Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said her group agrees with Obama that the United States "cannot cede to other nations" the technologies that will power the future, and said those technologies need to include advanced coal-fired power plants. Gravatt said, though, that her group believes that consideration of greenhouse limits for existing plants remains "some time off."
A spokesman for Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who has offered a more moderate voice on coal-related issues , said that Rockefeller continues to believe it is better for Congress -- rather than the EPA -- to address climate change.
"Congress has more options and can include incentives for new technology and transition assistance and flexibilities that are not available to [the] EPA under the existing law," said Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner.
Beckner said Rockefeller "has also opposed efforts to permanently strip the EPA of its regulatory authority" over greenhouse gases "unless Congress is replacing that authority with a balance climate program."
Last week, the World Resources Institute reported that the United States needs to address emissions from existing power plants if the nation is to meet its international commitment to cut greenhouse emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
"Climate change impacts in the United States are increasingly evident and come with steep economic and social costs," the group said. "The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events has increased in recent years, bringing record-breaking heat, heavy precipitation, coastal flooding, severe droughts and damaging wildfires. The mounting costs convey an unmistakable urgency to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
While the World Resources Institute said that broader climate change legislation will eventually be needed, it also urged the EPA to "immediately pursue" reductions from existing coal plants under current law.
In its December proposal, the NRDC said the EPA could set state-specific carbon emission rates that would vary, depending on the existing mix of electricity generation fuels. States could then come up with their own plans for meeting those emission guidelines or could simply allow the EPA to take over the task.
Under the proposal, power plant owners would have the freedom to choose how they would achieve required emissions reductions. The proposal gives them credit for increases in energy efficiency and use of renewable sources, and allows emissions averaging among multiple power plants.
Still, the NRDC proposal projects more closures of coal-fired power plants -- about 52 gigawatts of coal capacity retired through 2020, on top of closures already anticipated.
However, the proposal also allows for deployments of carbon capture and storage technology that would control carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Coal industry officials say the rules that would require plants to have CCS are unfair because the technology isn't ready to be more widely deployed at plants around the country. The NRDC report notes, however, that Congress intended Clean Air Act emissions rules to be "technology forcing" -- to provide incentives for industries to work toward new ways to prevent and control emissions.
"We are overturning the conventional wisdom that reducing carbon pollution through the Clean Air Act would be ineffective and expensive," said Daniel Lashoff, the NRDC's director of climate and clean air programs. "We show that [the] EPA can work with states and power companies to make large pollution reductions, by setting system-wide standards, rather than smokestack-by-smokestack ones, and by giving power companies and states the freedom to choose the most cost-saving means of compliance."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.