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Environmental group says Obama could bypass Congress to impose pollution standards

| Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, 8:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama could slash one-third of power plant emissions by 2025 without Congress' approval, a major environmental group said on Tuesday.

He could save at least $25 billion annually in reduced health and pollution costs by using the Clean Air Act to require that plants reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The group said the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to set state-specific emission rates and give states flexibility to implement them.

As nations meet this week in Doha, Qatar, to negotiate a climate change treaty and Obama prepares to begin a second term, the NRDC proposed a new approach that bypasses Capitol Hill. In 2009, the House of Representatives approved a “cap and trade” bill to limit overall emissions but allow companies to trade pollution credits. The bill died in the Senate.

The group said the EPA, which has proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, should set rules for hundreds of fossil-fueled plants, which it says account for 40 percent of the nation's carbon pollution.

“We know where the pollution is. Now we have to go after it,” Peter Lehner, the group's executive director, said. The NRDC said its federal-state approach would cost $4 billion annually but would save up to $60 billion each year in reduced pollution-related illnesses such as asthma. By emphasizing energy efficiency and cleaner fuels, it said, its plan would cut carbon pollution — compared to 2005 levels — 26 percent by 2020 and 34 percent by 2025.

Critics say it's just another version of cap-and-trade. David Kreutzer, an energy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it would allow states to trade emission credits across a multistate region — similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a non-profit group that holds carbon auctions involving nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

Kreutzer said natural gas production is driving down carbon pollution and even if the NRDC's plan brought further cuts, China's emissions alone would more than offset any climate benefit.

Carol Raulston, spokeswoman of the National Mining Association, said her group was reviewing the proposal but expected it would mean more coal industry layoffs. She said EPA rules affecting coal-based power generation have cost more than 4,000 mining jobs.

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