‘We will not back down’ on power plan — White House

By Jean Chemnick | 07/29/2015 01:13 PM EDT

President Obama is prepared to defend U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan with his veto pen, even if riders come attached to must-pass legislation, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said this morning.

President Obama is prepared to defend U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan with his veto pen, even if riders come attached to must-pass legislation, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said this morning.

Speaking at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by New Republic, McDonough said the president anticipated Republicans would launch a host of attacks against the carbon rule for existing power plants.

"When it comes to the Clean Power Plan, let me say this: We will not back down. We will finalize a stronger rule, we’ll veto ideological riders to stop this plan and undercut our bedrock environmental laws, and we’ll move forward for the American people with the vision set by the president," he said.


The rule is widely expected to be final as early as Monday, with Obama personally involved in its rollout. A summary from EPA obtained yesterday by ClimateWire shows that the interim compliance plan may have been extended compared with last year’s draft to begin two years later, in 2022 (ClimateWire, July 29).

But McDonough said this morning that the final rule overall would be "stronger in many ways than the proposed rule put forward by EPA by encouraging rapid deployment of the cleanest forms of energy while giving states and utilities the flexibility they need to craft plans that meet their unique needs."

In addition to phasing in the near-term compliance period in 2022 rather than 2020, states would be granted additional time to submit state implementation plans to EPA. Where the draft required states to begin submitting plans next year, the summary showed EPA requiring an "initial" state plan by Sept. 6, 2016, and a "final" state plan by Sept. 6, 2018. Recent news coverage hints that EPA will pair these extensions with incentives for states that opt to hit their interim targets earlier.

EPA declined to comment for this story.

McDonough predicted that Capitol Hill Republicans would operate from a "well-worn playbook" of assaults they have used on previous rules, ranging from dire predictions about economic costs to efforts to load policy riders on any legislation likely to move.

"We know what to expect from them," he said.

Republicans provided a preview of their fall strategy for stalling the Clean Power Plan and rules for new and existing power plants earlier this week, when they proposed several amendments to a highway transportation funding bill moving through the Senate. The amendments filed by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) contained elements of a larger bill by Capito that would allow states to put off submitting SIPs to EPA until judicial review on the rule has concluded, or opt out of the rule altogether.

Speaking at the event, focused mostly on this year’s round of high-stakes U.N. negotiations in Paris, McDonough pledged that the United States would be a leader in securing an international climate deal.

He especially touted last year’s joint post-2020 pledges with China that constituted that nation’s first solid promise to stop growing its greenhouse gas emissions.

"And since that historic commitment, the president has made sure that climate change and the need for climate action has been included in every bilateral and multilateral engagement that he has inducted," he said.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said this morning that EPA’s apparent bid to push back the date when states would be forced to submit compliance plans to EPA appeared to be politically motivated.

"I think it’s interesting that once again you push something beyond election time so that you don’t get people too troubled and opposed to you," she said at a meeting of her committee. "So I kind of view it as political. I know that’s shocking."

She said the apparent adjustments would not gain the support of lawmakers who previously opposed the power plant rule. "So I don’t think that that goes away; maybe the imperative, the urgency kind of settles a little bit," she said. "But I think you’re still going to have folks that are still very concerned about its application in their state. I know in Alaska we are."

Some supporters of the rule, meanwhile, did not appear to be sweating the slight extension. The American Lung Association, which has been a staunch supporter of EPA’s efforts to limit carbon, responded to the morning’s news by applauding EPA.

Harold Wimmer, national president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement that the "final plan, as described in press accounts, appears to be a robust approach to reduce carbon pollution from power plants."

"We are encouraged to learn that there are incentives for states to act quickly," he said. "The American Lung Association will work with states to maximize the immediate health benefits from power plant cleanup."

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.