EPA extends comment period for power plant rule

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 17, 2014

U.S. EPA announced a 45-day extension today in the public comment period for its contentious draft rule for curbing greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, but its top air official said the deadline for finalizing the proposal hasn’t changed.

Acting air chief Janet McCabe said the agency will accept comments through Dec. 1, adding to one of the longest comment periods ever for a rulemaking. EPA unveiled the rule proposal June 2.

“We hope that additional time will give those entities wishing to submit comments the time they need to engage with us, ask questions, and ultimately provide input that will help ensure that in the end this plan is practical, flexible and achievable,” she said.

States, industry groups and more than half the Senate have requested additional time for months, noting that the comment period is likely to be their best opportunity to request substantial changes to how the rule would affect the power grid and states. Several state regulators and agency heads testified last week before a House panel on the importance of additional time to vet the 600-plus-page draft and conduct impact analyses of their own (Greenwire, Sept. 9).

Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) last week spearheaded a letter signed by 51 of their colleagues asking EPA to extend its previous Oct. 16 deadline by 60 days. In her letter today responding to the senators, McCabe said EPA was granting some additional time because it recognized it had asked for stakeholder input on many details of the rule and wanted “the best possible advice and data to inform a final rule.”

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, McCabe said EPA is still “working towards” a June 1, 2015, deadline to finalize the rule, a goal she said was still in reach due to the agency’s extensive dialogue with a variety of stakeholders.

“We’ll have plenty of time to consider all the comments we get and do all the work that we need to do,” she said.

The announcement comes as President Obama prepares to go to New York City next week to participate in U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s leadership summit on climate change. Obama is not expected to make any sweeping new emission reductions or financing announcements at the gathering, though he will tout a new public-private initiative on hydrofluorocarbons announced by the White House this morning (Greenwire, Sept. 16).

At the U.N., Obama is expected to point to EPA’s power plant plan to show the United States continues to make strides on emissions reduction.

McCabe said the extension would not undercut that message.

“I think it’s clear from the actions we’ve been taking here at EPA that we’re fully committed to moving this rule through and getting it finalized so that we can start seeing the reductions in carbon that are required,” she said.

The extension sparked a rare moment of accord between EPA and a few of its staunchest critics on Capitol Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) applauded the agency in a statement for providing commenters with extra time to air their “concerns.” But EPA’s concession didn’t lead McConnell to take a brighter view of the draft rule.

“It will allow more time to accurately assess the damage that such a terrible, unprecedented rule would have on our state, particularly on Kentucky’s miners and their families and those who otherwise rely on coal for their livelihood,” he said.