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Stakeholders weigh in on EPA pollution plan

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By Reuters
Sunday, June 23, 2013, 7:06 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Before President Obama introduces a plan to lower carbon emissions from thousands of existing power plants, those on all sides of the issue have attempted to make their mark on the regulations.

Electric utilities, environmental groups, large electricity consumers and states have been working furiously behind the scenes for months to have a say in new rules that will be laid out by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama, in a video released by the White House on Saturday, confirmed that he will deliver a major speech on climate change on Tuesday. “I'll lay out my vision for where I believe we need to go — a national plan to reduce carbon pollution,” Obama said.

Administration officials have said the White House will use the Clean Air Act to tackle power plants, which account for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

This comes as no surprise to the companies and states that will have to either comply with or carry out the regulations. For the past few months, they have been working behind the scenes to influence the EPA before it begins what could be a months- or years-long rule-making process.

“The traditional industry response to EPA rule-making is — the EPA puts something out, and then we respond to it,” said Emily Fisher, a director of legal affairs for energy and environment at electric industry lobby group Edison Electric Institute. “This is different in that we feel obligated to be more engaged early on.” To regulate existing sources, the agency will need to use a rarely used and broadly worded section of the Clean Air Act, known as 111(d).

Under that statute, the EPA would set federal emissions guidelines and decide upon the best systems or technologies for reducing emissions. Each state would then be left to set performance standards for its power plants and to determine how the plants will meet those standards.

Because there is little legal precedent for the rule, the agency will rely on a range of external sources for input, said Dina Kruger, a former director of the EPA climate change division and now a regulatory consultant.

Environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council has developed the most detailed proposal so far.

In December, it revealed a plan in which the EPA would set state-specific emissions rates that would give the states most reliant on coal-generated energy more time to comply.

Dan Lashof, council's climate and clean air program director, said the group wrote the plan to “rehabilitate the reputation of the Clean Air Act,” which critics say will raise electricity prices, “and show there is a flexible way to regulate carbon.”

Under the plan, a state that currently gets more electricity from coal-fired power plants than cleaner-burning natural gas or renewable energy would set an emissions rate target in 2020 that is higher than for a state that is less coal-dependent.

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