W.Va. senators launch assault on EPA carbon rules 

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2015

West Virginia’s two senators took the lead today in launching their chamber’s flagship bid to kill U.S. EPA’s proposed rules for carbon emissions from new and existing power plants, pledging the bill would move quickly through committee.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) sponsored the measure, which heavily borrowed from a bill that co-sponsor and Mountain State colleague Sen. Joe Manchin (D) floated in the last Congress.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) promised at a Capitol press conference unveiling the bill today that he would prioritize it.

“This is going down as probably the most significant thing that we would do in the Environment and Public Works Committee this year,” he said.

The bill takes aim at two EPA rules that form the core of Obama’s second-term climate agenda. It is unclear what effect it would have on the agency’s separate rule for modified sources, which is more modest. All three measures are set to be finalized this summer, and Capito said her measure was timed “to front-run that.”

Like Manchin’s bill from the last Congress, it would scrap EPA’s proposed rule requiring all new coal-fired units to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to limit emissions. It would direct EPA to limit any subsequent standard to technology that is already in use in at least six power plants in the same technology category — in the case of new coal, that would likely mean supercritical technology.

Manchin’s bill in the last Congress with Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) would also have made any rule for existing plants subject to congressional approval. It cleared the GOP-controlled House but ran aground in the then-Democratic-controlled Senate.

Capito’s new measure would address EPA’s Clean Power Plan by allowing state governors to opt out of the rule for existing plants by citing a variety of grid reliability and economic concerns. It would also allow all states to wait to comply until judicial review has concluded — which could take several years. EPA would be barred from enforcing a federal implementation plan (FIP) in either case. Similar language cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, and sponsor Whitfield says he expects it to come to the floor this work period.

Environmentalists say that allowing state governors to exempt their states from compliance with the rule for existing power plants would undermine the Clean Air Act’s function in creating a federal floor for air quality regulation. But Capito, Manchin and others argued at the bill’s launch this afternoon that it is the Obama administration that has violated the law’s foundation in cooperative federalism.

“The way the Clean Power Plan is going forward is basically saying, ‘The federal government is going to set a one-size-fits-all standard for every state,'” Capito said. Her bill, she said, “gives the states the voice that they need that they do not have in the plan presently.”

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement that EPA has spent the last two years “reaching out and engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, and is now considering the 4.3 million comments we received during the public comment period.”

“In the EPA’s nearly 45-year history, emissions from power plant pollution have decreased dramatically, improving public health protection for all Americans, while the economy has grown” she said. “EPA’s plan will not change that.”

Capito’s measure would also require EPA to write a separate FIP tailored to the power mix in each individual state. The agency is currently preparing one model FIP to be proposed this summer when the rules are finalized.

EPA’s rule for existing sources sets state emissions reduction standards — a power some advocates say should have been left to states. But it calls on states to determine how to comply, and EPA staff and supporters say it affords them ample flexibility to craft a rule to protect economic and reliability interests.

Manchin has been a consistent critic of EPA’s climate rules, introducing numerous bills like the one last Congress with Whitfield in an effort to protect his state’s coal industry. But he says climate change is occurring and tempers his anti-EPA rhetoric with a message about the importance of federal support for next-stage technology.

That message was on display again at today’s launch, when the former West Virginia governor said the Capito bill would “force the federal government to be our partner and work with us” in promoting low-carbon coal technologies.

“All we’re saying is work with us,” he said. “We can get to the next level.”

Manchin blamed the Department of Energy for failing to allocate $8 billion in loan guarantee authority for advanced fossil fuels projects. He also pointed to the administration’s decision to scrap its FutureGen clean coal project in Illinois and its preference for supporting renewable power over advanced fossil fuels.

But Manchin sidestepped a question about whether a regulatory trigger would be needed to gain private-sector support for costly low-carbon technologies like CCS.

Capito’s bill faces long odds in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed for controversial legislation. But Manchin said he believed it could garner the six Democratic votes it would need if all Republicans backed the bill, which he said they would.

Unions and other traditional Democratic constituencies would need to get “very active” to ensure it passes, he said.

But it is not clear that all Senate Republicans will support the Capito measure. Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Bob Corker of Tennessee did not sign a letter to EPA last year asking the agency to rescind the Clean Power Plan. And Manchin is the only Democrat among the bill’s 26 original co-sponsors.