Speaking separately to historically black Morehouse College in
Atlanta in April, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina
McCarthy also framed proposed new rules in terms of social justice,
as poor black communities are disproportionately affected by air
The meetings, and hundreds more like them over the past year, mark
an unprecedented campaign by the White House and the EPA to win
broad public and state backing for rules expected to come June 2 to
limit for the first time carbon emissions from power plants, which
are the biggest source of greenhouse gases.
Both the message and the method reflect a conscious effort to avoid
the problems that two years ago nearly sank Obama's health care
reform, another contentious policy milestone that will become an
indelible part of his legacy, according to officials and sources
familiar with the process.
The proposed curbs will form the cornerstone of Obama's climate
action plan, a multi-layered blueprint for fighting global warming
unveiled a year ago. The plan is critical to fulfilling U.S.
commitments to reduce emissions agreed to at an international forum
in Copenhagen in 2009.
It is also key to carving out a legacy for Obama's second term,
after the administration was frustrated in its efforts to make
progress on other goals such as immigration reform and gun control.
Taking strong steps to fight climate change could be the biggest
achievement of the last two years of his presidency, administration
Agency officials have met with over 3,300 people and 300 groups,
listening to concerns and complaints from teamsters, utility
executives, tribal leaders and several governors about the proposal.
For example, she sought in February to reassure state officials in
North Dakota that the change won't impede the state's recent surge
in energy production. In Orlando last week, the message for small
business owners was that environmental stewardship doesn't diminish
"This is such an important part of the president's plan, that we
just thought it was appropriate to have an extraordinary level of
engagement even before the proposed rule stage," Dan Utech, special
assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told
Reuters in an interview.
By engaging early and often with detractors and supporters alike,
with messages tailored to each, the team led by McCarthy and senior
White House adviser John Podesta is seeking to spin more effectively
than it did with the troubled Affordable Care Act rollout.
They hope to stay a step ahead of critics by getting feedback up
front, rather than waiting until provisional new rules are
published, as the EPA normally does. They aim to make the need for
the new rules tangible to Americans by linking them to public health
and safety. The broader goal of tempering climate change is seen as
a lower priority for many voters.
Ahead of November elections in which Democrats fear losing control
of the Senate, Obama hopes to stave off inevitable accusations that
he has launched a war on coal that would force the closure of plants
and a loss of American jobs.
"I think the goal for the administration is to preserve the ability
to have a conversation and don't have everyone coming out of the
back screaming. That will check an important political box," says
Heather Zichal, who was Obama's special adviser on energy and
climate until last November.
The regulations, drafted under the rarely-used section 111d of the
Clean Air Act, will curb the amount of carbon dioxide the country's
power plants spew out and give each state a year to devise a
tailored plan for how it will meet the new standards.
The White House has been preparing Americans for the sweeping new
rules with an increasingly urgent messaging campaign about the
seriousness of climate change.
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Earlier this month the White House released a report, the National
Climate Assessment, that said effects of global warming had "moved
firmly into the present" and had touched every corner of the
country. It offered a backdrop of climate catastrophe to justify the
need for urgent limits on the power sector.
"Climate change is not just about polar bears, although we all love
polar bears...It's about all of us," McCarthy said on a visit to Dr.
Phillips High School in Orlando, Florida last week, reported by
She explained to students how Florida and other state
governments will play a major role in carrying out the rules and had
them perform an experiment in which clean white tube socks were
barely soiled when placed on tailpipes of cars and busses built
after EPA efficiency standards became effective in 2010.
The mood was more combative a month earlier at Bismarck State
College in North Dakota, when EPA's Chief Counsel Joe Goffman spoke
to industry and state officials, including the state's Republican
Governor Jack Dalrymple.
"We cannot jump to a much higher standard for (carbon dioxide)
overnight. It simply is not possible, it's not attainable, and we
will fight that with every tool that we have available," said
Dalrymple said, according to local WDAZ television.
Goffman tried to assure the crowd that the EPA would ensure its
rules offered enough "flexibility" for states to achieve their
The outreach may do little to prevent corporate groups and energy
companies from launching legal and lobbying efforts to fight back at
rules they fear may heap more costs on to the coal industry and
remove 20 percent of the country's coal-fired electricity from the
grid, leaving it vulnerable to shortages.
Some of that resistance is taking a form similar to efforts that
nearly derailed Obamacare, with state legislatures and some
governors aiming to prevent implementation of the regulation.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of state
lawmakers that promotes limited government and gets funding from
companies such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy, has targeted a
dozen state legislatures, including Kentucky and Ohio, to prevent
certain states from implementing EPA carbon rules.
"In trying to block federal policy, ALEC has a history - on behalf
of its corporate funders - of deliberately establishing legal
conflicts to force the issue into federal courts. That is precisely
what they did with the ACA," Nick Surgey, research director of
Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), a group that monitors ALEC's
ALEC did not respond to several requests for an interview.
Obama's team said it will counter inevitable attacks.
"We're going to be out there aggressively with our positive vision
on this, as well as pushing back hard and setting the record
straight with respect to some of the attacks that we expect to get
from the other side," said Utech.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by Roberta
Rampton and Jeff Mason; editing by Jonathan Leff, Caren Bohan and
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