Obama to unveil tougher climate change plan – Reuters

(Adds industry comments)
    By Valerie Volcovici
    WASHINGTON, Aug 2 President Barack Obama will unveil on Monday
the final version of his plan to tackle greenhouse gases from coal-fired power
plants, kicking off what is expected to be a tumultuous legal battle between
federal environmental regulators and coal industry supporters. 
    The White House said its revised Clean Power Plan will increase the required
cuts in carbon emissions from the power sector, demanding they be slashed 32
percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The administration's draft regulation,
released a year ago, had required cuts of 30 percent.
    The regulation will also encourage an aggressive shift toward renewable
energy away from coal-fired electricity, pushing utilities to invest even more
heavily in wind and solar energy.
    Industry groups and some lawmakers from states that have relied on
coal-based energy have vowed to challenge the new requirements in the courts and
through Congressional maneuvers, accusing the administration of a regulatory
assault that will drive up energy prices.
    The National Mining Association said on Sunday it will seek to block the
plan in federal court. "These will burden Americans with
increasingly high-costs for an essential service and a less reliable electric
grid for delivering it," said Hal Quinn, president of the NMA. 
    Critics are expected to argue that lower-income Americans will bear the
heaviest burden of compliance. 
    The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which represents co-ops
that deliver energy to poor rural communities, said it projects the Clean Power
Plan will raise electricity prices by at least 10 percent, a rise that would be
disproportionately felt by "the country's most vulnerable populations."
    The administration has rejected that characterization and says the plan is
intended to accelerate a transition toward producing more electricity from
renewable fuels. 
    The White House said release of the plan was "the starting gun for an
all-out climate push" by the president and his cabinet.
    "My administration will release the final version of America's Clean Power
Plan, the biggest, most important step we have ever taken to combat climate
change," Obama said in a video posted online by the White House.
    He said there have been no federal limits to date on carbon pollution from
power plants, the biggest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. 
    If implemented, coal's share of electric generation in the U.S. will fall to
27 percent by 2030, slightly less than the original proposal which estimated it
would account for 30 percent, Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina
McCarthy told reporters Sunday.
    Coal accounted for 39 percent of electricity in 2014, according to the
Department of Energy.
    Natural gas' 30 percent share of U.S. electricity generation would remain
largely the same in 2030 while renewable energy would account for 28 percent, up
from the 22 percent initially envisioned in the proposed rule. 
    The final rule avoids what the White House called an "early rush to gas"
away from coal and encouraged earlier adoption by states of renewable power.    
    States will also be able to get credit for nuclear energy plants that are
under construction, as well as for upgrading plants and preserving those at risk
of early retirement, McCarthy said. 
    Nuclear currently provides around 20 percent of the U.S. energy
mix. 
        
    'CUTTING BILLS'
    The administration also made changes to the final rule in order to defuse
claims that the energy landscape was being re-ordered on the backs of the poor.
    The revised rule contains two new measures the administration said will "cut
energy bills for low-income families" and drive down renewable energy technology
costs.
    It will create a Clean Energy Incentive Program to reward states that take
early action to deploy renewable energy projects before the regulation takes
effect in 2022.
    And it will reward states that invest in energy-efficiency projects in
low-income communities in 2020 and 2021. 
    The EPA said it has responded to concerns of utilities and some states that
the regulation could lead to energy shortages. The agency created a feature
called a "reliability safety valve" in the final rule, which would allow states
to get a temporary waiver if the closure of coal plants would disrupt the steady
delivery of electricity.
    "I would never accept a scenario where affordability or reliability came
into question," McCarthy said.
    The Clean Power Plan is a vital component of meeting the U.S. pledge on
emissions cuts for negotiations on a global climate change agreement that will
be held in Paris at the end of this year. 
    Washington has promised to slash greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 26
to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Brian Deese, a senior climate change
advisor to Obama, told reporters the tougher climate rule will "enhance" the
ability of the United States to meet its Paris target. 
    For now, however, the battle over the plan's fate is a domestic affair. 
    Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on Sunday the rule "will
throw countless people out of work, and increases everyone's energy prices."
    But Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, who is trying to use the climate issue
as a wedge against Republican candidates, praised Obama's plan and said "I'd
defend it."            
   

 (Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bruce Wallace and Sandra
Maler)

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