EPA's Power Plant Rule Defies Will of Congress, Senate Republicans Say

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By Andrew Childers

Feb. 11 — An Environmental Protection Agency proposal to curb carbon dioxide pollution from power plants would impose significant costs on utilities and ratepayers without providing tangible benefits for the climate, Senate Republicans said.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee argued Feb. 11 that the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan is based on flawed science and dubious legal authority.

Setting carbon dioxide emissions limits on power plants would only drive more manufacturing jobs to China while imposing significant costs on the U.S. economy, Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.

“There are certain incontrovertible facts we have dealt with,” Inhofe said. “One, this is a program that states reject. It ignores the will of Congress.”

Committee Republicans touted the 32 states that have expressed concerns with the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan in comments on the rule as evidence the regulation should be revised or withdrawn.

The proposed rule (RIN 2060-AR33) would establish unique carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power sector in each state. The rule, which is expected to be finalized this summer, would be implemented by state officials who would determine how best to achieve the emissions targets.

“When a majority of states object to a rule, I think you’ve done something wrong,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said.

The committee called Janet McCabe, the EPA's acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, to testify about the Clean Power Plan.

Agency Met With States, Utilities 

McCabe said the EPA met extensively with states and utilities prior to proposing the rule, and the agency has continued its engagement with them as it reviews public comments on the proposal.

The EPA is open to addressing issues raised by states and utilities in the final rule, particularly whether the interim emissions rates that states must achieve beginning in 2020 are feasible, McCabe said.

“That is something we’re looking very, very closely at,” she said.

Ameren Corp., which generates more than half of its electricity from coal, suggested improvements to the Clean Power Plan in a Feb. 11 white paper that could make it more palatable to utilities.

Proposed improvements include replacing the interim emissions rates states must achieve by 2020 with periodic reporting, providing additional credit for replacing coal-fired generation with renewable energy and allowing states to exceed the 2030 compliance deadline if they can demonstrate the additional time will provide significant emissions reductions.

Rules Circumvent Congress 

Committee Republicans said Congress rejected all prior legislation to address climate change. The EPA's attempt to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants flouts the will of Congress, they said.

“I do believe this regulation we’re discussing today is EPA’s most blatant overreach so far, and there have been a number of them,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said.

Along with the Clean Power Plan, the EPA also has proposed carbon dioxide standards for new and modified power plants.

Congress's failure to pass climate change legislation doesn't permit the EPA to act on its own authority, Republicans said.

Administration Pursuing Executive Actions 

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) accused the Obama administration of following a pattern of pursuing executive action after attempts to work with Congress have failed on a host of issues, including climate change.

“Your agency, in my view, has been one of the biggest abusers of this two-step approach,” Sullivan told McCabe.

McCabe said the EPA is acting within the confines of the Clean Air Act as it moves to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants.

“I believe the rule we have proposed and we’re going through comment on today is squarely based on our Clean Air Act authority,” McCabe said.

Inhofe said the U.S. commitment to curb its greenhouse gas emissions would only hurt its economic competitiveness and dismissed a recent agreement in which China agreed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, with an intention of peaking earlier, and increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of the nation's energy mix by 2030.

“Are you operating under some kind of delusion that China’s going to change its behavior?” Inhofe said.

Vitter Criticizes NRDC 

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) criticized the involvement of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the proposed rule's development. The environmental group had developed a similar plan that also would set state-specific emissions rates for the power sector prior to the EPA's proposal.

Vitter had explored the relationship in 2014 when he was ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“The number of these communications is pretty staggering and is unprecedented as far as I can see,” Vitter said.

McCabe said the EPA's interaction with the Natural Resources Defense Council was part of the normal outreach process the agency undertakes when it develops regulations.

Agency Seeks Wide Interaction 

“We take all of that input and put it in a proposed rule which is fully open for everyone to look at. If the rule is not grounded in the science and the law, people will tell us that,” she said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council defended its action in a Feb. 11 statement from David Goldston, the group’s director of government affairs.

“Sens. Vitter and Barrasso are against EPA taking any action on climate change,” he said. “They are seeking to distract attention from this pressing issue by raising baseless charges about NRDC and EPA. We made recommendations to the agency, and sometimes EPA has found them helpful. The senators’ efforts to stifle debate should disturb anyone who wants to participate in the democratic process, regardless of where they stand on climate action.”

Inhofe to Examine Science 

Inhofe, who has called climate change a hoax, said he plans to hold a hearing on climate science.

“When you don’t have science on your side and you keep saying, ‘the science is settled, the science is settled, the science is settled,’ there’s an assumption that is the case,” Inhofe said.

A 2013 survey of scientific literature published in the journal “Environmental Research Letters” found that 97.2 percent of climate scientists believe human activity plays a major role in climate change.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com