Epic battle over EPA carbon emissions regulations coming on Monday


carbon-emissionsEarlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rule-making authority of the Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon emissions. U.S. Supreme Court upholds EPA’s ‘good neighbor’ rule to curb air pollution.

On Monday, the EPA is expected to propose a sweeping new Clean Air Act regulation to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas that scientists say is the chief cause of climate change. Coal plants are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The New York Times reports, President Said to Be Planning to Use Executive Authority on Carbon Rule:

President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, according to people familiar with his plans, which will spur the creation of a state cap-and-trade program forcing industry to pay for the carbon pollution it creates.

Mr. Obama will unveil his plans in a new regulation, written by the Environmental Protection Agency, at the White House on Monday. It would be the strongest action ever taken by an American president to tackle climate change and could become one of the defining elements of Mr. Obama’s legacy.

Cutting carbon emissions by 20 percent — a substantial amount — would be the most important step in the administration’s pledged goal to reduce pollution over the next six years and could eventually shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants across the country. The regulation would have far more impact on the environment than the Keystone pipeline, which many administration officials consider a political sideshow, and is certain to be met with opposition from Republicans who say that Mr. Obama will be using his executive authority as a back door to force through an inflammatory cap-and-trade policy he could not get through Congress.

People familiar with the rule say that it will set a national limit on carbon pollution from coal plants, but that it will allow each state to come up with its own plan to cut emissions based on a menu of options that include adding wind and solar power, energy-efficiency technology and creating or joining state cap-and-trade programs. Cap-and-trade programs are effectively carbon taxes that place a limit on carbon pollution and create markets for buying and selling government-issued pollution permits.

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In his first term Mr. Obama tried to push a cap-and-trade bill through Congress, but it died in the Senate in 2010. Republicans, Tea Party groups and the coal industry attacked Democrats who supported it, criticizing the legislation as a “cap and tax” that would raise energy prices. Cap and trade is now seen as political poison in Washington. But Republicans said that the new rule has created a back door for Mr. Obama to force through a politically inflammatory policy by reviving it in the states. “This E.P.A. regulation will breathe life into state-level cap-and-trade programs,” said Peter Shattuck, director of market initiatives at ENE, a Boston-based climate policy advocacy and research organization.

Many states are already researching how to join or replicate the nation’s two existing state-level cap-and-trade plans, both of which bear the signatures of prominent Republicans: Mitt Romney, the 2012 presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor.

As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney was a key architect of a cap-and-trade program in nine northeastern states, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

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Cap and trade was born in 1990 during the administration of President George Bush as a centerpiece of amendments to the 1970 Clean Air Act. Conceived as a business-friendly way to cut pollution without heavy-handed regulation, the idea was that the cap would ratchet down each year, allowing less pollution while market forces drive up the price of permits, creating an incentive for industries to invest in lower-polluting sources of energy. In 2006 in California, Mr. Schwarzenegger signed a pioneering state cap-and-trade law. As the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, Senator John McCain of Arizona pledged to put in effect a nationwide cap-and-trade law.

Officials with the northeastern regional cap-and-trade program that Mr. Romney initially endorsed have played a significant role in shaping the new rule. In frequent trips to Washington over the last several months they have consulted with Ms. McCarthy and other top E.P.A. officials.

People familiar with the drafting of the rule said that after it is unveiled they expect many states to comply by joining the northeastern program, in part because the system has already been designed and tested.

“It’s a plug and play,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, a commissioner of the regional program. “We’re finding that’s attractive to people. We’ve had states from all over the country calling up and asking, ‘How does this work, and how can it work for us?’ ” The regional program has proved fairly effective: Between 2005-12, according to program officials, power-plant pollution in the northeastern states it covered dropped 40 percent, even as the states raised $1.6 billion in new revenue.

See also, a California initiative that provides funding to companies to reduce emissions is gaining traction as a weapon against global warming. A Price Tag on Carbon as a Climate Rescue Plan.

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic has published a definitive guide to making sense of all of this. Obama’s New Rules for Coal Plants Are a B.F.D. The Ensuing Political Fight May Be Even Bigger.  And then there’s this, One More Reason Obama’s Power Plant Rules Will Make the GOP Nuts: “It’s the idea mainstream conservatives used to support—and participation by states will be voluntary. But, you know, it’s still Obama.” (Obama Derangement Syndrome).

The usual suspects are already waging a preemptive war against the new EPA regulations. 7 Groups Attacking The President’s Plan To Cut Carbon Pollution, Even Though It Hasn’t Been Released Yet.

Paul Krugman takes apart the always dissembling Chamber of Commerce in his column today, Cutting Back on Carbon:

globe-earth-space-western-hemisphereNext week the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new rules designed to limit global warming. Although we don’t know the details yet, anti-environmental groups are already predicting vast costs and economic doom. Don’t believe them. Everything we know suggests that we can achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions at little cost to the economy.

Just ask the United States Chamber of Commerce.

O.K., that’s not the message the Chamber of Commerce was trying to deliver in the report it put out Wednesday. It clearly meant to convey the impression that the E.P.A.’s new rules would wreak havoc. But if you focus on the report’s content rather than its rhetoric, you discover that despite the chamber’s best efforts to spin things — as I’ll explain later, the report almost surely overstates the real cost of climate protection — the numbers are remarkably small.

Specifically, the report considers a carbon-reduction program that’s probably considerably more ambitious than we’re actually going to see, and it concludes that between now and 2030 the program would cost $50.2 billion in constant dollars per year. That’s supposed to sound like a big deal. Instead, if you know anything about the U.S. economy, it sounds like Dr. Evil intoning “one million dollars.” These days, it’s just not a lot of money.

Remember, we have a $17 trillion economy right now, and it’s going to grow over time. So what the Chamber of Commerce is actually saying is that we can take dramatic steps on climate — steps that would transform international negotiations, setting the stage for global action — while reducing our incomes by only one-fifth of 1 percent. That’s cheap!

Alternatively, consider the chamber’s estimate of costs per household: $200 per year. Since the average American household has an income of more than $70,000 a year, and that’s going to rise over time, we’re again looking at costs that amount to no more than a small fraction of 1 percent.

And all of this is based on anti-environmentalists’ own numbers.

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You might ask why the Chamber of Commerce is so fiercely opposed to action against global warming, if the cost of action is so small. The answer, of course, is that the chamber is serving special interests, notably the coal industry — what’s good for America isn’t good for the Koch brothers, and vice versa — and also catering to the ever more powerful anti-science sentiments of the Republican Party.

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Now, we haven’t yet seen the details of the new climate action proposal, and a full analysis — both economic and environmental — will have to wait. We can be reasonably sure, however, that the economic costs of the proposal will be small, because that’s what the research — even research paid for by anti-environmentalists, who clearly wanted to find the opposite — tells us. Saving the planet would be remarkably cheap.

Tea-Publicans and carbon industry executives are all going to sound like talking parrots on acid this summer: “War on coal!” Squawk! “Cap and tax, mr_burnscap and tax!” Squawk! What these anti-science, anti-intellectual, Flat Earthers and climate change deniers will not do is engage in a serious science-based, fact-based policy discussion of what can be done now to stop poisoning our planet. There is no magical Plan B (sorry apocalyptic end-timers, the Rapture is not a serious policy proposal).

The carbon industry has a product that they get enormously rich off of selling to a captive energy market. Converting America’s energy usage to renewable energy resources, for which they do not control a monopoly, threatens their livelihood and existential sense of political power as “Masters of the Universe.” Their response is an emotional one, grounded in  greed, and fear, and impotence. Like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.