| WASHINGTON, June 2
WASHINGTON, June 2 In large part, the
wide-ranging reaction to President Barack Obama's signature
effort to cut power plant carbon emissions could have been
written months in advance.
Key Republicans and many industrial groups decried it as a
job-killing war on coal that would drive up power prices;
environmentalists and many Democrats hailed it as a landmark
measure making good on Obama's pledge to tackle climate change.
Behind the bombast, however, more measured voices found a
proposal that was not as severe as critics had feared nor as
ambitious as proponents had hoped for. Basing the average 30
percent reduction on the year 2005 - near a high point for such
emissions, before the economic recession reduced power use and
the rise of shale gas dramatically curbed coal plant output -
means much of that reduction has already occurred.
For both sides of the debate, Monday's sweeping proposal by
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is only the starting
point of a months-long effort to chip away, hone or modify the
details of a 645-page plan that may remake the nation's power
"This is an excellent opening bid," said Conrad
Schneider, advocacy director at Clean Air Task Force, an
environmental group that submitted a plan to help guide the
agency as it wrote the rules.
Now the real work will begin behind the scenes during a
120-day-long public comment period, as green groups seek more
ambitious elements to make the rules even tougher while
opponents seek vulnerable areas to challenge in courts.
For example, Schneider said he expects some environmental
groups and states to comment on how the agency defined the "best
system of emission reduction" - a group of available
technologies identified by the EPA that states can use to
ratchet down their emissions, and that help determine the
stringency of each states goals.
A NEW ENGAGEMENT
The long-awaited proposal was announced last June when
President Barack Obama announced a new strategy to address
climate change. Monday's announcement was preceded by an
unprecedented, nationwide, months-long outreach effort to gather
feedback and address criticism well in advance.
That did little to stem either the tide of outrage or the
outpouring of support that greeted Monday's announcement.
But as the details of the plan trickled out, it grew clear
that some groups would face a tricky task squaring their base
position with a more nuanced response.
While most green groups had nothing but praise for Obama,
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said the proposal
"doesn't go far enough to put us on the right path."
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental
group that offered the EPA the first fully developed blueprint
to help shape the proposal in 2012, said it will continue to
push to make the rules stronger over the coming months.
For instance, NRDC policy director David Doniger said the
EPA was assuming a ramp-up of energy efficiency of 1.5 percent
per year as a possible best system of emission reduction, but
invited comment whether that could be raised to 2% per year.
"That makes a big difference in the overall reductions. We
have argued in our proposal for the two percent improvement, and
we will continue to advocate that," he said.
The group had originally urged the EPA to order a 30 percent
cut by 2020, rather than the 2030 target in the proposal,
measured from 2012, a lower base year for emissions.
While the National Association of Manufacturers lashed out
at the EPA proposal, warning it would remove "reliable and
abundant sources of energy from our nation's energy mix," the
electric utility industry offered a more measured reaction.
The Edison Electric Institute said it was "thoroughly
reviewing" the proposed guidelines to make sure the compliance
requirements and timelines were achievable across the industry.
Its president Tom Kuhn welcomed some of the flexible
elements the agency weaved into the bill but did not fully
endorse the program either.
"While we are still assessing the overall proposal, EPA
appears to have allowed for a range of compliance options to
reflect the diversity of approaches that states and electric
utilities have undertaken and may undertake to reduce GHG
emissions," he said in a statement.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Jonathan Leff and