Obama to Take Action to Slash Coal Pollution – by Coral Davenport (New York Times – June 2, 2014)

http://www.nytimes.com/

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday will announce one of the strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change, a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to people briefed on the plan who spoke anonymously because they had been asked not to reveal details.

The regulation takes aim at the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, the nation’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants. If it withstands an expected onslaught of legal and legislative attacks, experts say that it could close hundreds of the plants and also lead, over the course of decades, to systemic changes in the American electricity industry, including transformations in how power is generated and used.

It is also likely to stand as President Obama’s last chance to substantially shape domestic policy and as a defining element of his legacy. The president, who failed to push a sweeping climate change bill through Congress in his first term, is now acting on his own by using his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to issue the regulation.

Under the rule, states will be given a wide menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states would be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation or energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap and trade” programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.

E.P.A. officials have said they hope the flexible approach will allow states to comply with the regulation more easily and cost-effectively, by adopting policies best tailored to regional economies and energy mixes. But industry groups planning to sue to block or delay the rule have said that approach makes the rule more legally vulnerable.

The details of the proposed regulation were first reported Sunday afternoon by The Wall Street Journal online.

Because burning coal is the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for trapping heat in the atmosphere and dangerously warming the planet, the rule is expected to have a powerful environmental impact. It comes on top of a regulation Mr. Obama issued in his first term that sharply increased the required fuel economy of vehicles, the second-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.

Experts said that the new regulation would set the United States on track to meet its target set forth in a United Nations accord in 2009, when Mr. Obama pledged that the United States would cut its greenhouse gas pollution 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050.

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