Calling it a moral obligation, President Barack Obama on Monday unveiled the final version of his plan to dramatically cut emissions from U.S. power plants as he warned anew that climate change will threaten future generations if left unchecked.
But the Clean Power Plan was met with immediate objections from private industry and Republican lawmakers, with threats to sue the Obama administration to stop it from proceeding.
And just how the new plan will impact Georgia’s economy remains to be seen.
“I think all power users are potentially impacted by this …” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
That includes consumers, businesses and government, he added.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division said it is evaluating the new federal mandates, which gives the state until 2030 to reach a rate of 1,049 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. Georgia’s 2012 baseline rate is 1,598 pounds.
“While we are going to need time to fully assess all the aspects of the final rule, I want to ensure that Georgians continue to have access to affordable, reliable electricity,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “I have instructed … the (EPD) to work with our state’s public utilities, state governmental entities and other stakeholders to develop the best approach to this rule for Georgia.”
Georgia is one of many states where officials have expressed concerns that the proposed rule unfairly penalizes them for taking early action to reduce CO2 emissions.
Touting the plan at a White House event, however, Obama said the unprecedented carbon dioxide limits are the “the single most important step” America has ever taken to fight climate change.
He warned that because the problem is so large, if the world doesn’t get it right quickly, it may become impossible to reverse, leaving populations unable to adapt.
Local Democrats supported making changes.
“As a culture, we need to admit that climate change is a reality and take the hard steps he has proposed to ensure that future generations have clean air and water,” said Sheila Nicholas, chairwoman of the Hall County Democratic Party.
Opponents pounced on the new rules, saying they exceeded the administration and Environmental Protection Agency’s authority.
“The Obama Administration continues to pursue policies that will raise the cost of living for hardworking taxpayers, this new rule being the latest example in a long-term trend,” U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, said in a statement. “Coal provides more than two-thirds of Georgia’s electricity and supports 8,800 jobs in our state. I will fight this energy tax that will destroy jobs and harm our economy.”
Many Republican-led states have said their states simply won’t comply.
The final version of Obama’s plan imposes stricter carbon dioxide limits on states than was previously expected: a 32 percent cut by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, the White House said.
A proposed version last year called only for a 30 percent cut.
It also gives states an additional two years — until 2022 — to comply, yielding to complaints that the original deadline was too soon. States will also have an additional year to submit their implementation plans to Washington.
As they prepared to sue the government, states and energy companies asked the EPA to put the rules on hold while legal challenges play out.
“The implications of the overreaching rules directly impact national energy policy and impede states’ authority to act in the best interests of customers,” Georgia Power spokesman John O’Brien said in a statement. “(The) EPA's original proposal offered insufficient flexibility to states, failed to consider the costly impact on hardworking American families and attempted to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of energy by our customers in a manner that exceeds EPA’s authority.”
Power plants account for roughly one-third of all U.S. emissions of the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming, making them the largest single source.
Georgia Power has spent approximately $4.3 billion in capital expenditures on environmental compliance since 1990, according to O’Brien, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels without increased federal regulation.
The Obama administration estimates that the emissions limits will cost $8.4 billion annually by 2030. The actual price won’t be clear until states decide how they’ll reach their targets.
Energy industry advocates said the revision makes Obama’s mandate even more burdensome, costly and difficult to achieve.
Times reporter Joshua Silavent and the Associated Press contributed to this report.