Obama Adviser Blasts McConnell For Denigrating Power Plant Rule

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By Cheryl Bolen

March 20 — President Barack Obama's top environmental adviser chastised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for attempts to persuade states not to comply with the administration's Clean Power Plan, which is a proposed rule.

On March 19, McConnell stepped up his campaign to have states essentially ignore Environmental Protection Agency carbon pollution limits for power plants by urging all 50 states to “carefully review the consequences before signing up for this deeply misguided plan.”

In a letter to the National Governors Association, McConnell wrote that he has “serious legal and policy concerns” regarding the EPA's proposal, which is set to be finalized this summer.

In remarks to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor March 20, Brian Deese, senior adviser to Obama for climate and energy policy, said McConnell has exceeded his jurisdiction.

“So what you have is a Republican leader in Mitch McConnell who is going way outside the bounds of the position that he was elected to,” Deese said. “I think that we all would be better served if he and others spent less time trying to lecture states about what they should be doing … and more time trying to actually get some constructive things done in Congress.”

Clean Power Plan Outlined 

The Clean Power Plan proposed rule (RIN 2060-AR33) would establish unique carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power sector in each state. State regulators would then develop their own plans to comply with the emissions rates. The EPA would issue federal plans for states that choose not to develop their own.

The proposed rule, at its core, is based on providing flexibility to states, Deese said. The EPA is working in a bipartisan, pragmatic way at the state level to help states understand their options and opportunities, he said.

“States should be given the flexibility to decide how they want to craft plans to have cleaner air and cleaner water for their kids,” Deese said.

Would Give States Broad Flexibility 

The structure of the law, the Clean Air Act, and the structure of the rule are about setting targets, but then giving states broad flexibility about how they achieve those goals, Deese said.

“And what you have seen outside of Washington is broad interest, in red states and blue states, around how to be pragmatic about creating plans that will actually work for those states,” Deese said. “So that is our focus and will remain our focus going forward.”

The administration is pursuing a “very aggressive agenda” on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing carbon pollution and encouraging a clean energy economy, Deese said.

Most of what the administration is pushing forward are actions that can be done within the executive branch, Deese said.

Recent Administration Efforts 

On March 19, the president signed an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the federal government by 40 percent, and on March 20, the administration announced a new standard on fracking on federal lands.

“But if you look forward, core to our agenda is the Clean Power Plan, which will reduce carbon pollution from the power sector,” Deese said. “That rule has been proposed—we're going to finalize that rule and then implement it with states.”

There is also a big international opportunity this year to leverage what the U.S. is doing domestically into a viable global agreement, Deese said.

Methane Rulemaking Planned 

“And then beyond that, if you look at things like, in the area of methane or in the area of energy efficiency, we have a lot more to do through rulemaking to both tighten down on energy waste and carbon pollution but also provide long-term incentives to encourage investment in this space,” Deese said.

This is an agenda that lands squarely within well-established legal precepts, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other foundational environmental laws, Deese said.

In terms of methane, the administration has announced a goal of reducing methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent against a 2005 baseline, Deese said. 

“The way in which we're going to achieve that goal is through a combination of regulatory actions and voluntary actions,” he said.

On the regulatory side, this includes measures such as the EPA proposing rules for new sources of methane, which is something the administration anticipates will come forward in the next couple of months, Deese said.

On the voluntary side, the Agriculture Department is working with the agriculture industry on a viable voluntary agreement to reduce emissions, he said.

Bold Goals Set for Reducing Energy Waste 

In terms of efficiency, part of what the president did in his Climate Action Plan was to set bold overall goals for reducing energy waste and increasing energy efficiency, Deese said.

“The Department of Energy has a cadence of rulemakings to increase standards in buildings, appliances and otherwise,” Deese said. “I think you can expect that cadence to continue over the next two years.”

But this is also an area in which the administration is seeking to partner with the private sector, Deese said.

Leveraging Private Sector 

In reducing greenhouse gases, companies such as General Electric Co., Hewlett-Packard Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. have not only committed to work as contractors to the federal government but also have set their own reduction goals, Deese said.

“And a lot of that is being driven by the fact that energy efficiency is low-hanging fruit from a corporate perspective,” he said.

This is an area where being smart about how the administration partners with the private sector can leverage its impact substantially, Deese said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com