Lawmakers and Washington interest groups are engaged in a battle over whether looming EPA rules will help or hurt as President Obama prepares to announce a highly anticipated performance standard for power plants June 2.
The proposed standard will require existing natural gas and coal-fired power plants to release no more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity - easily done with natural gas but unobtainable by present day coal plants.
Although coal still provides almost 40 percent of U.S. electricity, the White House's new point man on energy, John Podesta, said Wednesday that climate change necessitates coal’s demise. "President Obama believes we have a moral obligation to act now to curb climate change," he said.
While Podesta affirmed the president's commitment to address climate change, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was releasing a study that found the new standard will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
"The American household will lose $586 billion of disposable income. That means a household losing over $3,400 of income they'd otherwise be spending on something else," said Karen Harbert of the Chamber of Commerce.
The White House dismissed the Chamber of Commerce study. In an email, spokesman Matt Lehrich wrote that while the White House was still reviewing the study's methodology, "Polluters have made doomsday predictions, and every time they've been wrong."
Environmental groups believe the transition to cleaner energy will stimulate the economy. Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Fox News, “We think this plan is going to drive American innovation and investment and jobs, hundreds of thousands of them, in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, all over the country."
He added, "These are good paying jobs, doing good work that are going to help save money for our families and are going to protect future generations from the greatest threat of our time, which is global climate change."
Under the new standard, states will have broad flexibility in how to comply. But most are expected to use a cap and trade type of system. Electric plants that don't meet the standard may be able to trade carbon credits with other businesses that do. The details have yet to be worked out.
Even so, seven energy state Democratic Senators, Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mark Warner, D-Va., who are all facing tough re-election battles, wrote the president last week expressing "deep concerns" about the plan. Among other concerns, they fear it will kill incentive for ongoing research into clean coal combustion.
After the president announces the new standard next week, a one-year public comment follows. States will have to notify the EPA as to how they'll implement it the following year, but lawsuits and the potential for Republican control of Congress or the White House could undo it all.