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May 13 — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) unveiled legislation May 13 that would immediately scuttle the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon pollution regulations for the nation's fleet of power plants and set strict standards for the agency to meet if it pursues new rules.
The Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act (no number assigned) has 26 co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
It currently boasts one Democratic co-sponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), though Manchin and other senators told reporters they were confident other Democrats would eventually support the legislation.
An aide to Capito told reporters the legislation was a “starting point” for the chamber and said the West Virginia Republican was willing to consider changes to attract additional Democratic support for the bill.
Capito's bill marks the first major effort in the Republican-controlled Senate to go after the rules at the heart of President Barack Obama's agenda to address climate change. The EPA proposed carbon dioxide emissions standards for the nation's fleet of new and existing power plants separately in 2014.
“This is going to go down as probably the most significant thing we will do in the Environment and Public Works Committee this year,” Inhofe said at a press conference. “We’re going to make this a reality.”
Capito's bill introduction comes as the House prepares to consider the Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042), which would allow states the ability to opt-out of the existing plant regulations and delay compliance until the end of all litigation on the rule.
The Senate version goes significantly farther by immediately killing the rulemakings in-progress and addressing carbon pollution regulation of new power plants.
Aides said the Senate supports Rep. Ed Whitfield's (R-Ky.) House bill and worked closely with the other chamber on crafting the legislation but wanted to go further in setting stricter requirements for the EPA to meet in regulating power plants.
Under the Senate bill, states could opt-out of any future regulations for existing power plants until all legal challenges are exhausted or if the governor certifies implementing the rule would have a negative impact on the state’s economy, grid reliability or low-income residents. Those provisions are similar to the Whitfield bill.
In order to regulate emissions from existing power plants, the EPA also would have to issue 50 state-specific model plans for how individual jurisdictions could meet their targets, provide Congress with a report outlining quantities of expected greenhouse gas reductions compared to global emissions and conduct modeling outlining the expected impact of the rule on climate change indicators.
Capito’s bill also would bar new regulations for future power plants unless the emissions standards had been met by six units at different electric generating stations for at least a year.
Any future rules also would have to set separate standards for coal and natural gas. Those provisions resemble ones from legislation championed by Whitfield and Manchin in 2014.
The legislation also would codify aspects of legal challenges to the proposed EPA regulations. It would, for example, add a new explicit prohibition to the Clean Air Act barring the EPA from regulating emissions under Section 111(d) if they had already been regulated under Section 112.
Another provision in the legislation would clarify that the federal government couldn't withhold highway funding if a state opts not to comply with any carbon pollution regulation. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said there are no plans to do that.
Capito's bill would immediately repeal proposed regulations for new and existing power plants and treat them “as though the rules had never been issued.”
Among the rules specifically killed would be the agency's proposed limits (RIN 2060–AQ91) for new power plants (79 Fed. Reg. 1430), which would effectively limit emissions for new gas-fired units to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour and set a limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour for new coal-fired power plants.
That proposed regulation effectively would require the use of carbon capture systems to meet those standards.
Also immediately quashed in the bill is the proposed (RIN 2060-AR33) Clean Power Plan (79 Fed. Reg. 34,960). Issued under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the plan would establish unique carbon dioxide emissions rates for the power sector in each state.
States would be required to meet interim targets between 2020 and 2029, with a final emissions rate to be achieved in 2030, but would have flexibility to determine how best to achieve that target.
There would be no mandatory requirement under the bill for the EPA to develop new carbon emissions rules, an aide to Capito said.
In a statement issued coinciding with the bill's release, the EPA pushed back against concerns from the senators that the Clean Power Plan would harm economic growth, cost jobs and harm grid reliability.
“The plan will be affordable, will drive innovation and American jobs, and will demonstrate our leadership in the international community,” Liz Purchia, an EPA spokeswoman, said. “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. EPA’s plan will not change that.”
The statement didn't specifically address the Capito bill.
Environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, slammed the bill and said it would eviscerate the Clean Air Act.
“It’s no surprise that the fossil fuel industry’s foot soldiers in the Republican Senate are pushing this extreme attack, but any legislator who puts the health and safety of American families before big polluter interests will stay miles away from this bill,” John Coequyt, director of federal climate programs with the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
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