Senate Dems huddle with Obama adviser to discuss climate plan

About a dozen Senate Democrats huddled with White House climate and energy adviser Heather Zichal in the Capitol on Tuesday to discuss President Obama’s climate agenda.

Senators present said Zichal mainly discussed the timelines for regulations floated in the plan Obama announced at the end of last month. 

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The briefing was also aimed at getting the administration and lawmakers on the same page in advance of expected attacks from opponents.

“I just think it’s helpful to know, have some certainty, about what they’re thinking of makes sense in the administration, provide plenty of time for feedback and then say, ‘By this date and time, we want to finalize these standards,’ ” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters of the meeting.

Obama’s climate push relies on a suite of executive actions that include emissions rules for new and existing power plants, more stringent energy efficiency standards and beefing up renewable energy production on federal lands.

It drew immediate fire from Republicans, who oppose Obama’s clean energy push, as well as business groups, the coal industry and coal-state Democrats.

Those who attended Tuesday’s briefing included Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Zichal did not speak with reporters — though some senators offered a glimpse of what was discussed.

“A lot of questions on specifics, and people were positive and encouraging,” Stabenow told reporters of the meeting. “Just what the plan is, the timetable.”

Schatz told The Hill that the meeting helped senators understand how the White House plans to implement the “extensive” regulations.

He said that the upper chamber is still “fleshing them out in terms of timeframe for the roll out, what the expected interactions with stakeholders will be and how the Senate can be most supportive of those actions.”

One detail did, however, emerge — a revised draft rule governing emissions from power plants will separate coal- and natural gas-fired facilities, rather than lumping both together.

Carper told reporters that Zichal outlined the change to the draft Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule in the meeting.

“What the president’s laid out is a regulatory approach, just making it very clear that there will be a new source performance standards — one set for new coal plants, one set for new natural gas plants,” Carper said.

He added that the administration will likely move ahead with separate standards for existing coal-, natural gas- and oil-fired generators when it moves ahead with that rule.

The shift on the rule for new plants had been anticipated since the Obama administration missed an April deadline for finalizing it. Industry had objected to giving coal- and natural gas-fired plants the same regulatory treatment.

The EPA sent its revised rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget last week, but would not confirm the change to the draft rule.

"EPA will issue a new proposal in September. We will not comment while the proposal is in draft form," the agency told The Hill in a statement.

This story was updated at 3:27 p.m.