Taking Page From Health Care Act, Obama Climate Plan Relies on States
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s new plan to fight climate change depends heavily on states’ devising individual approaches to meeting goals set in the nation’s capital, a strategy similar to the one he used to expand health care, often with rocky results.
Rather than imposing a uniform standard for reducing power plant carbon emissions, the regulation unveiled on Monday offers the states flexibility to pick from a menu of policy options. But as with health care, the policy could lead to a patchwork of rules that frustrate businesses and invite resistance from states that oppose the policy.
Monday’s announcement of the proposed regulation — which is intended to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 — represented Mr. Obama’s boldest step in using his executive authority to halt the warming of the planet, an issue he vowed to address during his first presidential campaign six years ago.
The proposal is chiefly aimed at cutting pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. It assigns each state a separate pollution reduction target, but gives each wide leeway in tailoring its plan. The idea, Environmental Protection Agency officials said, is to allow states to design plans that best fit regional economies and mixes of energy sources.
While Rust Belt states rely heavily on coal, farmers in Iowa and Minnesota generate up to 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, and Southeastern states like North Carolina depend on nuclear power. California and nine Northeastern states have enacted cap-and-trade programs, putting a cap on carbon pollution and creating markets to buy and sell pollution permits. Those programs have substantially lowered the states’ carbon footprints.
In order to comply with the new national rule, states can, among other actions, shut down coal plants, install wind and solar power and energy-efficiency technology, or join the California or Northeastern cap-and-trade programs. E.P.A. officials said states could even choose to comply by enacting a state-level tax on carbon pollution.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, where states get this much flexibility. It’s astounding,” said Dallas Burtraw, an expert on electricity markets with Resources for the Future, a Washington research group. “The E.P.A. is signaling maximal deference to the states.”
In introducing the regulation, Mr. Obama called it “a sensible, state-based plan” and dismissed the criticism.