The White House is rushing to meet its August deadline for issuing strict emission rules for existing power plants while suggesting it may be ready to issue separate regulations for new power plants sooner than expected.

The White House Office of Management and Budget started meetings last week on the Environmental Protection Agency's rules for existing power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan, according to the office's meeting registry. It wrapped up its meetings earlier in June on the "New Source" rule for new power plants where the Sierra Club, the coal industry and others sat down with OMB.

The meetings typically mark the beginning of the end of the final review process for regulations, suggesting that the EPA is well on its way to meeting the administration's August deadline for issuing the controversial rules.

The meetings are usually conducted for 30 days, after which the rule could be issued at any time.

Critics say the rules for new plants would effectively ban new coal-fired generation from being built. And the rules for existing power plants would drive up demand for natural gas, making it harder for coal plants to compete.

Opponents say the emission rules provide a perfect storm of regulation that is meant to limit the amount of coal the country uses. They warn that the rules could increase the cost of electricity and harm grid reliability by forcing scores of coal plants to close. The EPA argues that the rules provide adequate flexibility to avoid reliability problems and higher prices.

The first meeting on the Clean Power Plan included a number of the nation's largest investor-owned utilities. American Electric Power, Duke Energy and the industry trade group Edison Electric Institute met with OMB on June 18.

Former Democratic majority leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri was present to kick off the following meeting on June 22, with utility commissioners also present.

After serving nearly 30 years in Congress, Gephardt is now a consultant and strategist to the industry. The former majority leader was there in his capacity as founder of the consulting firm the Gephardt Group. The bulk of the meetings on the plan so far were held last week.

At the same time, OMB appears to have wrapped up meetings on the "New Source" power plant rules, which set a high bar for building new coal plants in the U.S. by requiring the use of costly and under-developed carbon capture and storage technology.

The new and existing rules are linked under the Clean Air Act, which is guiding the EPA's development of pollution standards. The rules for existing power plants can't be issued before the rules for new plants are final.

GOP lawmakers and other critics of the "New Source" rule argue that the EPA is effectively banning new coal-fired power from being built. The National Mining Association has argued that carbon capture technology is not commercial and the "New Source" standard should be based on available technology that can reduce emissions without the need for carbon capture.

But it appears that train has left the station, says Luke Popovich, the mining association's vice president for external affairs. He says the mining association has no indication that the administration is taking its suggestions to heart. He says the White House is pushing to make climate change a "legacy" issue for the president, and anything that interferes with that is essentially being ignored.

Now, the talks at the White House have made a hard shift to the Clean Power Plan. The meetings began June 18, which also marked the last meeting OMB had on the "New Source" rule. The Clean Power Plan meetings have continued nearly every day since June 18, with meetings on June 22, 23 and 24, according to the latest OMB logs.

The mining association sat down with EPA, OMB and other White House officials to discuss the climate rules June 23. The White House also began meeting with environmental groups on ways the Clean Power Plan could be made more stringent.

The environmental group Clean Air Task Force reiterated comments it made to the EPA, recommending that the agency allow carbon capture technology at coal plants as part of what the agency calls a Best System of Emissions Reduction for states to meet their emission targets.

The environmental group also wants EPA to take into account coal plant retirements in state emission goals laid out by the Clean Power Plan. The retirements are occurring because of the EPA's separate mercury rules and market factors. The group fears that not including recent plant closures could reduce the stringency of the emission targets, based on a slide circulated at the meeting.

Under the rules, EPA requires states to reduce their emissions, rather than requiring individual power plants to do so. EPA sets a specific reduction target for all 50 states based on a variety of factors called building blocks that include coal plant heat-rate improvements, increased use of natural gas power plants, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030. Many scientists say the the emissions are causing manmade climate change.

But the mining association is pushing back against the entire structure of the Clean Power Plan. According to a presentation given at its meeting, the coal industry spells out flaw after flaw in the proposal, including EPA's lack of analysis on the cost of compliance with the Clean Power Plan.

The first slide of the presentation reads, "EPA's building block assumptions lead to unachievable state emission rate and mass limit targets." It says the 6 percent heat-rate improvement to improve coal plant efficiency is impossible to attain, citing government data that shows at most a 1.9 percent increase as achievable.

At the same time, the rule's projections for using more natural gas would "negate" the effect of the coal plant improvements, while simultaneously displacing coal- and oil-fired plants as generation that can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The presentation also says that "flawed" EPA assumptions lead to an "understatement of true [Clean Power Plan] compliance cost and impact on industry and fuel markets."

"All studies outside EPA assume that shift to higher natural gas market share will result in much higher natural gas prices that will adversely affect U.S. industrial production and commercial/residential ratepayers."