White House Issues Veto Threat for House Power Plant Bill; Capito Pushes Own Effort

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By Anthony Adragna and Andrew Childers

June 23 — President Barack Obama's advisers would recommend that he veto legislation allowing states to defer compliance with the Clean Power Plan until all legal challenges are exhausted or opt out altogether if implementing the rule would increase electricity rates or jeopardize reliability in their states, according to a June 23 statement of administration policy.

The Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042), sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and slated for House floor consideration June 24, would undermine the carbon pollution rules for the nation's fleet of power plants that are at the center of Obama's plan to address climate change.

“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2042, which would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and threaten to slow or stop U.S. progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants,” the administration said in the statement. “The bill also is unprecedented. The Administration is not aware of any instance when Congress has enacted legislation to stay implementation of a CAA standard during judicial review.”

Additionally, the administration said the bill was premature and unnecessary, because the Environmental Protection Agency had yet to finalize its regulation and because the agency indicated it would address concerns raised in the public comment period in the final rule.

“More than forty years of clean air regulation has shown that a strong economy and strong environmental and public health protection go hand-in-hand,” the statement said.

The House Rules Committee met late June 23 to determine which amendments to Whitfield's bill would be debated on the House floor. A Senate subcommittee also met June 23 to spotlight the proposed EPA rule's economic impact on poor and minority communities as a result of rising electricity prices as it prepares its own legislation to block the carbon dioxide standards.

Proposed under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33) 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 they would determine how best to achieve that target.

Groups including Americans for Tax Reform, American Farm Bureau Federation, Consumer Energy Alliance, CropLife America and National Mining Association are among the Whitfield bill's supporters. Opponents include the League of Conservation Voters, Union of Concerned Scientists and Sierra Club.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced Whitfield's bill to the full chamber in late April on a 28–22 vote.

Senate Cites Poor, Minority Impacts 

During the separate Senate hearing, critics of the Clean Power Plan argued the rule will drive up electricity prices for the poor and minorities as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) builds a case for her Affordable Reliable Electricity Now Act (S.1324), which also would block the EPA's proposed rule.

“All electricity has to come from somewhere,” Capito said. “In many states, the odds are it’s being imported from a state that relies on coal but that isn’t talked about.”

Eugene Trisko, an attorney and energy economist representing the United Mine Workers of America who has tracked household energy costs since 2000, said his studies have shown that significant portions of low income households have reported doing without food at least one day or skipping medical care or medical prescriptions due to rising electricity prices. The EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan could exacerbate that by driving up electricity prices further, he told the Environment and Public Work Committee’s Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety during a June 23 hearing on the rule.

“Lower income families are more vulnerable to energy costs than higher income families because energy represents a larger portion of their household budgets,” Trisko said.

The proposed rule also was criticized by minority business owners who said businesses and customer base would be unduly burdened by electricity rate increases as a result of the Clean Power Plan. Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, said a recent study by his group found that the Clean Power Plan would increase poverty for blacks by 23 percent, eliminating 7 million jobs, and by 26 percent for Hispanics, costing them 12 million jobs. Alford called the proposed rule “a slap in the face to poor and minority communities.”

Capito unveiled her bill May 13 with the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The ARENA Act would immediately stop all in-progress regulations on carbon emissions from power plants and set strict requirements for the EPA to meet before beginning new regulations.

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. 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.

Capito and Inhofe hope to move the bill in the Senate before the EPA finalizes its Clean Power Plan in August.

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

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