Obama's clean-energy push, new EPA rule will prevail, predicts Podesta

'We're committed to getting this done,' the White House's John Podesta said Friday of a new EPA proposal to limit carbon emissions from power plants. A business report showing a hit to the US economy contained 'fantasy job loss numbers,' he said.

Michael Bonfigli/TCSM
Counselor to the President John Podesta speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Friday, June 6, 2014 in Washington.

US lawmakers of all political stripes are challenging new limits on carbon emissions from US power plants unveiled earlier this week, but the White House isn’t backing down from what is likely the boldest action any American president has taken to combat climate change.

“We’re committed to getting this done,” John Podesta, counselor to President Obama, said Friday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast in Washington. “I’m quite confident we’ll get our job done. I’m also quite confident we’ll resist any [attempts to overturn the carbon limits].”

On Monday, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed the new rules, which constitute – in Mr. Podesta’s words – the “crown jewels” of the Climate Action Plan that Mr. Obama unveiled last summer. By 2030, the regulations aim to slash carbon emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels in the power sector – the country’s biggest carbon emitter. After a year-long comment period, the EPA plans to make the new limits final next June.

Environmentalists and public-health groups cheer the new limits, but Republicans, energy-state Democrats, and industry groups warn of rising energy costs and vulnerabilities to America’s electricity grid. The new rules on the power sector will cost the US economy tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs each year, according to a controversial report released by the US Chamber of Commerce in the lead-up to the rules’ rollout.

Those are “fantasy job loss numbers” based on “a set of assumptions that have zero to do with the rule that was put on the table,” said Podesta, who also served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001. The EPA’s analysis found that the rules would reduce electricity bills by 8 percent and create climate and health benefits worth $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030. While there would be job losses in some sectors, a boost in clean energy construction and efficiency gains would create a net positive jobs impact, Podesta said.

“Every time that an environmental regulation has been put forward, polluters say: ‘massive job losses, lights going off, electricity system crashing, bills going through the roof,’ ” Podesta said. “They’re wrong before, they’re wrong now.”

Previously, Podesta founded and was president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington. Since returning to the White House in January, he has led efforts to garner public and congressional support for the administration’s climate push.

Seven in 10 Americans see global warming as a serious problem facing the country, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, conducted in advance of this week’s regulations. More than 60 percent say they would support a regulatory effort that significantly lowers greenhouse gases even if it raises their own energy expenses by $20 per month, according to the poll.

Energy-related US emissions of carbon dioxide – one of the heat-trapping gases that linger in the atmosphere and contribute to rising global temperatures – rose 2.39 percent last year, according to the US Energy Information Administration. It comes after emissions declined four out of the six years since their 2007 peak, due to efficiency gains and a shift from using coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.  

“We’re very much about trying to build a strong and powerful and good economy,” Podesta said Friday, “but that will come through investments in cleaner energy systems, not in reliance on the systems that we’ve had in place, which are now increasingly burdening our economy through these losses in agriculture, in forestry, in extreme weather losses, in storm surges, in sea-level rise.”

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