EPA Climate Plan Sent to White House for Review

Obama's controversial carbon-emission rules for power plants could be released by Labor Day.

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2,1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. (National Journal)

The Obama administration has teed up a busy summer on climate change, with the final review of its tentpole climate rule swinging into action.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent its rules on carbon emissions for existing power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget for a final review, according to a website that tracks federal rulemaking. The rule is set to be finalized in August, according to OMB and a schedule of federal rulemakings.

EPA last June proposed cutting carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, targeting one of the nation's largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions. The proposal sets specific targets for each state, allowing them to craft their own plans through measures like energy efficiency, upgrading power plants, and shifting away from coal power.

The regulatory move tees up the final steps in the rulemaking process for the long-awaited rule. Stakeholder groups—including industry representatives, utilities, and environmental groups—will head to OMB to meet with White House aides and take their last stabs at the rule.

It's unclear what changes EPA will make to the final rule, although officials have said they are incorporating input from all sides. There have been reports, for example, that EPA is considering dropping a requirement that coal plants install technology that would capture carbon dioxide and store it because the technology is not yet viable.

Congressional opponents will also continue their assault on the rule, which they say would essentially kill the coal industry without providing environmental benefits. The House is set to vote the week of June 23 on a bill from Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, that would give states the option to opt out of the rule and put it on hold until judicial review is completed. A similar Senate bill is expected to move through the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is also continuing to press state governors to opt out of the rule. Already Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, has said her state won't comply, and Wisconsin Governor and possible Republican presidential contender Scott Walker has hinted he will follow suit.

States and industry groups are also sure to set up legal challenges to the rule. Already one lawsuit against the rule has gone to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in April, charging that EPA could not regulate carbon pollution from power plants because it was already regulating other emissions. Although no ruling has yet been issued, justices indicated that the challenge was premature because the rule was not yet final.