House Lawmakers Squabble With EPA Over Power Plant Bill, Impacts of Carbon Rules

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By Anthony Adragna

April 14 — House Republicans acknowledge that draft legislation allowing states to opt out of the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon pollution rules for power plants was a forceful response but said such an approach is necessary given the agency's “extreme, radical” approach to redefining the electricity markets in every state.

The EPA's top air official, Janet McCabe, said the draft Ratepayer Protection Act—nominally the focus of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing—would allow “unlimited delay” in implementing the measures to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and sought to reassure restive lawmakers the EPA would address electricity cost and reliability concerns in its final rule.

“EPA believes the draft is premature, because EPA has not yet finalized the Clean Power Plan, unnecessary, because EPA has the tools and indeed the obligation to address cost and reliability issues in our final rule and ultimately harmful because the bill, if enacted, would delay or prevent climate and air quality benefits,” McCabe said. “We do expect to make some changes in these rules that will address these concerns. When the final rule comes out, you will see we’ve been very responsive.”

House Republicans weren't impressed.

McCabe Called ‘Delusional.'

Full committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) pronounced the Clean Power Plan the “Obamacare approach” to state electricity systems, Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) called McCabe “delusional” for asserting the rules would result in lower electricity bills for consumers once fully implemented and former committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said the approach was nothing more than “politically correct social policy” that would be struck down by courts.

“Anyone familiar with the Clean Air Act should not—in any way—be surprised that Congress would try to stop, slow down or, as Ms. McCabe said interfere with efforts to rush implementation of the rule,” Whitfield said. “We think you're overstepping your authority. We think you're now legislating. Experts in the Clean Air Act have described this proposed rule as extreme, radical and a power grab.”

Whitfield's Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power was examining a discussion draft of the Kentucky Republican's Ratepayer Protection Act, which has yet to be formally introduced. That legislation would offer states two possible paths to indefinitely delay complying with the EPA's Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), which the agency proposed under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

States Could Opt Out of Rule 

One provision would allow states to opt out of the rule if it would increase utility rates or jeopardize reliability, and another would allow states to postpone submitting their plans for complying with the emissions reduction goals until after all legal challenges are exhausted.

In her prepared testimony, McCabe said Whitfield's draft bill marked “unprecedented interference” in the EPA's attempts to use its authority under the Clean Air Act and said the final rule would be on firm legal footing.

‘Groundhog Day' From Republicans 

House Democrats took exception to Republican characterizations of the proposed carbon pollution standards for existing power plants and said Whitfield's draft was essentially an amendment to the Clean Air Act that would allow certain states to avoid complying with environmental laws.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the lone Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation, said the repeated concerns from Republicans that EPA air regulations would provide few health benefits while harming the economy and costing jobs reminded him of “Groundhog Day.”

“These doom and gloom scenarios seem not to play out in reality,” Yarmuth said. He added that Kentucky would have a “very workable” plan “with minimal impact on our consumers” once the carbon pollution regulations are finalized.

Would Overturn Cooperative Federalism 

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill would “overturn the principle of cooperative federalism” and allow “scofflaw states [to] get a free ride to pollute without any consequences.”

“This bill would provide an incentive for polluters to run the clock on litigation so all deadlines in the rule would be extended as long as possible,” Pallone said. “This is an incredibly reckless and dangerous precedent with regard to any law.”

McCabe, again, said the agency intends to incorporate changes into its final Clean Power Plan, due out this summer, in response to feedback gathered from extensive outreach and public comments.

The Clean Power 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 as to how best to meet their individual targets.

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