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EPA to propose cut in power plant emissions

The coal-fired Morgantown Generating Station in Newburg, Md.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The coal-fired Morgantown Generating Station in Newburg, Md.

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency will unveil a draft proposal on Monday to cut carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, according to people briefed on the plan.

The proposed rule amounts to the strongest action ever taken by the U.S. government to fight climate change.

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Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for trapping heat in the atmosphere and dangerously warming the planet.

The rule could trigger a fundamental transformation of the nation’s energy systems — if it withstands an expected onslaught of legal and legislative attacks.

In his first term, President Barack Obama tried but failed to push a sweeping climate change bill through Congress. But now, as many Republicans question the science of climate change, and even as many Democrats from coal-dependent states fear that a climate change bill could damage their economies, Obama is moving ahead on his own. He is using the executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to issue the regulation.

Under the proposal to be unveiled Monday, states will be given a wide menu of policy options to achieve the pollution cuts. Rather than immediately shutting down coal plants, states will be allowed to reduce emissions by making changes across their electricity systems — by installing new wind and solar generation, energy-efficiency technology, and by starting or joining state and regional “cap-and-trade” programs, in which states agree to cap carbon pollution and buy and sell permits to pollute.

In a 2009 United Nations accord, Obama pledged that the United States would cut its greenhouse gas pollution 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by 2050.

The draft proposal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday afternoon.

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