But Monday, less than a week after President Obama made his first-ever speech devoted entirely to climate change, the EPA passed along the rule. It will now be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies before it is returned to the EPA for tweaking. The deadline for that is Sept. 20.
The hold-up in April added nearly three months to what had already been years of delay since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the agency could curb carbon emissions as pollution under the Clean Air Act. In fact, the EPA is not merely authorized to regulate pollution under the act, it is required to do so.
The new-plant rule was first unveiled after long delays in March 2012. It immediately collided with strong objections from politicians and the coal industry. Its proposed limit of 1,000 pounds of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour of generated electricity would be no problem for new power plants fueled by natural gas, but coal plants using the newest commercially available technology would be hard-pressed to keep emissions below the limit. (Although it varies widely from region to region, the average U.S. home nationwide consumes about 11 megawatt-hours of electricity each year.)
Opposition to the proposed rule at the time was ferocious:
“This E.P.A. is fully engaging in a war on coal, even though this country will continue to rely on coal as an affordable, stable and abundant energy source for decades to come,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat and former governor. “This approach relies totally on cheap natural gas, and we’ve seen that bubble burst before.”Manchin repeated that accusation last week after Obama's climate speech. He is, of course, not the only foe of the rule. Even though nobody expects the new-plant rule to as tough as when it was first announced 15 months ago, lawsuits can be expected. The originally proposed rule included a provision allowing new power plants to generate 30 percent greater emissions in the early days of operation as long as they could meet the restrictions over a period of 30 years.
The revised rule will remain sealed until the inter-agency review is completed.
The president also called in his speech for completion of an even more contentious rule by the EPA, limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Those currently produce 40 percent of the nations carbon emissions. A draft of that rule is supposed to be ready by next June.