EPA: Climate rule won’t kill coal

A top Obama administration official will insist Thursday that Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on power plant emissions are not set in stone, and should not be regarded as a death knell for the coal industry.

Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator over the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in what will be the first congressional hearing on perhaps the single most controversial rule pursued by the Obama administration to date.

Congressional Republicans say the rule, the centerpiece of the president’s climate change initiative, will decimate fossil fuel industries at the expense of American energy security.

In prepared testimony for the hearing, McCabe disputes that notion.

“We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix. This plan does not change that,” McCabe will tell the panel, according to the planned remarks. “It builds on action already underway to modernize aging plants, increase efficiency, and lower pollution, and paves a more certain path for conventional fuels in a clean energy economy.”

At the same time, McCabe’s testimony will signal wiggle room in the draft language unveiled earlier this month. The hearing comes a day after the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register, starting the clock on a 120-day public comment period.

The agency has also held numerous public hearings to solicit feedback on the plan.

“These are not mere words: this is a proposal, and we want and need input from the public,” she will say, according to the testimony. “That is why we have already engaged states, utilities, and other stakeholders to get their feedback.”

The proposal calls for a 30-percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants — the single largest U.S. source of such pollution — by 2030. The agency has stressed that states will be granted the flexibility to create their own implementation plans to meet the goals. 

The EPA projects that the rule, once enacted, will generate more than $90 billion in climate and health benefits, compared to $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in costs. In the first year alone, the rule will stave off as many as 150,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks, the agency predicts.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It already threatens human health and welfare and economic wellbeing, and if left unchecked, it will have devastating impacts on the United States and the planet,” according to the testimony. “The science is clear. The risks are clear. And the high costs of climate inaction are clear.”