Senators ask for extension on EPA draft public comment period

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, September 12, 2014

A bipartisan group of senators today asked U.S. EPA to give the public more time to comment on its existing power plant greenhouse gas draft rule, citing its complexity and potential to overhaul the U.S. power grid.

TheĀ letter, spearheaded by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), asked EPA to extend its Oct. 16 deadline by 60 days.

“This extension is critical to ensure that state regulatory agencies and other stakeholders have adequate time to fully analyze and comment on the proposal,” the senators said.

Heitkamp and Fischer were joined on the letter by 51 of their colleagues, including Democrats who sometimes ally with the agency like Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Mark Warner of Virginia. It was signed by all of the chamber’s Republicans except for Maine Sen. Susan Collins and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released a statement on the letter, again blasting EPA for not holding a listening session in his state.

“In an ideal world, we would not be sending this letter to EPA because the agency would have withdrawn this terrible proposed regulation after hearing from those it negatively impacted,” he said.

Today’s letter noted that stakeholders are still working to understand the rule, which makes it difficult for them to provide comments.

“The proposed rule requires a thorough evaluation of intra- and inter-state, regional, and in some cases international energy generation and transmission so that states and utilities can provide the most detailed assessments on how to meet the targets while maintaining reliability in the grid,” they wrote. “This level of coordination to comment on an EPA rule is unprecedented, extraordinary, and extremely time consuming.”

State officials say they are focused on understanding the calculus EPA used in crafting the proposal. Many say the four “building blocks” EPA used to set targets would interact in ways the federal agency may not have considered. Some have signaled they will ask for adjustments to their standards. But the senators note that states must support these requests with documentation and data before the public comment period closes — something four officials told a House panel earlier this week would require additional time (Greenwire, Sept. 9).

Two other participants in Tuesday’s hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee — Maryland Public Service Commissioner Kelly Speakes-Backman and David Danner, chairman of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission — testified that extra time is unnecessary and would delay the rule’s climate benefits.

The senators’ letter is not the first call for an extension, but EPA has signaled that it is planning to stick to its schedule.

“Right now we’re still working under the 120 day timeframe with a closing date of Oct. 16,” the agency said today.

EPA notes that it has already allocated extra time for comment on the June 2 proposal in line with a previous request by Fischer, Heitkamp and others. The agency has already received more than 700,000 comments on the proposal.