House Committee Advances Bills to Curb EPA Power Plant Rules, Boost Building Efficiency

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By Anthony Adragna

Jan. 28 --The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation Jan. 28 that would restrict the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to complete greenhouse gas emission regulations for power plants.

The committee also approved a bill that would promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

The Electricity Security and Affordability Act (H.R. 3826), sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) to limit EPA's rulemaking authority on greenhouse gases, advanced on a 29-19 committee vote.

The Better Buildings Act (H.R. 2126) on energy efficiency, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), advanced to the full House by voice vote.

Discussion during the markup of the power plant legislation proceeded along partisan lines. Republicans faulted the EPA for engaging in a “war on coal” and said carbon capture and sequestration technologies, the basis of the agency's new source performance standards for future power plants, aren't adequately demonstrated or technologically feasible.

Democrats, on the other hand, said the threat posed by climate change was too great for the EPA not to act and said carbon capture and sequestration technologies are already viable. The full committee easily defeated five Democratic amendments to the power plant bill.

Demonstrated Technologies

Under H.R. 3826, EPA regulations on the greenhouse gas emissions of new plants couldn't proceed until technologies--such as carbon capture and sequestration--had been demonstrated at six different sites for at least one year. Additional regulations on existing power plants wouldn't be able to proceed until Congress specifically allowed them.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has introduced companion legislation (S. 1905) in the Senate, but co-sponsor Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) previously told Bloomberg BNA the bill would face an “uphill battle” in that chamber .

The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Whitfield, approved the legislation on a largely party-line vote Jan. 14. The Kentucky congressman had previously told Bloomberg BNA he intended to advance it to the House floor as soon as possible.

Warning to Refiners

During debate on the power plant bill, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) warned members with fossil fuel interests such as refineries in their districts that the EPA would move to regulate emissions from those operations next.

If you are “any fossil fuel guy, you better be careful in allowing this administration to shut down the coal sector in this country because you will be next,” Shimkus said.

The Illinois Republican, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, said he felt “sorry” for any member who underestimated the risks to the fossil fuel industry.

“I would talk to anyone in the fossil sector, and they're afraid of it going where the coal sector is headed unless we stop [the EPA] here,” Shimkus said.

Tenant Star Program

The energy efficiency bill (H.R. 2126) would direct the EPA to establish a Tenant Star program resembling the existing Energy Star appliance labeling program.

McKinley said the measure enjoys bipartisan support from the committee, led by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and added that the EPA, the Energy Department and the General Services Administration all provided input on the legislation.

Broader energy efficiency legislation (S. 1362), introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), is stalled in the Senate, but both senators are hoping to bring it back for consideration this year.

The committee approved an amendment from Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) by voice vote that also would boost support for water efficiency projects in commercial buildings leased to tenants.

In a Jan. 27 letter to committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), 36 organizations indicated support for H.R. 2126.

Signatories of the letter included the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical Co. and Environment America.

Virginia Legislators' Opposition

Separately, 85 members of the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Jan. 28, opposing the EPA's new source performance standards for future power plants.

“By increasing emission standards to unrealistic levels, the EPA would jeopardize this investment and the reliability of the nation's power grid,” the legislators wrote in their letter. “We urge you to reject policies that would inflict further harm to coal-based electricity generation that provides our residents and businesses the affordable, reliable power they need to prosper.”

Some southern portions of the state rely on coal taxes to fund public schools, roads and other vital public infrastructure, according to the letter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

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


The letter from 36 organizations in support of the energy efficiency legislation is available at http://1.usa.gov/1evyBtL.

The letter from 85 Virginia legislators to Obama is available at http://bit.ly/1neNecv.