Tag Archives: executive action

How Obama’s power plant emission rules will work

The Obama administration is poised to unveil the first rules limiting carbon emissions from the thousands of power plants across the nation. The pollution controls form the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s campaign to combat climate change and a key element of his legacy.

Obama says the rules are essential to curb the heat-trapping greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Critics contend the rules will kill jobs, drive up electricity prices and shutter plants across the country.

Environmentalists and industry advocates alike are eagerly awaiting the specifics, which the Environmental Protection Agency will make public for the first time on June 2 and Obama will champion from the White House.

While the details remain murky, the administration says the rules will play a major role in achieving the pledge Obama made in Copenhagen during his first year in office to cut America’s carbon emissions by about 17 percent by 2020.

Some questions and answers about the proposal:

Q: How does the government plan to limit emissions?

A: Unable to persuade Congress to act on climate change, Obama is turning to the Clean Air Act. The 1970s-era law has long been used to regulate pollutants like soot, mercury and lead but has only recently been applied to greenhouse gases.

Unlike with new power plants, the government can’t regulate existing plant emissions directly. Instead, the government will issue guidelines for cutting emissions, then each state will develop its own plan to meet those guidelines. If a state refuses, the EPA can create its own plan.

Q: Why are these rules necessary?

A: Power plants are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Environmentalists and the White House say without bold action, climate change will intensify and endanger the public’s well-being around the world. In its National Climate Assessment this year, the administration said warming and erratic weather will become increasingly disruptive unless curtailed.

“This is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now,” Obama said earlier this month.

Of course, the United States is only one player in the global climate game. These rules won’t touch carbon emissions in other nations whose coal plants are even dirtier. But the White House believes that leading by example gives the U.S. more leverage to pressure other countries to reduce their own emissions.

Q: How steep will the reductions be?

A: We don’t know.

The administration hasn’t said whether it will set one universal standard or apply different standards in each state. But Obama’s senior counselor, John Podesta, said the reductions will be made “in the most cost-effective and most efficient way possible,” by giving flexibility to the states.

That could include offsetting emissions by increasing the use of solar and nuclear power, switching to cleaner-burning fuels like natural gas or creating efficiency programs that reduce energy demand. States might also pursue an emissions-trading plan _ also known as cap-and-trade _ as several northeast states have already done.

Q: How will they affect my power bill? What about the economy?

A: It depends where you live. Different states have a different mixes of coal versus gas and other fuels, so the rules will affect some states more than others. Dozens of coal-burning plants have already announced they plan to close.

Still, it’s a good bet the rules will drive up electricity prices. The U.S. relies on coal for 40 percent of its electricity, and the Energy Department predicts retail power prices will rise this year because of environmental regulations, economic forces and other factors.

Environmentalists argue that some of those costs are offset by decreased health care costs and other indirect benefits. They also say the transition toward greener fuels could create jobs.

Q: Doesn’t Obama need approval from Congress?

A: Not for this. A 2007 Supreme Court ruling gave the EPA the green light to regulate carbon-dioxide under the Clean Air Act. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be fierce opposition and drawn-out litigation. The government is expecting legal challenges and is preparing to defend the rules in court if necessary.

Q: Is this the final step?

A: Not even close. After the draft rule is proposed, there’s a full year for public comment and revisions. Then states have another year to submit their implementation plans to the EPA.

President resists pressure to act alone on immigration

For a president looking for a legacy piece of legislation, the current state of the immigration debate represents a high-wire act.

President Barack Obama could act alone to slow deportations, and probably doom any chance of a permanent and comprehensive overhaul. Yet if he shows too much patience, the opportunity to fix immigration laws as he wants could well slip away.

As Republican leaders dampen expectations for overhauling immigration laws this year, the White House is hoping that the GOP resistance is temporary and tactical, and Obama is resisting pressure from some political allies to take matters into his own hands and ease his administration’s deportation record.

House Speaker John Boehner recently all but ruled out passage of immigration legislation before the fall midterm elections, saying Republicans had trouble trusting that Obama would implement all aspects of an immigration law.

White House officials say they believe Boehner ultimately wants to get it done. But they acknowledge that Boehner faces stiff resistance from conservatives who oppose any form of legalization for immigrants who have crossed into the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. As well, Republicans are eager to keep this election year’s focus on Obama’s health care law.

Obama is willing to give Boehner space to operate and to tamp down the conservative outcry that greeted a set of immigration overhaul principles the speaker brought forward last week. For now, the White House is simply standing behind a comprehensive bill that passed in the Senate last year, but is not trying to press Boehner on how to proceed in the Republican-controlled House.

Vice President Joe Biden told CNN that Obama is waiting to see what the House passes before responding.

The White House view could be overly optimistic, playing down the strength of the opposition to acting this year.

For Republicans the immigration issue poses two political challenges. In the short term, it displays intraparty divisions when they want to use their unified opposition to the health care law as a key issue in the 2014 elections. Immigration distracts from that strategy. But failure to pass an immigration overhaul would be a significant drag on the chances of a Republican winning the 2016 presidential election if angry Latino voters are mobilized to vote for the Democratic nominee.

Making the case for a delay, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said there’s “overwhelming support for doing nothing this year.” Labrador, who worked with a small group of Republicans and Democrats on comprehensive legislation last year then abandoned the negotiations, said it would be a mistake to have an internal battle in the GOP. He argued for waiting until next year when the Republicans might have control of the Senate.

Some Republican supporters of a new immigration law are pushing back.

“I’m trying to convince my colleagues that regardless of primaries, regardless of elections this November, that we have an obligation and a duty to solve this crisis once and for all,” Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., told the Spanish-language television network Telemundo in an interview scheduled to air Sunday.

White House spokesman Jay Carney did not criticize Boehner’s talk of a delay, though he called the speaker’s claims that Obama is the problem “an odd bit of diversion.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, did not hold back, signaling that Democrats are prepared to lay the blame on Boehner and his party if legislation does not materialize.

“Republicans should be candid about putting extremism ahead of the good of the country,” she said.

Democratic officials familiar with the White House thinking say there is also a possibility that the House could act in November or December, during a lame-duck session of Congress after the elections. That would require swift work in a short time. What’s more, if Republicans win control of the Senate, there would be pressure to leave the issue to the new Senate.

The longer the immigration issue remains unresolved, the more pressure will fall on Obama from immigrant advocates to act alone and ease the deportations that have been undertaken by his administration. Since Obama took office in January 2009, more than 1.9 million immigrants have been deported.