In large part, the wide-ranging reaction to US President Barack Obama’s signature effort to cut power plant carbon emissions could have been written months in advance.

Key Republicans and many industrial groups decried it as a job-killing war on coal that would drive up power prices; environmentalists and many Democrats hailed it as a landmark measure making good on Obama’s pledge to tackle climate change.

Behind the bombast, however, more measured voices found a proposal that was not as severe as critics had feared nor as ambitious as proponents had hoped for.

Basing the 30 percent average reduction on the year 2005 – near a high point for such emissions, before the economic recession cut power use and the rise of shale gas dramatically curbed coal plant output – means much of that reduction has already occurred.

For both sides of the debate, Monday’s sweeping proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is only the starting point of a months-long effort to chip away, hone or modify the details of a 645-page plan that may remake the nation’s power sector.

“This is an excellent opening bid,” said Conrad Schneider, an advocacy director at Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group that submitted a plan to help guide the agency as it wrote the rules.

Now the real work will begin behind the scenes during a 120-day-long public comment period, as green groups seek more ambitious elements to make the rules even tougher while opponents seek vulnerable areas to challenge in the courts.

The long-awaited proposal was announced in June last year when Obama unveiled a new strategy to address climate change. Monday’s announcement was preceded by a, months-long outreach effort to gather feedback and address criticism well in advance.

That did little to stem either the tide of outrage or the outpouring of support that greeted the announcement. But as the details of the plan trickled out, it grew clear that some groups would face a tricky task squaring their base position with a more nuanced response.

While most green groups had nothing but praise for Obama, Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said the proposal “doesn’t go far enough to put us on the right path”.

The Natural Resources Defence Council said it would continue to push to make the rules stronger over the coming months, while the National Association of Manufacturers warned the EPA proposal would remove “reliable and abundant sources of energy from our energy mix”. – Reuters