WASHINGTON — In marathon meetings and tense all-day drafting sessions, dozens of lawyers, economists and engineers at the Environmental Protection Agency are struggling to create what is certain to be a divisive but potentially historic centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate change legacy.
If the authors succeed in writing a lawsuit-proof regulation that is effective in cutting carbon emissions from America's 1,500 power plants — the largest source of the nation's greenhouse gas pollution — the result could be the most significant action taken by the United States to curb climate change.
But if the language in the regulation is too loose, there could be little environmental impact. And if it is too stringent, it could lead to the shutdown of coal plants before there is enough alternative power to replace them and, ultimately, to soaring electric bills, power blackouts and years of legal battles.
By June 1, Obama has ordered the EPA to draft a national standard for carbon pollution. Early indications are that the regulation will direct states to create and carry out their own plans for meeting the standard. A central risk: Handing so much choice to the states sets up the likelihood that Republican governors opposing climate policy will fight the federal requirement, either by suing the EPA or by refusing to create plans to carry it out.
The EPA is looking closely at a proposal by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit group, that could well be the heart of the regulation: States could comply with the rule not just by cleaning or shutting down coal plants, but also by making far broader changes across the electricity system — reducing demand, investing in "smart grid" technology or supporting more renewable sources of energy. Depending on how the rule is written, states could also comply by enacting "cap and trade" programs, which would cap carbon pollution and create a market for buying and selling pollution permits.
© 2014 New York Times