Zichal briefs Senate Democrats on White House plan

By:  Jean Chemnick

The White House's top adviser on climate change met today with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill to answer their questions on President Obama's recently unveiled plan.

Heather Zichal spoke with 12 or more members of an informal climate caucus headed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Boxer said Zichal mostly reiterated the proposal Obama outlined two weeks ago at Georgetown University but provided senators with a more detailed timeline and the opportunity to ask questions.

The centerpiece of the White House plan is a Clean Air Act rule to rein in greenhouse gas emissions for existing power plants. Boxer said Zichal provided few new details on that rule.

"Just that they were really going to use their authorities and do it in a way that they're working with the states and working to make it the best it can be," she said.

Senators said Zichal did discuss U.S. EPA's new proposal for future power plants, which was sent to the White House for review last week. Obama has said the proposal will be unveiled in September. It makes undisclosed changes to last year's proposal that required all new power plants to limit their emissions to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour regardless of whether they run on coal or natural gas.

Most participants in the Zichal meeting declined to say what the White House aide had told them. But Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he hopes EPA will promulgate a rule that would create separate standards for coal- and gas-fired power plants.

"The idea of having a new source standard that's just one standard for new gas and new coal, there's been a lot of push-back, a lot of blowback about doing that," he said. "And my own view is that we probably need two standards. That's my view."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the meeting with Zichal was part of a new openness between the White House and Congress on the climate issue.

"I think we're getting a lot more information than in the last couple of years on this issue, when they've been kind of dark," Whitehouse said. "I think it's seemed like kind of a new beginning."

But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he was not satisfied with the level of ambition the White House had shown on climate change, which he called a "planetary crisis" deserving of more aggressive measures, including a carbon tax of the kind he has proposed with Boxer.

"They are doing something," he said of the White House. "But when you have a planetary crisis, you've got to be extremely bold. And so that means for a start you have to say, of course we're not going to build the Keystone pipeline. Of course we need a tax on carbon, of course we need a major investment in energy efficiency.

" And we've got to take that to Republicans," he added. " I think we can win this debate."