The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will delay releasing a final version of its rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, saying the agency needs more time to consider input from all sides of the heated debate over the rule.
Environmental Protection Agency acting administrator for air quality Janet McCabe told reporters that the final rule, which was supposed to be due on Thursday, will instead be filed in mid-summer — about the same time the agency’s landmark rules limiting carbon emissions from existing and modified power plants are due to be finalized. All three rules make up what’s known as the Clean Power Plan, a key component of President Obama’s unprecedented U.S. effort to cut greenhouse gas pollution and stem global warming.
The rule being delayed is fairly controversial. In its current, proposed state, it would require all future coal plants to emit just 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. To put that in perspective, an average U.S. coal plant currently dumps over 1,700 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for every megawatt-hour of energy it produces. Natural gas plants that are 100 megawatts or larger would be limited to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour.
Coal industry leaders and their largely-Republican group of supporters have lambasted the rule, arguing the limits would make it too difficult for new coal-fired power plants to be built in the United States. Considering the coal industry has been in a steady decline since 1983 due in part to cheap natural gas from fracking, the coal industry argues the strict regulations would be the nail in their proverbial coffin.
Meanwhile, environmental leaders and their largely-Democratic group of supporters cheer the rule, noting that the Clean Power Plan itself is the most significant thing the United States has ever done to address the direct causes of climate change. Environmentally-minded business leaders note the rule represents a “market signal that America wants clean energy,” and will eventually drive job creation and economic growth in that area. The Natural Resource Defense Council claims the Clean Power Plan will result in $21 billion to $53 billion worth of savings by 2020, derived from reduced illnesses and deaths from air pollution and environmental benefits.
In her comments Wednesday, McCabe said the EPA needs more time to review the millions of comments it has received for all three rules.
“These rules are a suite of rules affecting an industry, and we wanted to address those at the same time,” McCabe said. “This is all about the best policy outcome, and the appropriate policy outcome.”
As noted by the Associated Press, the EPA’s decision to delay the rule puts a temporary wedge in the plans of Congressional Republican leaders who had hoped to block it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he would overturn the climate rules to halt what he has called a “war on coal.” Indeed, before he was sworn in as Majority Leader, the Kentucky Republican said that his top priority would be “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”
McConnell himself has never fully answered the question of whether he accepts that the problem the EPA is attempting to reign in — climate change — is real, along with the 97 percent of climate scientists who do. Most recently when asked the question, McConnell used what’s becoming a common refrain: “I’m not a scientist.”