US green groups call EPA's proposed carbon cuts ‘excellent opening bid’
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON — In large part, the wide-ranging reaction to President Barack Obama’s signature effort to cut power plant carbon emissions could have been written months in advance.
Key Republicans and many industrial groups decried it as a job-killing war on coal that would drive up power prices; environmentalists and many Democrats hailed it as a landmark measure making good on Obama’s pledge to tackle climate change.
Behind the bombast, however, more measured voices found a proposal that was not as severe as critics had feared nor as ambitious as proponents had hoped for. Basing the average 30 percent reduction on the year 2005 — near a high point for such emissions, before the economic recession reduced power use and the rise of shale gas dramatically curbed coal plant output — means much of that reduction has already occurred.
For both sides of the debate, Monday’s sweeping proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency is only the starting point of a months-long effort to chip away, hone or modify the details of a 645-page plan that may remake the nation’s power sector.
“This is an excellent opening bid,” said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director at Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group that submitted a plan to help guide the agency as it wrote the rules. Now the real work will begin behind the scenes during a 120-day-long public comment period, as green groups seek more ambitious elements to make the rules even tougher while opponents seek vulnerable areas to challenge in courts.
For example, Schneider said he expects some environmental groups and states to comment on how the agency defined the “best system of emission reduction” — a group of available technologies identified by the EPA that states can use to ratchet down their emissions, and that help determine the stringency of each states goals.
The long-awaited proposal was announced last June when President Barack Obama announced a new strategy to address climate change. Monday’s announcement was preceded by an unprecedented, nationwide, months-long outreach effort to gather feedback and address criticism well in advance.