Making Sense of the SENSE Act


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The House of Representatives will tackle another bill targeting the Environmental Protection Agency this week, as it is expected to vote on H.R. 3797: The Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment, or SENSE, Act.

Here’s what you need to know:

What Would It Do?

H.R. 3797 seeks to change the way coal refuse-to-energy plants are regulated under a pair of key EPA air regulations: the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The Cross-State Rule regulates power plant emissions that cross state lines by setting statewide emissions budgets. H.R. 3797 would provide coal refuse plants with additional sulfur dioxide allocations under those emissions budgets, effectively loosening the requirements for those plants to cut their emissions.

The SENSE Act also would provide coal refuse plants with an alternative means of compliance with emissions limits for hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide established in the EPA’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, commonly known as the MATS rule.

Supporters of H.R. 3797 have argued that coal refuse plants would be unable to comply with the MATS rule as written and that the Phase 2 of the Cross-State Rule provided coal refuse plants with insufficient emissions credits.

The Supporters:

The SENSE Act was introduced by Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.). Pennsylvania is home to 14 of the 19 coal refuse-to-energy plants in the U.S.

Rothfus said during a Feb. 3 legislative hearing that the coal refuse-to-energy industry has taken coal refuse, a previously worthless material, and used it to generate affordable energy. Hundreds of jobs are at risk as a result of EPA requirements on coal refuse plant emissions, he said.

Representatives of ARIPPA, an industry trade group, and the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation testified in support of the SENSE Act. They said the measure would help prevent overregulation of an industry that benefits the environment by finding a use for coal refuse piles.

The Opposition:

The SENSE Act was approved Feb. 25 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a party-line vote of 29-22.

Members of the committee who opposed The SENSE Act include ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) who said it is “absurd” to give coal refuse plants a “free pass” under EPA air standards. “Coal refuse plants are no different than other coal plants and should be held to the same emissions standards.”

The SENSE Act also is opposed by a coalition of 11 public health and environmental organizations, including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

What’s Next:

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider the SENSE Act today, beginning at 4 p.m. The bill is expected on the House Floor on Tuesday.