Inhofe vows to kill proposed emissions rule as enviros praise it

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

U.S. EPA’s proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants is barely out of the gate, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has already vowed to kill it.

EPA released its proposed rule for new power plants this morning after months of vetting by the Office of Management and Budget (Greenwire, March 27). It would effectively require all power plants to bring their emissions in line with those achieved by efficient natural gas power plants.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters on a call that the standard simply continues what industry trends have begun — a switch away from high emissions electrical generation and toward cleaner burning fuels and greater efficiency.

“These are smart regulations that really build on where the market is going,” Jackson said.

The rule is likely to be felt most by any future coal-fired power plants, which would have to bring their emissions down to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour — a standard that efficient gas plants can easily meet. Jackson sidestepped a question about the effect the rule might have on the nation’s energy mix, saying, “We believe that coal will remain an important part of America’s electricity generation mix.”

EPA has built in a “pathway” for coal plants which allows them to average their emissions over 30 years, but while this could allow a new plant not to use carbon capture and storage in its early years of operation, it would require steep cuts in later years to compensate

The rule exempts all existing plants, including plants that are already far along in the permitting process and due to begin construction in the next 12 months.

But Inhofe, the Senate’s most vocal skeptic of man-made climate change, released a statement of his own today even before EPA made its announcement. He accused the Obama administration of introducing the largest energy tax in history just as the economy is struggling to get back on its feet.

“We were successful in stopping their job-killing agenda through legislation when we defeated cap and trade; now our fight is to stop them from forcing it on the American people through regulations,” he said.

Inhofe said he would offer a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would strike down the rule once it is finalized, and prevent EPA from crafting similar regulations in the future. The review law allows a resolution of disapproval to clear the Senate with a simple majority of the vote. EPA is not expected to finalize its emissions rule in 2012, so it is likely that the resolution would not see a vote until a lame-duck session, or after the next Congress is seated.

Inhofe said his resolution will give colleagues “the opportunity to decide whether they will stand with President Obama and his destructive war on affordable energy, or their constituents back home, who will suffer the most from hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and the skyrocketing electricity and gas prices this agenda will impose on them.”

The Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking Republican has already introduced a measure to kill a newly finalized EPA rule for toxic emissions from power plants, which could see a Senate vote in the near future.

Congressional Democrats and environmentalists, meanwhile, welcomed the proposed rule with open arms.

“America is already moving away from old, dirty ways of burning coal and oil, and this carbon pollution standard will accelerate the development and deployment of cleaner forms of energy like wind, solar and even natural gas,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in a statement.

Markey, who co-sponsored the carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill that cleared the House in the last Congress, said the power plant rule continues the work the Obama administration began when it brokered a deal in 2009 to limit tailpipe emissions from vehicles.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) applauded the rule, noting that his home state is already seeing the effects of man-made climate change, which is causing sea-level rise and is degrading the state’s coastal ecosystem.

“Today’s proposal to ensure that new coal and natural gas power plants take into account their greenhouse gas emissions before they commence construction is a step in the right direction as we work to curb these harmful emissions,” said Carper, who chairs the Senate’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee.

Environmentalists also lauded EPA’s rule, saying it would be good for the U.S. economy as well as the environment.

“The administration is taking prudent action to address the dangers of unchecked climate change that an overwhelming majority of scientists have been warning us about for years,” said Union of Concerned Scientists President Kevin Knobloch in a statement. “Carbon emissions alter our climate and harm Americans’ health. Fortunately, we have the technology to reduce them. Turning on more renewable energy can curb our emissions and put innovative technology — and more Americans — to work.”