Hill fills EPA’s mailbox with letters on carbon rule 

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The art of letter writing isn’t dead, at least if you’re a member of Congress concerned about the Clean Power Plan.

Capitol Hill spent much of the winter writing to U.S. EPA, supporting or opposing its marquee proposal to curb power-sector carbon dioxide emissions, according to records kept by the agency and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

December was a particularly heavy month, as House and Senate members rushed to weigh in ahead of the end of EPA’s public commenting period on the draft rule. Some missed the Dec. 1 closing date by a few days. The agency’s congressional correspondence log for the month showed it had received 11 letters from lawmakers related to the power plant proposal and 30 on all other topics.

Some of these Clean Power Plan letters sounded the same themes that EPA’s proponents and detractors have used in public debate over the rule, while others proposed changes for the final version or requested more information about how the rule might affect them.

The rule was described as “unrealistic” and “outrageous” by Republicans and “laudable “and “practical” by Democrats. Moderate Democrats wanted tweaks to make it easier to comply with the proposal, while liberal Democrats wanted a greater role for energy efficiency.

Taken together, the letters showed a Congress eager for a role in the Obama administration’s most sweeping bid to contain carbon emissions, whether or not it can muster the votes needed to legislate on it.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) coordinated a Republican letter and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) spearheaded a moderate Democratic one that made the same points, and both arrived at EPA on Dec. 10.

The letters — signed by 23 Republicans and five Democrats, respectively — suggested that EPA make changes large and small before releasing the final version this summer.

Specifically, both letters urged the agency to scrap its 2020 through 2029 interim compliance target, noting that it would require states to meet the bulk of their targeted reductions years before the rule’s 2030 final date.

They say these reductions are supported by an assumption that states can shift from reliance on their coal-fired power fleet to greater use of combined-cycle natural gas. But the senators argued that swift change could trigger compliance problems.

Also on the senators’ wish list: more time for states to write their plans and more clarity about how credit would be allocated for power that is generated in one state but used in another.

“We recognize that climate change is a significant global threat that requires serious action to be taken at both the national and international levels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the five Democrats noted in their version of the letter. “In order to best achieve these goals, however, changes must be made to the current proposal.”

The Fischer letter put it this way: “We strongly believe the best way to address the aforementioned concerns is by withdrawing this ill-conceived and overreaching rule in its entirety.”

EPA also received dueling missives from the top Republican and Democrat on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, with Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) blasting the agency for “inventing” its legal basis for the rule “out of whole cloth.” Ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson’s (D-Texas) letter criticized Smith’s “tone” and expressed support for the rule.

Meanwhile, six Democratic senators signed a letter spearheaded by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) advising EPA to include more details in its final rule this summer about how demand-side efficiency programs would be assessed.

The draft rule assumes states can garner emissions cuts through utility-backed programs aimed at reducing demand. But the senators asked that EPA “explicitly set forth a path for crediting end-use energy efficiency improvements, delivered by non-utility, third-party entities, which are measurable, verifiable, and quantifiable.”