By Laura Barron-Lopez - 06/02/14 06:00 AM EDT
President Obama is opening a climate change war with Republicans on Monday with the Environmental Protection Agency’s unveiling of sweeping new standards on carbon emissions from power plants.
The new rules are a central part of Obama’s climate change agenda, meant to ensure he leaves behind a legacy on tackling global warming.
They hope that anger over the rules will help them win back the Senate, which could let them curb Obama’s power in his final two years in office.
Power plants would need to cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030 under a new EPA rule, according to multiple reports.
Obama is just as determined to leave a mark by moving forward with regulation at a time when his legislative proposals appear dead on arrival at Capitol Hill.
Monday’s clash will also intensify a public relations and lobbying battle between green groups and business.
The Chamber of Commerce argues the rules could cost the U.S. economy $50 billion annually, while environmentalists see curbing power plant emissions as an historic moment in the climate change fight.
“When history is written [this rule] has the potential to be judged as the moment that the U.S. fully committed to fighting climate change,” said Michael Greenstone, an environmental economist at MIT.
Republicans are vowing to exhaust all avenues available to kill the regulation.
As soon as EPA chief Gina McCarthy personally announces the rule Monday at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., Republicans say they will take to the Senate floor to blast the rule as a “national energy tax.”
The proposal will be on the lips of every Republican heading to the floor Monday, and will likely dominate the weekly leadership stakeout, a Senate aide told The Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is fighting the most expensive Senate race in the nation this year and is seeking to tie his Democratic opponent to the administration’s climate change rules, has signaled he will introduce legislation quickly to block them.
“There will be a lot of push back, a lot of hearings, and a lot of lawsuits,” promised Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) “We may even go down and protest. One of the real disappointing things is that the administration always talks about those most in need and those are precisely the people who will be hurt the most by this.”
Republicans and Democrats from coal-heavy states say the regulation will kill mining jobs, drive up electricity bills, and hurt the nation's economy.
In response to those attacks, the EPA has said states that rely on coal, such as Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming and Utah, will be given great flexibility to reach the new goals.
Supporters of the rule say they will provide benefits for the broader economy.
“Of course there will be costs, and costs of compliance, but overall for the economy the costs will not be very large, much less than 1 percent of gross domestic product,” said Robert Stavins, professor of business and government for Harvard University's environmental economics program.
The EPA already regulates sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, mercury, and particle pollution from power plants, but not carbon emissions, which account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gases.
The new standards will regulate carbon emissions from hundreds of fossil-fuel power plants, including 600 coal plants.
“The net benefits of this rule will be quite substantial,” White House adviser John Podesta, who was brought on to spearhead the climate regulations, told reporters last week.
As power plants transition to technology that will help slash carbon emissions, Greenstone of MIT said it will catalyze a marketplace for jobs in energy efficiency and carbon capture technology.
"It will be the first time we will have a price on carbon, and that price signal is critical because innovators respond. They will see that there is a market for technology that can either pull carbon out of the atmosphere or reduce initial emissions. And it's technology you and I couldn't possibly dream of,” Greenstone said.
Even more important is that the move will impose a price on carbon.
“The symbolic value can be very important, especially internationally,” Stavins said.
Republicans argue that the U.S. should not take the lead on climate when countries like China and India remain reliant on coal-fired power plants.
But Stavins, who spends much of his time traveling to Europe and Asia to work on climate policy, said emerging economies are watching the U.S. carefully.
He argued the rules will make it “much more difficult for China, and other emerging economies not to move forward on climate regulations.”
The Sierra Club is one of many national environmental organizations that will help the administration launch an emboldened outreach campaign promoting the regulation as a fight to clean up pollution.
The group will enlist 100 staffers to work with 26 states to mobilize support for the rule over the next two years, touting the regulation's ability to protect kids, and families from asthma-inducing pollution.
“If it's as strong as we hope it will be it will begin to fulfill the promise that the president made when he won the election in 2008,” Sierra Club President Michael Brune said.