Congress Lobbied on Clean Power Plan Until Very End

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By Anthony Adragna

Aug. 28 — Mere days before the Environmental Protection Agency completed work on the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's climate change agenda, House and Senate lawmakers were still pushing the agency for changes to the Clean Power Plan.

Months after the public comment period ended, congressional and state lawmakers were still steadily pressuring the EPA to modify or withdraw its approach to regulating carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's fleet of existing power plants, newly posted letters to the rulemaking docket show.

“We write to express deep concern with President Obama's attempt to bypass Congress and commandeer the state regulatory process to impose unduly burdensome carbon emissions regulations at existing power plants,” Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake wrote July 8, less than a month before the EPA finalized the rule.

“The plan charges headlong toward dictating Arizona's resource portfolio and regulating beyond the fence line,” the senators continued. The regulation “treats Arizona so harshly that it would be compelled to maximize the use of all its building block ‘options' just to comply with the rule. This is hardly a choice.”

Finalized Aug. 3, the Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33) sets an individual carbon dioxide emissions target for each state's existing power plants but lets each state craft its own plan for meeting the goal. The EPA relaxed Arizona's emissions targets in the final version of the plan.

Concern Over Targets 

Many other members of Congress also voiced concerns about their states' emissions targets in the weeks immediately preceding the final rule's release.

Mississippi lawmakers, for example, sent a letter stating they were “treated unfairly and disproportionately under the Clean Power Plan” and said the EPA's proposal lacked “appropriate factual analysis.”

“It is clear that EPA performed insufficient analysis on the rule's impact at the state level,” the July 21 letter states. “If Mississippi ratepayers cannot pay the costs of complying with the Clean Power Plan, their entire loan portfolio may be at risk. There is a strong federal interest that exists for rural electrification, and it should not be sacrificed for EPA's goals.”

Both Mississippi Republican senators—Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker—signed the letter along with its entire congressional delegation. That includes Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Even at the late stage in the rulemaking process, lawmakers asked the EPA to come see firsthand the impacts its rule would have on individual states. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) asked the agency on July 13 to visit Northwest Colorado to hear directly from residents potentially affected by the regulation.

“Colorado is well positioned and on track to meet the emissions targets in the draft plan,” Bennet wrote. “It is also important to me that all voices are heard in this process and that regulations are workable in all of Colorado's communities.”

States Urge Plan Withdrawal 

At least three state legislative bodies—the Georgia Senate, the Louisiana legislature and the Missouri House of Representatives—submitted resolutions urging the EPA to back off its rulemaking in the weeks preceding the Clean Power Plan's release.

“To avoid the potentially unnecessary and substantial expenditure of limited state and consumer resources, the members of this body urge Congress and the president to enact legislation to prohibit the Clean Power Plan from taking effect unless and until any and all legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan have been fully resolved and no appeals remain,” the May resolution from Georgia reads.

All three states urged the EPA to withdraw the regulation, and several urged their governors to pursue legal action to block the Clean Power Plan upon its completion.

Several governors wrote the agency in the weeks leading up to the rule's release to urge consideration of new information and resources.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), an opponent of the regulation, urged the EPA in an April 28 letter to consider a new study on the impact of coal on his state's economy while noting “these emission guidelines are far-reaching and extend EPA's regulatory authority beyond its statutory authority.”

More Congressional Queries 

Not all of the suggestions for how to improve the Clean Power Plan were negative. In late May, nine members of the Senate Democratic caucus asked the EPA to include energy-efficiency improvements made to water or wastewater infrastructure as positive components of state implementation plans.

“We believe that energy efficiency improvements for water and wastewater utilities may be an important component of many state implementation plans for” the Clean Power Plan, the letter led by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said.

Several members of Congress urged the agency to relax interim targets for states under the regulation and asked the EPA to change the baseline year for state emissions from 2012. In the final rule, the EPA attempted to address concerns about interim targets but left in place 2012 as the baseline year for emissions, albeit with a revised methodology. The final rule also pushed back the initial compliance deadline from 2020 to 2022 and will phase the emissions reductions in over time, allowing states to chart their own glide path toward compliance.

“I am perplexed that the [Clean Power Plan] seems to punish states like mine for their proactive efforts to transition early to cleaner energy sources,” Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) wrote in an April letter. “I urge the EPA to eliminate the interim targets and allow Minnesota's energy and environmental regulators to use existing well-established processes to design an appropriate glide path to the 2030 target.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at