(CN) – Calling it “the single most important step that America has ever made” in tackling climate change, President Barack Obama unveiled the revised Clean Power Plan on Monday to mixed reactions from the energy industry and environmentalists.
“I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate and that is what brings us here today,” Obama said.
“This is one of those rare issues, because of its magnitude, because of its scope. If we don’t get it right, we may not be able to reverse,” he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan uses state-by-state targets to cut carbon pollution by 32 percent over the next 15 years from levels recorded in 2005. It gives the states until 2022 to begin complying with the standards.
While environmental advocates hailed the plan as an important step in reducing climate change, the energy industry and coal advocates called it an attack on fossil fuels that will drive up costs, kill mining jobs and destabilize the electricity grid.
Murray Energy Corp., an Ohio coal company, said it will file lawsuits to block the “flagrantly unlawful” plan.
“This illegal rule will adversely restructure the electric power system in American and will force every state to radically change their energy policies,” the company said. “It will dramatically increase the cost of electricity for all Americans, with no environmental benefit whatsoever.”
Coal companies worry that the new proposals could raise their costs and shut down hundreds of coal-powered plants, which emit more carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels, such as natural gas.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal criticized the plan as “ill-advised and poorly designed,” saying premature and costly regulations are not the answer to addressing climate concerns.
“China, India and the rest of emerging Asia are building their economies on fossil fuels generally, and coal specifically, which they view as their most affordable, reliable and secure energy option,” said Deck Slone, Arch’s senior vice president of strategy and public policy.
“To truly address the threat of climate change, these countries will need low-cost, low-carbon mitigation tools for fossil fuels. The administration’s rule will do nothing to deliver such tools and could in fact slow their development here in the West, even as it hurts American ratepayers, American businesses and American competitiveness,” Slone said.
The EPA cited power plants as the largest drivers of climate change in the United States, accounting for roughly one-third of carbon pollution emissions. The Clean Power Plan, which was proposed last year, will for the first time create national limits on such pollution.
By 2030, assuming full compliance with the plan, emissions of sulfur dioxide from power plants will be 90 percent lower and emissions of nitrogen oxides will be 72 percent lower than 2005 levels.
The reductions in pollutants that cause health-damaging soot and smog will ultimately lead to 3,600 fewer premature deaths and 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children by 2030, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.
The plan “will give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve,” she said.
It will also save an expected $45 billion a year by shrinking Americans’ energy use and reducing health costs associated with air pollution, the EPA said.
If the regulations survive legal challenges, they are expected to transform the U.S. power market, spurring the replacement of dozens of coal-fired plants with natural gas, renewables, and other forms of low- or no-cost electricity.
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, called the climate change policy “historic” and “critically needed.”
“Solar energy is the most sensible compliance option for states under the Clean Power Plan. Solar works in all 50 states, has zero carbon emissions, creates more jobs per megawatt than any other technology, and can be deployed cost-effectively and quickly – all while improving grid reliability,” Resch said.
Solar energy is the fastest-growing source of energy in America, she added.
“By the end of 2016, there will be enough solar energy in the United States to power 8 million homes, offsetting nearly 45 million metric tons of carbon emissions,” Resch said.
Obama’s new regulations include incentives in the form of pollution credits for states that improve energy efficiency in poor communities or build lots of renewable energy before the targets come into force in 2022. The credits can be used to offset pollution emitted later.
Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said wind power can provide most of the clean power that states will need to meet these incentives.
“Low-cost wind energy reduced carbon emissions by 5 percent in 2014, and we’re capable of doing a lot more. We can build a more diverse, reliable, cleaner energy mix for America, while creating jobs and keeping money in consumers’ pockets,” Kiernan said.
The EPA recognizes that the plan is ambitious, but McCarthy said it is achievable because “states can customize plans to achieve their goals in ways that make sense for their communities, businesses and utilities.”
States’ plans are due by September 2016, but they can get extensions of up to two years. The EPA proposed a model rule that states can adopt, and federal plan that it will put in place if a state fails to submit an adequate plan.
Politicians have come down on both sides of the plan, with Democrats more likely to support the new regulations.
Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif., said he welcomes “this bold and absolutely necessary carbon reduction plan.”
Brown said California is already on track to exceed the new reduction targets, having committed to cutting emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 under an executive order he issued this year.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, each thanked Obama for his plan to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
“The president is absolutely right to take action and prove to the doubters, the deniers and critics from powerful and polluting industries that we do not have to choose between our health and our economy. Indeed, urgent and meaningful climate action is essential for both,” Inslee said.
Republicans called the regulations unnecessary and a costly overreach by the White House.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential contender, called the Clean Power Plan Obama’s “lawless and radical attempt to destabilize the nation’s energy system.”
The “reckless policy” will cause Americans’ electricity costs to skyrocket, he said.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, said the plan “represents one of the most expansive and expensive regulatory burdens ever imposed on U.S. families and businesses. The EPA’s new rules will have minimal environmental benefits; they will, however, threaten our fuel diversity and lead to significant increase in utility costs across the country.”
Fallin said she supports the efforts of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been helping to lead the legal charge against the White House and the EPA.
Pruitt was dealt a blow on July 17 when a federal judge dismissed Oklahoma’s second lawsuit challenging the climate rule. U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan ruled that the state could not challenge the EPA regulation until it was made final.
Pruitt pledged to continue challenging the plan in court now that the final rule has been introduced.
“The president could announce the most ‘state friendly’ plan possible, but it would not change the fact that the administration doesn’t have the legal authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from these sources because these sources are already being regulated and the Act prohibits this sort of double regulation,” he said.
Pruitt said Oklahoma “is suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan because we are asking the federal government to comply with the Clean Air Act, not because we need more time and flexibility to implement this unlawful plan. My office will continue to challenge the EPA as long as the administration continues to pursue this unlawful rule.”
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