-five "percent from 2005 is better as a starting point than what we had been hearing because it will give utilities credit for reductions already achieved since that time," an industry source said in an email.
While the industry and environmental groups will need time to sort out the hundreds-page-long proposed rule, the political impact will be immediate.
It's coming just as the midterm election season is hitting its stride, and will likely be a hot political topic. While some Democrats see that as a good thing, others are less convinced — chiefly, a handful of Senate Democrats running in red-leaning states who worry the EPA is handing their opponents a weapon to wield.
Obama briefed several congressional Democrats on the details Sunday afternoon, and urged them to go on offense to defend the proposed rule, a source familiar with the conversation said. That source said Obama referred to previous federal environmental rules that included industry buy-in — such as fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles finalized in August 2012 and the EPA-led acid rain program — as models for how he envisions the power plant rule working.
Supposedly, states like Kentucky and West Virginia can tailor their own emissions program to take the importance of coal into account. But in the end, these states will have to go after the biggest source of carbon emissions and that has to be coal. With no new coal electric plants being planned, and most of the others slated for deactivation, both industry and state governments are warning that the rule may cripple the coal industry and cost tens of thousands of jobs.
The coal-fired power plant closings will also precipitate a huge rise in the costs of electricity - hitting consumers hard. Since most electric companies are heavily reguilated, the increases will probably be mild at first. But eventually, reality will set in and in order to stay in business, electric companies are going to have to pass along the costs of the new carbon rule.
Our CO2 emissions have already fallen to levels not seen since the 1990's due to a decrease in coal use and an increase in the use of natural gas (emission levels fell 12% between 2005 and 2012 with a 2% increase in 2013). This, without any help from the EPA or government. Is it worth it to destroy an entire industry and cause consumer's electric bills to skyrocket?
That question will be on voter's minds in November.