The Obama administration has decided to give states more time to comply with proposed regulations that will require dramatic cuts in greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants, people familiar with the plans said Tuesday.
The Environmental Protection Agency will give states an additional two years — until 2022 — to begin phasing in pollution cuts, even as the agency toughens the standards that many states will ultimately have to meet.
At the same time, the EPA will offer credits and other inducements to encourage a rapid shift to renewable energy under the Clean Power Plan, the administration’s ambitious and controversial proposal to cut pollutants blamed for climate change, said two people briefed on internal deliberations.
The revelations come less than a week before the administration is expected to announce the final version of the regulation, which has been under heavy assault by congressional Republicans, the fossil-fuel industry and numerous state governments. Opponents contend that the regulation will severely damage the coal industry while raising electricity rates for consumers.
White House officials have been meeting privately for weeks to determine the final shape of the proposal, which is widely regarded as among the most important and far-reaching environmental regulations of the Obama presidency. Curbing pollution from coal-fired power plants is a central component of the administration’s plans for reducing U.S. emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
“The EPA has said all along that it will ensure flexibility and grid-reliability,” said an official familiar with the administration’s decision. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations.
“The agency received a lot of comments on these points and it’s being responsive,” the official said.
The proposal the EPA initially introduced in June 2014 called for each state to develop a plan for dramatically reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030. Under the original proposal, states would have to begin implementing pollution-cutting measures by 2020.
But under the revised proposal, states will be offered incentives to expand the use of renewables and energy efficiency programs in the first years of the program, while the deadline for launching emissions-cutting plans would be delayed until 2022, the officials said. The softer compliance deadline will help balance a final rule“that is stronger in many ways than the proposal,” said the official familiar with the deliberations.
A number of states have complained to the EPA that the new rules will force them to shut down coal-burning power plants ahead of schedule, resulting in higher utility rates that will disproportionately burden low-income residents. Some states also have warned that the regulations could lead to disruptions in the power supply.
The additional two years will help alleviate such concerns, said Van Jones, founder of Green for All, an environmental group.
“If the news reports are accurate, the EPA will give extra credit to states that move early — and even more credit to states that focus on getting energy efficiency and renewables to low-income communities,” he said. “That’s a big win for everyone working to get energy bills down and solar panels up in poor neighborhoods.”
The proposed regulation announced last year gives states the option of devising its own strategy for cutting carbon, based on local circumstances and economic considerations. One state may opt to phase out older coal-burning power plants, while another might seek to expand the use of solar and wind energy or add energy-efficiency programs.
If a state makes no attempt to come up with its own plan, the EPA can impose its own, made-in-Washington plan.
Opponents are seeking to defeat the proposal across multiple fronts. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent letters to governors in all 50 states in March urging a boycott of the EPA’s proposal, calling the measure a regulatory overreach and likely illegal. Lawmakers from both major political parties have supported legislation that would delay the EPA’s plan or block it altogether.
“We are witnessing the Obama administration wage an all-out assault on our energy abundance, deploying the EPA to do whatever it takes to shut down fossil-fuel-fired power plants across the country,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), sponsor of a bill that would delay the proposal’s implementation, said last month.