House votes to scrap EPA power plant rules

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014

The House voted 229-183 to block U.S. EPA’s plans to limit power plant carbon emissions, striking at the heart of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
The measure by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) would prevent EPA from finalizing its proposal to require carbon capture and storage technology for all new coal-fired power plants and would make rules for existing power plants contingent on congressional approval. Ten Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the bill, and Republican Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.) and Frank LoBiondo (N.J.) voted against it.The bill, H.R. 3826, would require the agency to replace its September proposal for future power plants with a new one based on widely deployed technology and to wait for Congress to set an effective date for an existing power plant rule.”This debate is vitally important today because the president is going so fast in such an extreme way that will make it impossible to use coal in America with a new plant,” Whitfield said on the House floor yesterday.

Congress had not approved greenhouse gas restrictions, he said, and by using the Clean Air Act to limit power plant emissions the Obama administration is moving to circumvent lawmakers and the will of the American people. “We’ve never had a national debate on the issue,” he said.

Whitfield said on the House floor yesterday that even without his bill, EPA has overstepped its legal authority in requiring new coal plants to use CCS. No U.S. commercial-scale power plants currently use the technology. The agency points to three such plants that are under construction in the United States with Energy Department backing, but critics say the Energy Policy Act of 2005 limits the role federally backed projects can play in justifying an EPA requirement for the use of a technology.

“We’ve talked to lawyers throughout the country who are ready to file a lawsuit if this happens,” Whitfield said of the proposal.

EPA holds that CCS is “technically feasible” for use on new coal-fired power plants, based not only on the three U.S. power plants that will use it but on its use in other sectors and other countries.

But the GOP-controlled House rejected this, voting 231-84 to adopt an amendment by House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) that would require EPA to more strictly define what an “adequately demonstrated” technology is for the purposes of setting a standard.

“Only in Washington can you call something adequately demonstrated that doesn’t even exist,” Smith said last night in remarks on the floor. The coal industry is not the only sector that could eventually be subject to an unachievable rule, he said.

“Coal will be taking the hardest hit today, but the EPA is trying to take down natural gas,” Smith added, pointing to the agency’s current and future rules for hydraulic fracturing and its position on TransCanada Corp.’s permit application for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The House today adopted four other Republican amendments by voice vote and defeated three Democratic ones, generally along party lines.

The other amendments that were adopted would add language to the bill classifying any project that received government funds as a “demonstration project,” regardless of its size; allowing EPA to base standards on technology developed outside the United States if it has been used on U.S. facilities; requiring EPA to submit a report to Congress in consultation with other agencies that would assess the cost of its rules; and requiring an assessment of the cost of maintaining any equipment required to comply with those rules.

The White House has said the president would veto Whitfield’s bill if it came to his desk. In a statement Tuesday night, the Office of Management and Budget noted that Obama last year “directed [EPA] to work with states, utilities, and other stakeholders to develop standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants” (E&E Daily, March 5).

The new power plant proposal is open for public comment through May 9, and EPA is set to propose a guidance for existing power plants by June 1. The existing power plant rule is due to be finalized by June 1, 2015.

“H.R. 3826 would block those important efforts, threatening the health and safety of Americans,” OMB said.

The bill is also expected to encounter headwinds in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has introduced a companion bill but has not said how he plans to ensure it gets a vote. And no Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors in the Senate (E&E Daily, March 6).

Today’s House vote was cheered by industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, which has devoted considerable resources to defeating the EPA regulations.

“As users of one-third of the nation’s energy, manufacturers cannot withstand new [greenhouse gas] regulations that force some energy sources out of the economy,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “We hope the Senate will act quickly to pass this bill and require the EPA to adhere to a true ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.”

But League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski blasted the bill as “extreme,” saying it would “gut the EPA’s ability to cut carbon pollution, prevent EPA scientists from doing their job and let power plants continue to spew unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air.”

“Advancing this legislation is the surest sign yet that Republican leaders in the House are more committed to doing the bidding of corporate polluters than protecting public health,” he said.