Obama Officials Seek Democratic Support for EPA Coal Rule

Top advisers to President Barack Obama are trying to sell fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate on the administration’s plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and counselor John Podesta briefed Senate Democrats yesterday on a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that would set state-by-state targets to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by an average 17 percent from current levels by 2030.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, one of several Democrats seeking changes to the proposed rule, said the White House officials didn’t take questions though Podesta said he’d meet privately with senators who had concerns.

“He’s coming to my office, and I was very appreciative of that,” said Manchin, whose state was responsible for 12 percent of the nation’s coal output in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “He knows we have some concerns and differences, and we’ll see if we can work through it.”

Manchin is one of several Democrats, a number of them from energy-producing states, who have expressed concern about the proposed rule or said they want to see changes. Others include Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, all of whom are seeking re-election this year in states won in 2012 by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

‘We’ll See’

Landrieu said in an interview that the administration shouldn’t regulate greenhouse gases. Instead, such efforts should come through Congress, she said.

Asked whether she would like to see a vote before the election on curbing the proposed EPA rule, Landrieu responded, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

Landrieu said she had no plans to meet with Podesta, adding, “I’ve already talked to him, and we just have a difference of opinion.”

Landrieu said she doubted the administration was open to altering the rule before a final version is issued.

Manchin said he is pressing Senate leaders for a vote on his proposal -- similar to a measure offered yesterday by Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- to limit the EPA’s power to regulate emissions.

Manchin said he didn’t know whether the administration would accept suggestions to change the proposed EPA rule before it becomes final.

Different View

“I really don’t know how entrenched they are or what they believe,” he said. “I’m going to give them facts from a different point of view.”

Republicans oppose the rule, which they say will cost jobs and raise utility bills. Their party, which needs a net six seats to gain control of the Senate in November, is working to link Democratic Senate candidates to what they call a “war on coal” being waged by the Obama administration.

McConnell, seeking a sixth term this year, proposed blocking the rule unless federal agencies certify that it won’t eliminate jobs, harm the economy, increase consumer costs or make delivery of electricity less reliable.

‘Ground Zero’

“The administration’s proposed regulations would only add to the economic challenges facing Kentucky, especially in Eastern Kentucky, which is ground zero for what’s happening in coal country,” McConnell said today in a speech on the Senate floor. “Kentuckians should know I’ll keep fighting for them.”

McConnell’s Democratic opponent -- Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes -- also has criticized the proposed EPA rule. So has West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is running to replace retiring Senator Jay Rockefeller, a fellow Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in an interview that he was open to considering a vote on Manchin’s proposal. Still, he said wasn’t concerned the rule would adversely affect senators up for re-election this year.

“The reaction has been pretty good from all my Democrats,” Reid said.

Senate Democrats haven’t decided on a tactical response to the proposed rule, said Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson. Jentleson said there hadn’t been a strong push from Democrats with concerns about the rule to allow a vote to demonstrate their views.

‘Significant’ Revisions

For now, the primary strategy for Democrats with concerns about the rule is to help shape it during the 120-day comment period. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said she anticipates “significant” revisions in proposed state emission goals before a final rule is issued next year.

“I put out a proposal that I believe will allow everybody to get at a table and roll their sleeves up,” McCarthy told Bloomberg reporters and editors yesterday in Washington.

Hagan said in a statement that she “will push for a number of changes to the rule that are good for North Carolina.”

“I want to make sure that the proposal does enough to recognize the progress we’ve made reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy,” she said.

Pryor said in a statement that he has “serious concerns that the EPA’s proposal will undermine the affordable and reliable electricity Arkansans currently enjoy.” Begich said this week’s announcement was the “first step in a long process” that he would monitor closely “to determine any impact on Alaska —- especially for consumers.”

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