Business groups close ranks for climate battle

The nation’s leading business and industry organizations presented a largely unified front Monday against the Obama administration’s bid to tamp down on power plant emissions, painting the proposal as disastrous for the economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s draft regulations unveiled by administrator Gina McCarthy drew dire warnings from a litany of pro-business and trade organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) the oil and gas industry and others.

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“Our nation’s energy security is at stake,” said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. “And so is the lifeblood of our economy.”

Monday’s dustup is just the opening round of a high-stakes clash over the regulations, a central piece of the president’s initiative to counter the effects of global warning.

The plan aims to decrease power plant emissions by nearly a third over the next 16 years and was hailed by environmental and public health organizations.

Business groups, meanwhile, launched a messaging campaign meant to portray the regulations as both ineffective, in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and devastating to the U.S. economy.

Timmons told reporters that the regulations, if enacted as planned, would simply force manufacturers to move overseas to China or other nations with less stringent standards.

Arguing that the rule would decimate the coal industry, several groups accused the Obama administration of running away from its stated “all of the above” energy policy.

“The uncertainty created will have a chilling effect on energy investment that could cost jobs, raise electricity prices and make energy less reliable,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. 

“Our air is getting cleaner under existing regulations, and carbon emissions are down due to technological advancements developed by the private sector,” Gerard said.  “We can continue to make environmental progress without damaging the economy.”

The warnings follow a report issued last week by the Chamber of Commerce, which estimated that the rule could ultimately cost Americans more than $50 billion annually.

Chamber President Tom Donohue said his group, country’s biggest business lobby, would be an active participant in the battle over the regulations' final language.

“They will have a profound effect on the economy, on businesses, and on families,” he said.

Proponents of the rule said such predictions were overblown and the regulations could actually yield lower energy costs for consumers.

“There is every reason to believe that scaled-up investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy will be cheaper than relying on coal, especially as new technologies and economies of scale come into play,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group. “Whether the rule keeps electricity costs in check will depend on state implementation plans.”

Not all business groups oppose the regulations.

The American Sustainable Business Council lauded the proposal, maintaining that many companies are convinced that climate change poses a larger threat than increased regulation on the energy sector.

“Business leaders recognize and applaud the president and the Environmental Protection Agency for the leadership demonstrated on issuing these rules to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change while opening the door for innovation and job creation,” David Levine, the group’s chief executive, said.

The influential Business Roundtable issued a decidedly tempered statement indicating support for the plan to cut emissions.

“…we care deeply about both the health of the environment and the health of the economy,” said Dave Cote, the group’s vice chairman and Honeywell’s chief executive. “We look forward to working with the Administration on how best to achieve cost-effective greenhouse gas emissions reductions while continuing to support growth and job creation.”

But many of the country’s largest business groups signaled that they intend to mount a full-court press against the rule, which is widely expected to end up the subject of a court fight.

Any legal dispute is likely to include accusations that the administration has failed to conduct an adequate cost-benefit analysis of the regulations. That assertion, a common theme in the private sector’s criticism of Obama’s regulatory policies, surfaced Monday upon the release of the EPA proposal.

“Once again, the administration has not considered the impact of rising electricity prices on small business," said Dan Bosch, manager of regulatory policy at the NFIB. “In order to create an economic environment that supports small businesses and creates jobs, we need to expand our sources of energy, not restrict them.”

This story was updates with additional information at 4:22 p.m.

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