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White House starts push for carbon rules

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The White House is launching a major public relations push this week to build support for the centerpiece of President Obama’s climate change legacy: new rules that would curb carbon emissions from power plants.

With the battle over the rules heating up, the White House on Tuesday released a new report that says the costs of inaction on climate change would be massive for the federal government and the economy.

If the U.S. delays acting and the global temperature increases to 3 degrees Celsius, the economic damages will cost the U.S. and other nations $150 billion per year, the report says.

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Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic advisers, said the report was meant to “motivate” or strengthen the president’s hand when explaining “why the administration is doing so many things at so many levels simultaneously to deal with climate change.”

The report amounted to a shot across the bow to business groups, who argue the rules will hurt growth, cause layoffs and decimate the coal sector without making a major dent in global carbon emissions.

The messaging campaign comes as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) begins the second phase in its rollout of the standards, which would require states to reduce carbon dioxide from exiting power plants 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. 

At hearings that will last two days at four locations across the U.S., officials from the EPA will hear from more than 1,600 people on the controversial rules. Industry, coal miners, environmentalists, electric consumers and more will be stopping by the events to weigh in.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Obama is poised to sidestep Congress with a new set of executive actions on climate change.

The actions include new partnerships with companies like IBM, Microsoft and Coca-Cola to make the agriculture sector and the U.S. food supply more resilient to climate change, according to White House adviser John Podesta.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will unveil on behalf of the White House a series of actions, partnerships and stakeholder commitments to help modernize the nation’s natural gas, transmission and distribution systems and reduce methane emissions.

Podesta, who has been a guiding hand on climate policy in the president’s second term, said the climate moves are intended to draw a contrast with Congress.

“There is a general lack of productivity on Capitol Hill,” Podesta said on a call with reporters Monday. “We haven’t seen signs that they want to take this up and work on this with us.”

“But the public is solidly on board with the idea that climate change is happening now and they want to see clean energy solutions,” Podesta added. “The Republican-led House is a lagging indicator on climate change but we assume they will catch up to the politics of it eventually.”

Environmental groups say the extensive push this week and in the coming months will help rally the Democratic base for the midterm elections.

“The president’s leadership is creating a locus around which a pent-up desire for action on climate change is coming out,” said Pete Altman of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sierra Club’s Melinda Pierce says Obama is “standing on pretty solid footing going into 2014.”

Democratic strategist Jim Manley said the new actions represent the administration’s “calculated decision last year to move away from the legislative process.”

The administration is capitalizing on the president’s climate legacy at a key time, he said, because there are “very few things that get the GOP more bent out of shape than environmental and regulatory issues.”

“Now that administration has decided to go around Congress I think this will play very well amongst the base as we head toward elections,” Manley said. 

But Republicans are firing back hard and fast on the rules, and are seeking to make them a liability for Democratic candidates from coal-producing states.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has hammered the carbon rules as he runs for reelection against a tough Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said Obama is not helping vulnerable Democrats who are against the regulations, and that more attention around the climate rule will only hurt Democrats because the administration is “focusing on something anti-jobs.”

Industry groups representing coal, oil, gas and manufacturers have united against the centerpiece of Obama’s climate legacy, and have vowed to fight the rules in court once they take effect.

“We are all going to tell the EPA that this regulation is simply not workable,” Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said on a call with reporters last week.