White House “will not back down” on climate change plans

Denis McDonough tells audience in DC administration is ready for fight for incoming environmental legislation

By Ed King

Barack Obama’s chief of staff has warned critics the White House “will not back down” over plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“We will finalize a stronger rule,” Denis McDonough said on Wednesday, speaking at an event hosted by the New Republic media group.

“We’ll veto ideological riders to stop this plan or undercut our bedrock environmental laws,” he added, stressing there would be no movement away from the president’s “vision”.

His intervention comes at a critical juncture in efforts by the world’s second largest carbon emitter to ditch its use of coal and move towards lower carbon alternatives.

On Monday the White House is slated to publish its clean power plan, which aims to cut pollution from energy plants 30% on 2005 levels by 2025.

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Reports from Washington suggest officials will scale back their ambition to make power plants meet new emission goals by 2020, aiming instead for 2022.

But they are still fiercely opposed by Republicans in Congress, who have accused Obama of starting a ‘war on coal’ and destroying thousands of fossil fuel industry jobs.

The proposed laws form the backbone of the climate plan the US submitted to the UN earlier this year ahead of a proposed pact to tackle global warming.

Analysts at the Climate Action Tracker say US ambition is still well off what’s needed to avoid dangerous temperature rises, calling for it to accept higher levels of cuts.

That’s not how critics see it. In an emailed statement to Bloomberg 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush labelled the clean power plan “irresponsible and ineffective” and said it ‘‘oversteps state authority”.

His intervention came a day after Democrat frontrunner for the 2016 election Hillary Clinton launched a blistering attack on Republicans for climate denial.

But he stressed he did believe human activity was causing climate change, saying it was “appropriate to recognize this and invest in the proper research to find solutions over the long haul.”

“We should not say the end is near, not deindustrialize the country, not create barriers for higher growth not just totally obliterate family budgets,” he added.

Coal cure?

Also speaking at the New Republic event, World Bank climate envoy Rachel Kyte dismissed claims from top US coal producer Peabody that its product was a panacea for poverty.

“In general globally we need to wean ourselves off coal,” she said. “There is a huge social cost to coal and a huge social cost to fossil fuels … if you want to be able to breathe clean air.”

Expansion of coal-fired plants could lead to a rise in respiratory illness rates she said, arguing for energy access to be developed in the “cleanest way possible”.

“The social costs of coal are uncounted and damaging, just as the global emissions count is damaging as well,” Kyte added.

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