Industry Coalition Seeks to Shape EPA’s Climate Rules

Business lobbyists concede they can’t stop regulations, though Congress keeps trying.

TAFT, CA - JULY 22: Oil rigs just south of town extract crude for Chevron at sunrise on July 22, 2008 in Taft, California. Hemmed in by the richest oil fields in California, the oil town of 6,700 with a stagnant economy and little room to expand has hatched an ambitious plan to annex vast expanses of land reaching eastward to Interstate 5, 18 miles away, and taking over various poor unincorporated communities to triple its population to around 20,000. With the price as light sweet crude at record high prices, Chevron and other companies are scrambling to drill new wells and reopen old wells once considered unprofitable. The renewed profits for oil men of Kern County, where more than 75 percent of all the oil produced in California flows, do not directly translate increased revenue for Taft. The Taft town council wants to cash in on the new oil boom with increased tax revenues from a NASCAR track and future developments near the freeway. In an earlier oil boom era, Taft was the site of the 1910 Lakeside Gusher, the biggest oil gusher ever seen in the US, which sent 100,000 barrels a day into a lake of crude. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Jan. 29, 2014, 3:04 p.m.

Lob­by­ists for Wash­ing­ton’s most power­ful in­dustry groups ad­mit they prob­ably won’t be able to stop Pres­id­ent Obama’s cli­mate-change agenda. But with a new co­ali­tion launch­ing Thursday, they’re non­ethe­less seek­ing to shape — and slow down — that agenda with both in­side-the-Belt­way lob­by­ing and state grass­roots work.

“We’re not try­ing to stop EPA. That boat has sailed,” said one in­dustry of­fi­cial in­volved in the co­ali­tion to be named Bet­ter En­ergy Fu­ture. It in­cludes more than 70 or­gan­iz­a­tions, led by the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“The goal here is to work on the mech­an­ics of how they move for­ward with this, make sure they take the time that should be re­quired for the largest reg­u­lat­ory re­gime in the his­tory of this coun­try.”

On Cap­it­ol Hill, though, the boat has not yet sailed. House Re­pub­lic­ans plan to bring to the floor in early March le­gis­la­tion that would re­quire con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al of En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency reg­u­la­tions slash­ing car­bon emis­sions from the na­tion’s ex­ist­ing power plants. In the Sen­ate, Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell is push­ing a dis­ap­prov­al res­ol­u­tion un­der the Con­gres­sion­al Re­view Act — a le­gis­lat­ive tool used just once suc­cess­fully since its cre­ation in 1996 — to stop EPA’s draft rules on new power plants.

“I think it’s im­port­ant for every­one to ex­press their voice,” said the in­dustry lob­by­ist when asked wheth­er polit­ic­al-mes­saging ef­forts on Cap­it­ol Hill could muddle the lob­by­ing push by the new co­ali­tion. “EPA is mov­ing, and frankly the chances of Con­gress do­ing any­thing to change that are pretty slim.”

Plans for the co­ali­tion will be an­nounced at the Cham­ber Thursday morn­ing by lead­ers of sev­er­al ma­jor in­dustry groups, in­clud­ing Jay Tim­mons, pres­id­ent and CEO of NAM; Kar­en Har­bert, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Cham­ber’s In­sti­tute for 21st Cen­tury En­ergy; and of­fi­cials from the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, the Amer­ic­an Co­ali­tion for Clean Coal Elec­tri­city, the Na­tion­al Min­ing As­so­ci­ation, The Fer­til­izer In­sti­tute, the Port­land Ce­ment As­so­ci­ation, and the Amer­ic­an Farm Bur­eau Fed­er­a­tion.

“Up un­til this point, the com­pan­ies that be­long to these as­so­ci­ations and the as­so­ci­ations them­selves have been get­ting in­volved in this is­sue,” said Mike Duncan, pres­id­ent and CEO of the Amer­ic­an Co­ali­tion for Clean Coal Elec­tri­city. “But the part­ner­ship is go­ing to make this a much more fo­cused and tar­geted ef­fort, and you’ll see a much louder voice, with a big­ger mega­phone, emerge.”

In in­ter­views, in­dustry sources in­volved noted that the law EPA is us­ing to reg­u­late car­bon emis­sions from power plants — the Clean Air Act — even­tu­ally will re­quire the agency to reg­u­late car­bon from oth­er corners of the eco­nomy. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion so far has fo­cused al­most ex­clus­ively on rules for coal-fired power plants, but the law (un­less it’s changed) does re­quire EPA to even­tu­ally pro­mul­gate sim­il­ar car­bon rules for oth­er types of power plants, such as those fired by nat­ur­al gas, and also oth­er sec­tors, like pet­ro­chem­ic­al fa­cil­it­ies, re­finer­ies, and man­u­fac­tur­ing plants.

“The reas­on why it’s such a broad and di­verse co­ali­tion is be­cause they all un­der­stand they’re next,” said a second in­dustry lob­by­ist in­volved in the ef­fort.

Pro­ponents of EPA’s cli­mate rules agree with this ba­sic premise, too. “It may take years, but the more we can cut car­bon pol­lu­tion and re­duce the threat of cli­mate change, the bet­ter off we’ll be in the fu­ture,” said Dav­id Di Mar­tino, a com­mu­nic­a­tions con­sult­ant work­ing with a broad co­ali­tion of na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment­al groups de­fend­ing EPA’s work.

Di Mar­tino ex­pressed skep­ti­cism at the no­tion that the new in­dustry co­ali­tion was not go­ing to try to scuttle EPA’s rules al­to­geth­er. “Maybe some of the mem­ber com­pan­ies with reas­on­able po­s­i­tions on cli­mate change are hav­ing an in­flu­ence,” Di Mar­tino said. “However, there is no ques­tion that this new co­ali­tion is out to weak­en any kind of sens­ible safe­guards against car­bon pol­lu­tion [from] power plants.”

Some lead­ers of the co­ali­tion say they may en­cour­age EPA to al­low some sort of vol­un­tary ap­proach, a reg­u­lat­ory route en­vir­on­ment­al­ists would surely balk at.

“Rather than a top-down ap­proach, we’re hop­ing that EPA will let in­dustry be­come an equal part­ner in this ef­fort,” said Dale Moore, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or for pub­lic policy at the Amer­ic­an Farm Bur­eau Fed­er­a­tion. “A num­ber of dif­fer­ent in­dustry sec­tors in­volved in the co­ali­tion have been try­ing and work­ing on this to vary­ing de­grees, and what we want to show is that if we take this ap­proach, it could either work in con­junc­tion with or in some cases even sup­plant an en­force­ment-based reg­u­lat­ory ap­proach.”

The White House is com­mit­ted to fi­nal­iz­ing EPA’s car­bon rules for power plants be­fore Obama leaves of­fice. It’s much harder for a fu­ture pres­id­ent to undo fi­nal, rather than pro­posed, rules. In­deed, the timeline is prob­ably Obama’s biggest obstacle, and that’s not lost on those lead­ing the in­dustry co­ali­tion.

“This shouldn’t be forced be­cause the ad­min­is­tra­tion only has three years. That’s not a good enough reas­on to get things wrong,” the first in­dustry lob­by­ist said. “And I think EPA ap­pre­ci­ates that. They’ve been very cau­tious to their po­ten­tial leg­al li­ab­il­ity as far as how the spe­cif­ics of these rules are writ­ten.”

The in­dustry co­ali­tion will fo­cus on grass­roots ef­forts in en­ergy-in­tens­ive states throughout the coun­try, in­clud­ing en­cour­aging states and oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions to write com­ments to EPA and the White House about how to craft the rules. EPA’s rules for ex­ist­ing power plants, due out in draft form in June, will even­tu­ally re­quire states to write im­ple­ment­a­tion plans.

“States need to ap­pre­ci­ate this is com­ing and need to be pre­pared for how they’re go­ing to im­ple­ment it,” said the first in­dustry lob­by­ist.

To be sure, lob­by­ing in­side the Belt­way will con­tin­ue. To wit: Cham­ber Pres­id­ent Tom Dono­hue met with EPA Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy on Tues­day to talk about, among oth­er things, her agency’s cli­mate rules. In a state­ment, a Cham­ber spokes­per­son de­clined to provide de­tails oth­er than to say they dis­cussed “ways to work to­geth­er on areas where there is com­mon ground.”

Mean­while, Mc­Carthy will be tout­ing her agency’s cli­mate agenda in two sep­ar­ate MS­N­BC shows on Thursday.

Clare Foran and Ben Geman contributed to this article.
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