WASHINGTON — A major initiative to cut the pollution emitted from the nation’s power plants set off a scramble Monday in Washington, D.C. — where Republicans instantly pounced on the proposed rules — and in states, where much of the work in implementing the rules will be done.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and environmental groups applauded the president for his leadership in limiting carbon pollution they said poses serious risks to people and the environment.
In many states, the move away from carbon-heavy coal to cleaner sources of energy is already underway, and those states could have an easier time adapting to new rules proposed Monday by the federal government.
Other states — those in the Rust Belt, for example — still are heavily dependent on coal to produce electricity. Those states might struggle.
“Utilities that have large holdings in the West are going to be generally well-positioned,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental group. Other states, such as Iowa, have big wind production already on line. Still other states — California, for example — already have worked to reduce emissions.
Under the rule unveiled Monday by the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, states will have specific goals to reduce carbon pollution and will be given wide flexibility in how to reach those goals. States can use a mix of power sources, energy efficiency and demand-side management to meet the goals. They can work with other states to develop multistate plans, or they can work alone.
Washington state would be expected to cut carbon emissions from its existing power plants by 72 percent under the proposal, the largest proposed among states.
An EPA spokeswoman said the state is already scheduled to shut down its coal-fired power plant.
TransAlta’s power plant in Centralia, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, is scheduled to completely shut down by 2025 under a state law passed in 2011.
Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, said the EPA’s proposed changes would devastate the state’s manufacturing industry and put jobs at risk. He says the EPA proposal would eliminate the state’s competitive advantage in its availability of affordable, reliable energy.
On a conference call hosted by the American Lung Association, President Barack Obama said the plan would curb electricity prices and protect the health of Americans, including children who suffer from breathing disorders such as asthma.
The overall goals are for the nation as a whole. By 2030, the White House and the EPA said, the actions will help cut carbon emission from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels, “which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year.”
Doing so, the administration said, will cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent, allowing the nation to avoid premature deaths and asthma attacks in children. It will mean fewer missed school or work days, the administration said, and will shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent.
The process will be strung out over several years, with comments on the proposed rules coming in the next four months, initial plans due from states by mid-2016 and extensions pushing some state plans back to 2017 or 2018.
Between now and those dates, however, will be two elections. And the proposed rules already have fostered a huge political backlash.
The effort reflects a major unmet priority for Obama, who promised upon taking office that he’d “work tirelessly … to roll back the specter of a warming planet.” It’s also popular with his liberal base, which has pressed the administration to be much more aggressive on environmental issues.
Obama needs those voters to turn out in November if Democrats are to retain control of the Senate. But the rules pose a risk, particularly for Senate Democrats running for re-election in conservative-leaning states, by delivering a campaign-ready message for Republicans, already hammering Obama’s environmental regulations as a “war on coal” and a burden on businesses trying to create jobs.