EPA flooded with climate rule comments

The Obama administration has received more than 1.6 million comments on its proposed rule to limit carbon emissions on power plants.

The massive number of comments submitted before Monday’s deadline highlights the intense interest from both environmental groups hailing the rule as an historic effort to curb climate change, and business and energy groups who argue the sweeping regulations will choke the economy.

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The plan is intended to reduce the power sector’s carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Business groups opposed to the rules cited an industry-commissioned study from October finding it would cost at least $366 billion to implement. They also said it would have almost no impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some states joined in bashing the rule. Seventeen attorneys general told the agency they identified “numerous legal defects” with the proposal, each of which could individually invalidate it.

“EPA’s proposal attempts to use the Clean Air Act to override states’ energy policies and impose a national energy and resource-planning policy that picks winners and losers based solely on EPA’s policy choices, forcing states to favor renewable energy sources and demand-reduction measures over fossil fuel-fired electric production,” said the attorneys general, representing states such as Oklahoma, West Virginia and North Dakota.

Conservative lawmakers agreed.

“This unworkable rule serves to raise consumer energy prices, jeopardize reliability and hamper long-term investment toward new technology that allows for developing our natural resources with good environmental stewardship,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) wrote, saying it must be rescinded.

Green groups argued the rule was an important step forward but said the Obama administration could do more.

“Our analysis shows that we can cut carbon pollution even more with substantially the same costs as EPA’s plan, but with very, very large public health and climate protection benefits that dwarf those costs,” David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) climate program, told reporters Monday.

With a few tweaks, the group argued the EPA could cut power plant carbon emissions by 44 percent in 2030, compared with the 30 percent in the EPA’s proposal, with little extra cost.

The Sierra Club also pushed for a stronger rule.

“The urgency of the climate crisis and the imperative for the U.S. to lead global efforts to reduce climate pollution demands stronger action,” the group said. “EPA must strengthen the [rule] and ensure that the rule is maximally effective.”

The total number of comments received by the EPA is less than the 2.5 million submitted on the agency’s two proposals for carbon limits for new fossil fuel power plants, each of which netted about 2.5 million comments.

It’s also less than the Federal Communications Commission’s 3.9 million responses to its proposal to impose new rules on the Internet known as “net neutrality.”

Business interests told the EPA that its proposal is clearly illegal and would destroy the coal industry while increasing costs immensely for energy-intensive industries like manufacturing, creating a ripple effect throughout the economy.

The Partnership for a Better Energy Future, an ad-hoc business coalition, said the proposed carbon reduction plan “is incompatible with numerous practical and technical aspects of America’s electricity system and would represent a vast expansion of the agency’s regulatory reach into the authority held by states and other federal regulatory agencies.”

The coal industry, which expects to take a big hit under the EPA’s plan, also voiced opposition.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity argued that the Clean Air Act prohibits the EPA from regulating carbon from power plants, since it already regulates other pollution from those same facilities.

“In addition to being illegal and technically flawed, the [rule] is the most expensive environmental regulation ever proposed for the power sector,” the coal group said.

“Put simply, the administration has decided to bypass Congress in implementing far-reaching executive branch energy and environmental policy goals,” wrote the National Mining Association.

“Basic separation of powers principles and the dictates of the [Clean Air Act], however, prohibit the administration from doing so.”

Green groups argue there is broad public support for the EPA rules.

As evidence, they argue that 8 million comments in favor of cutting carbon pollution by power plants have been filed if you add up the current comments along with those made on two previous rules that would reduce carbon emissions by newly built power plants.