Obama in political, legal storm with new power rules

2015-08-04 20:48
A plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire. (Jim Cole, AP File)

A plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire. (Jim Cole, AP File)

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Washington - President Barack Obama launched the first-ever climate rules for US power plants Monday, calling for sweeping reductions in carbon emissions and provoking protests from the mining industry and Congress.

The new rules dictate an overall reduction in heat-trapping gasses of 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

"We're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it," Obama said at a White House gathering of supporters.

Electricity generation contributes about one-third of US output of the greenhouse emissions that are blamed for global warming.

Obama refuted escalating arguments and legal attacks on the plan, noting that two Republican presidents before him - Richard Nixon and George HW Bush - faced similar objections to major environmental legislation in the past.

"If we don't do it, nobody will. The only reason that China [is now on board is] they saw we were gonna do it, too," Obama said. "When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward."

The National Mining Association, representing coal interests, denounced the plan as "political expediency" and filed a request on Monday with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stay implementation "pending judicial review." The NMA said the plan would increase electricity costs especially for poor rate payers.

Republican Senator John McCain tweeted that the plan will "hurt businesses and consumers." He and a fellow Republican have introduced legislation to delay compliance until lawsuits have been decided.

Visionary leadership

Obama's plan was applauded by environmental groups including the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. Sam Adams of the World Resources Institute said the policy will "drive technological innovation."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the proposal "an example of the visionary leadership necessary to reduce emissions and to tackle climate change," his spokesperson said.

Obama's Clean Power Plan is intended to set high standards for the rest of the world ahead of December meetings in Paris to seal a new climate change agreement.

The release follows Obama's futile efforts to persuade Congress to pass a law mandating reductions of carbon emissions, and he is drawing on his executive authority under current clean air laws.

Even before the announcement, 14 states had joined a lawsuit against the restrictions. In March, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, which ranks third among the 50 US states in coal production, wrote letters telling all 50 governors that the upcoming rules because stood on "shaky legal grounds" and could be ignored.

Determination to push forward

Obama's decision to increase the carbon cutback by nine percent - to 32% instead of the 30% proposed last year - indicates a determination to push forward on the climate front, after recent legal victories for his position on gay marriage and his medical insurance reforms, and a diplomatic breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear agreement.

Critics cite a setback for White House environmental policies when the Supreme Court in June blocked an EPA rule intended to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins from coal-burning power plants. The court did not overturn the rule, but ordered the EPA to adequately recalculate the costs to operators and electricity consumers.

The mounting legal challenges set a tone for the 2916 presidential campaign, now in full swing with 16 declared Republican candidates. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush - one of the conservative party's top contenders - warned that the plan will increase energy prices and "throw countless people out of work."

The White House insists that the new rules will not damage the economy or raise electric bills. The average US family will save nearly $85 a year on its energy bill in 2030, and consumers will save a total of $155bn dollars from 2020-2030, the administration said.

The plan will rest on individual states acting to restrict emissions. Carrot-and-stick provisions encourage states to meet their goals earlier than the 2022 compliance deadline - a two-year grace period beyond the 2020 deadline foreseen in 2014.

The goal of the new rules is to encourage investments in wind and solar power, and to get more states involved in carbon trading programmes.

Read more on:    epa  |  barack obama  |  us  |  climate change  |  carbon emissions

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