Energy & Environment

EPA delays landmark climate rule

The Environmental Protection Agency is delaying its landmark climate regulations for power plants in what it said is an effort to better consider input on them and better align the major pieces of the regulations.

The EPA now plans to finalize its rules for newly built power plants, existing plants and modified plants at the same time — in mid-summer, the agency said Wednesday.

{mosads}Officials had planned to finalize the carbon dioxide rule for new plants Thursday, following the one-year timeline dictated by the Clean Air Act. The existing and modified plant rules should have come June 2 under an order from President Obama.

“It’s become clear to us … that there are cross-cutting topics that affect the standards for new sources, for modified sources and for existing sources, and we believe it’s essential to consider these overlapping issues in a coordinated fashion,” Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting administrator for air quality, told reporters Wednesday.

The rules together represent the most ambitious effort yet by the Obama administration to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas believed to cause climate change.

Republicans, some Democrats, energy companies and many other businesses have fought the plan tooth and nail, saying it would cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs while devastating industries that rely on fossil fuels.

The delay will only push the existing and modified plant rules by a few weeks, which McCabe said is due to an extension last year of the public comment period.

“We think the additional few weeks will give us the time we need to review the extensive public comments on all three proposals — more than 4 million in total — and finalize a suite of rules that takes into account any and all of these cross-cutting issues,” she said.

The delay means that congressional Republicans will have to wait until the middle of summer if they want to hold votes to try to overturn the rules.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last year that he would bring votes against of the rules as soon as they are finalized, because the Congressional Research Service said he couldn’t do it before that point.

But McCabe denied that that was a motivation.

“This is all about the best policy outcome and the appropriate policy outcome for this set of really important environmental and public health standards,” she said in response to a question about Congress overturning the rules. “That’s what we’re talking about here, that’s how we’re planning our work.”

The EPA also announced it would start immediately planning for how to deal with states that do not write their own implementation plans for the existing power plant rule.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can force federal plans on those states, and McCabe said the agency would propose a model federal plan this summer.

“EPA’s strong preference is that states will submit their own plans tailored to their specific needs and priorities, and we believe that states will want to do that here,” she said.

“We do have an obligation under the Clean Air Act to have a federal plan available, should there be states that don’t submit plans.”

The federal plans could be key to the EPA’s implementation of the rules, now that numerous state governors and lawmakers have said they are likely to ignore the requirements.

Environmental groups said they were not bothered by the delay, and were glad that the EPA has a definitive timeline for making the rules final.

“The agency today underscored the importance of staying on schedule — and it is,” David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate program, said in a statement.

“EPA also made clear that it will have ready a federal implementation plan for any state that fails to come up with its own,” he said. “So it’s full speed ahead for the Clean Power Plan.”

“It is critical that EPA act as soon as possible to address dangerous carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, which are the largest source of climate pollution in our country,” Tomas Carbonell, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.

But the coal industry saw the EPA’s announcement as “doubling down” on a bad idea that would increase electricity costs across the country.

“Rather than looking to work together to reach commonsense and practical energy guidelines in 2015, the administration is doubling down on its climate crusade at the expense of our economy and our people,” said Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition of Clean Coal Electricity.

Tags carbon emissions climate rule Environmental Protection Agency Mitch McConnell

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