President Barack Obama’s plan to sharply limit greenhouse gases from power plants, officially unveiled Monday, immediately drew opposition designed to delay or derail it.
Legal actions challenging the plan are expected, and some Republican governors have said they might refuse to implement its provisions.
Coal interests and 14 states including Kansas sued to block the plan at an earlier stage in the process, a suit that was thrown out in June because the rules were still a draft version. But now that the rules are final — and in some ways tighter than the earlier version — those states and more could file new action.
“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate,” the president said Monday as he announced his most ambitious action to date to tackle the planet’s rising temperatures. “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”
The president also dismissed criticisms of the plan as excuses for inaction, and said serious progress to reduce U.S. emissions would give the country more leverage to get other polluters such as China to take significant steps.
But even before the president began speaking, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, said he would do everything in his power to combat “these deeply regressive regulations — regulations that may be illegal, that won’t meaningfully impact the global environment, and that are likely to harm middle- and lower-class Americans most.”
The rules, a final, stricter version of a plan that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014, assign each state a target for cutting its carbon pollution from power plants. States will be allowed to create their own plans to meet the requirements and will have to submit initial versions of their plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018.
The most aggressive of the regulations requires that by 2030, the nation’s existing power plants must cut emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels, which is an increase from the 30 percent target in the draft regulation.
It’s difficult to gauge the seriousness of some political pronouncements, or how much practical effect they might have — such as governors running for president saying they won’t implement the plan. But legal scholars are divided on the plan’s chances in court and expect it to go to the Supreme Court eventually.
Experts on both sides of the issue say the rules are a novel and even audacious interpretation of the 1970 Clean Air Act. Under standard regulations, the EPA assigns emissions limits to polluting entities such as power plants and dictates how companies will meet the limits — for example, by installing pollution-reduction equipment in power plant smokestacks.
But assigning states different targets and letting each create its own plan is a far different approach, and one some argue is clearly beyond what the law allows.
In Kansas, where state utility regulators had filed extensive objections and asked that the EPA withdraw the plan, spokeswoman Jennifer Rapp said Attorney General Derek Schmidt was reviewing the plan carefully.
“It appears from the EPA’s own summary that the Obama administration has failed to accommodate the comments that were offered by the attorney general, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the Kansas Corporation Commission, and 4.3 million others,” Rapp said. “Legal action is a likely outcome.”
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in May signed a law setting up the structure for Kansas to comply with the regulations but also putting several administrative hurdles in the way.
On Monday he said, “The EPA failed to adequately consider the negative impact this overreaching regulation has on Kansas rate payers, resulting in higher electricity rates and greater uncertainty in grid reliability. The final rule released today is twice as bad for Kansas as the proposed rule released last summer and requires us to review not only the rule itself but reconsider the state’s overall approach to the Clean Power Plan.”
In Missouri, Scott Holste, the spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, said, “The governor sent a letter to the EPA last year requesting flexibility in recognition of individual states’ unique circumstances. The administration will closely review these final rules to ensure Missouri families and businesses continue to have access to affordable, abundant, reliable and sustainable energy.”
The Missouri Public Service Commission said it was reviewing the plan, which it noted was 1,561 pages.
Chuck Caisley, vice president of marketing and public affairs for Kansas City Power & Light, which has customers in both states, saw more flexibility in some extended compliance dates in the final version, but said the higher carbon emission reduction goals were likely to cause even higher electricity rates for customers.
Caisley also said KCP&L had made substantial investments in renewable energy and efficiency in the past decade “to prepare for this and other EPA rules.”
“More than 72 percent of our coal fleet has been retrofitted to significantly reduce emissions and improve air quality,” he said. “By the end of 2016, we are on track to have the largest energy-efficiency program per customer and the most renewable generation of any electric utility in Kansas and Missouri.”
Other reaction was consistent with past pronouncements, with environmental groups generally in favor and big business interests opposed.
John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, called the plan “a step towards improving the quality of life for low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and vulnerable populations like asthmatics and the elderly, which have disproportionately borne the brunt of power plant pollution in Missouri for decades. We can protect Missouri’s health while growing our state’s economy and saving consumers money.”
But Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the EPA was trying “to restructure our electricity system under the guise of restricting greenhouse gas emissions” and promised to “pursue all available options, including litigation if necessary, to block EPA’s regulatory power grab.”
A different take came from the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy, a group of more than 400 local chambers. Among those signing the group’s statement in favor of the Clean Power Plan were James Heeter, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, and Cathy Bennett, the local chamber’s vice president of public policy and programming.
The group’s leaders, who say their chambers represent more than a quarter million businesses, praised the economic benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy measures and said the plan could can act as a catalyst for economic development.
Compiled by Greg Hack of The Star from staff, AP and New York Times reports.