WASHINGTON – A new Obama administration proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants prompted an immediate backlash from Democrats in conservative-leaning states Monday, underscoring how the president's energy policy will become a major front in the battle for control over Congress this fall.
The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rule, which is subject to public comment and will be finalized a year from now, would cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. By targeting the nation's single biggest source of carbon output, the proposal plays a central part in President Barack Obama's vow to address climate change before leaving office.
Environmentalists and liberal supporters of the president hailed the move under the Clean Air Act as a long-overdue effort to tackle one of the biggest threats facing the planet. But the plan adds complications for Democrats already facing a difficult midterm landscape, and both sides announced plans Monday to pour money into states that will be pivotal this fall.
Nineteen states get more than half their electricity from coal-fired power plants, according to data collected by the Energy Information Administration. Kentucky and West Virginia get more than 90 percent of their power from coal. The EPA made concessions to those states in setting its climate target. Coal-heavy Indiana, for example, would need to make a smaller percentage in cuts than New York or Washington states.
But the compromises did little to curb the attacks on Democratic candidates running in battleground states.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced that it would use the decision against vulnerable Democrats with automated calls on Tuesday hitting voice-mail boxes in Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado and Alaska – all states where Democratic senators are seeking re-election. The committee will also target Northern Virginia swing voters, Gulf Coast residents, and independents in Colorado and Alaska, a committee spokeswoman said.
The regulations are “all part of Obama's radical energy plan, which he said would make electricity rates ‘skyrocket,' ” the robo-call targeting Virginia's senior senator will say. “Tell Mark Warner higher gas prices and new EPA regulations just don't make sense for Virginia.”
Some Democrats were also quick to criticize the proposal, including Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is running for an open U.S. Senate seat. Tennant pledged to “stand up” to Obama, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy “and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs.”
Obama and his top deputies urged their allies to defend the proposed rule against political attacks. Speaking in a conference call organized by the American Lung Association, the president promoted the proposal's public health and climate benefits, saying, “There's going to be a lot of efforts to put out misinformation and to try to make sure that spin overwhelms substance, and that PR overwhelms science, but I wanted to call you directly so you guys hear from me directly this is something that is important for all of us.”
The EPA estimates that for every $1 invested in complying with the rule, Americans would reap $7 in health benefits, in large part because of accompanying reductions in soot, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are linked to heart and lung illnesses.
One public health group plans to launch a multi-state ad campaign Tuesday promoting the proposal, while environmentalists are doing grass-roots work to mobilize support for the plan in states including North Carolina, Colorado and New Hampshire. The Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund is holding a series of fundraisers for Democratic Hagan and Sens. Mark Udall, Colo., and Jeanne Shaheen, N.H. – all of whom back carbon limits – as well as for Democrats running in open seats in Iowa and Michigan.
The overwhelming majority of Americans support the idea of federal curbs on greenhouse gas emissions even if they have to pay for it. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 70 percent of Americans back federal carbon limits on existing power plants and that 63 percent – including 51 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of independents and 71 percent of Democrats – said they would be willing to pay $20 a month to curb emissions. But such voters also have typically lacked intensity on the issue, often ranking it low on their priority lists.
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