House Clears Bill Requiring Cost Study, Delays in Key Air Pollution Regulations

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By Dean Scott

The House approved a bill Sept. 23 that would mandate a study of the cumulative cost of more than a dozen environmental rules and delay two key Environmental Protection Agency air pollution rules.

The Republican-sponsored Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011 (H.R. 2401), or TRAIN Act, was approved by a vote of 249-169, with all but 19 Democrats voting no and all but four Republicans voting yes.

The measure includes an amendment from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) that targets the Obama administration's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and a rule setting standards for air toxics emissions from power plants (185 DEN A-13, 9/23/11).

Whitfield's amendment, which passed on a 234-188 vote, would nullify the Cross-State rule issued by EPA in July requiring 27 states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in other states.

Under the amendment, EPA would be barred from issuing a revised rule on interstate pollution until at least 2015 and would be required to revert in the interim to the less stringent Bush administration Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). Under the original TRAIN Act, the rule would have been delayed until 2013.

Any future EPA rule to address interstate emissions would have to be based on monitored, not modeled, data under the Whitfield amendment, and would have to allow trading of emissions allowances regardless of the states in which sources are located.

Bill Would Block Utility MACT

Whitfield's amendment also would block EPA's proposed maximum achievable control technology rule for air toxics emissions from power plants and direct the agency to issue new, less burdensome regulations no sooner than 2013. The so-called utility MACT rule's compliance date would be delayed another five years after that.

Many Democrats and environmental groups said the delays undercut vital Clean Air Act protections against power plant emissions.

League of Conservation President Gene Karpinski said the TRAIN Act, once little more than a “study bill” to examine cumulative costs of mostly air pollution rules, had “turned into the single biggest assault on the Clean Air Act in history.”

While it easily cleared the House, the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where there is strong resistance by Democrats to delaying the air pollution rules. The White House has already said President Obama would veto the bill (184 DEN A-4, 9/22/11).

The House also approved several other amendments, mostly from Republicans, including one by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) directing EPA to consider feasibility and costs when promulgating national ambient air quality standards. It passed on a 227-192 vote.

The House also approved an amendment by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) to require the cost review to include future EPA actions that would regulate gasoline and other fuel. It passed by a vote of 269-145.

An amendment by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), approved by a vote of 269-150, would extend the cumulative cost study to National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants that cover the portland cement industry.

The TRAIN Act would establish an interagency panel that would have until Aug. 1, 2012, to complete the cumulative cost study.

Impact of Delay Debated

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said delay of the two EPA rules was a “fundamental” change to the Clean Air Act that should have received more debate than the 10 minutes it was given on the floor Sept. 23. EPA has estimated the Utility MACT air toxics rule alone would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths a year, he said.

“These are two radical proposals coming to the floor without a single day of hearings in [the] energy and commerce” panel, Waxman told colleagues before the vote. He said Republicans treated the broader cost study bill as a “moving train” for slashing environmental protections.

But Whitfield said his amendment affected relatively few of the Obama administration's environmental regulations that threaten to raise industry costs and harm the economy. Of the 14 environmental rules slated for scrutiny under the cost study, only two—the Utility MACT and Cross-State rules—would be delayed by his proposal, Whitfield said.

Whitfield said the two rules are among “the most expensive regulations ever issued by EPA.”

“But twelve of those [rules] we do not delay in any way,” he said.

Industry Welcomes Bill

Industry groups applauded passage of Whitfield's amendment and the entire bill.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents power companies, said EPA traditionally has not considered how the combined impact of its rules affects the power sector and millions of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and energy sectors.

Delaying the Utility MACT and Cross-State rules, he said, “will allow sufficient time for implementation and appropriate standard setting.”

Several Democratic amendments were approved in floor action, including one by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) requiring that the cost study review the impact of EPA rules on the public health of low-income communities. Moore's amendment passed on a 337-76 vote.

Also approved, on a vote of 346-74, was an amendment by Rep. Shirley Jackson Lee (D-Texas) that would extend the public comment on the TRAIN Act's cumulative cost report from 90 days to 120 days.