EPA Carbon Standards Among Rules Targeted in Debt Ceiling Bill, Analysis Says

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By Anthony Adragna and Ari Natter  

Sept. 26 --Clean Air Act new source performance standards for new power plants recently announced by the Obama administration are among the rules House Republicans are targeting in debt ceiling legislation, according to an analysis of the bill released Sept. 26 by the House Joint Economic Committee.

The standards are among several Environmental Protection Agency rules the debt ceiling bill will seek to block, according to the analysis written by Republican staff. The text of the debt ceiling legislation may be released as early as Sept. 27.

The debt ceiling bill, named the Spending Control and Economic Growth Act, also will include provisions that would prohibit the EPA from issuing final energy-related rules that are estimated to cost more than $1 billion, if the secretary of energy determines they would cause significant adverse effects on the economy, the analysis said.

Keystone, Expanded Drilling

That provision, which mirrors the House-passed Energy Consumers Relief Act (H.R. 1582), is among energy and environmental policy riders that include approving the Keystone pipeline and expanding offshore oil and gas drilling. The provisions are likely to be included in the bill, according to the analysis.

“Many federal policies hinder economic growth. Replacing these anti-growth policies with pro-growth policies--approving the Keystone XL pipeline and simplifying the federal tax code, for example--will strengthen the U.S. economy and will generate significantly higher federal revenues,” the 12-page document said.

According to the analysis, the debt ceiling bill will also include a provision that would stop the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) from conducting a “sweeping rewrite” of the 2008 stream buffer zone rule.

Stream Buffer Zone Rule Included

That regulation, issued in December 2008 shortly before President George W. Bush left office, allowed more flexibility in the disposal of mining wastes near streams. The OSM is expected to issue a revised rule in 2014.

Environmental groups have alleged the Bush-era rule violates numerous federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the Clean Water Act and the Administrative Procedure Act

Republican Reps. Bill Johnson (Ohio) and Doug Lamborn (Colo.) introduced legislation in late July that would require the implementation of the 2008 rule within two years and prohibit rewriting the regulation for seven years .

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) in April introduced legislation that would block the Obama administration from updating the 2008 rule (82 DEN A-6; 4/29/13).

In addition, the analysis said the debt ceiling bill “approves the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

“The legislation declares that a presidential permit shall not be required for the pipeline,” the analysis said. “It also ensures that the final environmental impact statement and other permits necessary to begin construction are approved in a timely fashion.”

Drilling Off Virginia, California Coasts

The bill is expected to include measures that would expand oil and gas drilling on federal lands and offshore, including requirements that the Obama administration hold lease sales off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina and California.

A Republican aide previously told Bloomberg BNA the debt ceiling bill would include all or parts of such previously House-passed bills as the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act (H.R. 2231) and the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act (H.R. 4480) .

Among the provisions expected in the bill is one that would block EPA from regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste and give states the lead role in implementing minimum federal standards for the residue from coal-fired power plants.

Environmental Groups' Opposition

Environmental groups immediately criticized the provision, while industry and business groups remained largely noncommittal.

The House in late July passed Rep. David McKinley's (R-W.Va.) legislation on the management of coal ash, but the bill faces likely opposition from Democrats in the Senate .

Environmental advocates told Bloomberg BNA the provision would endanger the nation's fiscal health while compromising health and the environment.

“Energy and environmental policy riders like coal ash are simply not relevant to the debt ceiling,” Dalal Aboulhosn, coal ash expert for the Sierra Club, told Bloomberg BNA. “House Republicans should not take an important issue like the debt ceiling and hold it random for a laundry list of demands, many of which are a direct assault on communities protections for clean air and water.”

Coal Ash 'Chess Game.’

Thom Kay, legislative associate for Appalachian Voices, said the management of coal ash was too significant to be included as a “pawn in a political chess game.”

“The McKinley bill has no place in the debt ceiling fight,” Kay said. “The burden that toxic coal ash poses to communities is not something to be taken lightly and should not be traded away in the game of chicken currently being played on Capitol Hill.”

Industry groups meanwhile largely declined to say whether they believed the provision should be included in debt ceiling legislation, but expressed continued support for McKinley's bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it wouldn't comment on what provisions should be included in the bill, but expressed support for McKinley's bill.

“We are not going to weigh in on what items should be attached to the legislation to raise the debt ceiling,” a spokesman told Bloomberg BNA in a statement. “That is for Congress to decide. We are urging the House, Senate, and Administration to work together to act promptly to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government and to raise the debt ceiling, and then to return to work on the many other vital issues they are facing.”

A lobbyist working on the debt ceiling bill told Bloomberg BNA there was much less concern with the potential inclusion of language on coal ash in the debt ceiling than there was over the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.

Review of EPA Rules

Another measure, based on legislation from Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would prohibit energy-related rules from the EPA estimated to cost more than $1 billion from being finalized if the Energy Department determines they would “cause significant adverse effects” to the economy.

The energy secretary would conduct those reviews in consultation with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Energy Information Administration to determine if the regulations would increase energy prices, affect electric grid reliability or affect energy supplies.

Various industry groups, including the Portland Cement Association, National Mining Association, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Forest & Paper Association and the Fertilizer Institute, had previously supported Cassidy's bill.

Senate Democrats and the Obama administration and have said they will not negotiate with House Republicans on including policy riders in the debt ceiling bill, a stance that White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated Sept. 26.

“What he will not do is engage in an attempt by Republicans to extort from him what they could not get through the legislative process, what they could not get at the ballot box, what they could not get at the Supreme Court of the United States, and offer as an alternative to getting what they want through extortion, tanking the economy and crushing the middle class,” Carney told reporters during a news briefing.


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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Sullivan at jsullivan@bna.com

The Republican staff analysis of the legislation is available at http://1.usa.gov/1bePKMJ.

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