Opposition to Power Plant Emissions Rules Continues to Gather Steam on Capitol Hill

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By Anthony Adragna  

May 29 --Even though the regulation hasn't been announced yet, Republicans and coal-state Democrats already expect carbon pollution guidelines on existing power plants from the Environmental Protection Agency to be intolerable and have begun preparations to fight them.

Republicans fear the proposed regulation will harm electric reliability, cost jobs and provide few discernible environmental benefits without corresponding actions from China and India. Moderate Democrats have discussed the forthcoming guidelines, share similar concerns and believe it will complicate their election campaigns this fall.

EPA's proposed rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants will be announced June 2.

Additionally, state legislators from three states traveled to Washington May 29 in an attempt to meet with the EPA about the standards but told Bloomberg BNA no one at the agency would hear their concerns.

The legislators from Kentucky, Nebraska and Georgia, along with 12 other states, had passed resolutions urging the EPA to provide substantial flexibility to states in implementing the guidelines.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other officials within President Barack Obama's administration have urged people to refrain from judging the regulation until it is announced. They said any ideas about the regulation's impact are purely speculative until details of the regulation are announced.

White House Pushes Back

Jay Carney, White House press secretary, pushed back May 29 against attacks that the regulation would cost jobs and damage the U.S. economy.

“We know that special interests and their allies in Congress will make doomsday claims about harm to jobs and harm to the economy,” Carney said. “Every time, they've been wrong. So, the president believes strongly that this is the right thing to do.”

But Republicans on Capitol Hill feel strongly the regulation will damage the U.S. economy while providing few tangible environmental improvements. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he wouldn't judge the science of climate change but expressed concern Obama administration policy would harm the economy.

“I am astute enough to understand that every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs,” Boehner said May 29. “That can't be the prescription for dealing with changes in our climate.”

Multiple House Republicans said the proposed regulation was unlikely to provide adequate flexibility and compliance time frames for them to accept it as palatable.

Higher Electricity Costs

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), running for the Senate against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), said the regulation would likely increase the cost of electricity for vulnerable families.

“Anything that's going to increase the cost of energy is going to make it harder for American families,” Cassidy told Bloomberg BNA. “So is there theoretically a way to do it [satisfactorily]? Theoretically, yes. In practicality, when you're increasing energy costs you're making families that are struggling, struggle more.”

Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) told Bloomberg BNA the regulation would hit the coal industry hardest and wouldn't create substantial benefits given that China and India continue to burn much more coal than the U.S.

“I think if the regulation were palatable, the [EPA] would have sat down and had some discussions with people in the industry,” McKinley said. “I don't think they're going to be palatable.”

Though he said he would reserve judgment until reading the regulation, McKinley said he fully expected to offer a resolution of disapproval, and multiple other representatives vowed to continue vigorous oversight of the rulemaking process.

Coal-state Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.) said he has discussed the regulation multiple times with the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget and a coalition of moderate Democrats. He told reporters he hopes the proposed rule would provide ample time for new technologies, like carbon capture and sequestration, to be developed.

Courts Will Decide Legality

In an on-camera interview with Bloomberg BNA, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said the regulation would be a “defiance of the will of the people” by instituting cap-and-trade schemes around the country, raising the cost of electricity and creating job losses in vulnerable communities. Johnson represents a heavily coal-dependent region.

Johnson acknowledged U.S. courts have largely sided with the Obama administration on the constitutionality of EPA rulemakings but said they haven't judged the merits. He predicted the courts would ultimately decide the legality of the carbon pollution standards for existing power plants.

“Americans need affordable, reliable energy--coal provides the backbone of that,” Johnson said. “This is not the right way to go about this. We all care about the air that we breathe and the drinking water that we drink.”

The Ohio Republican led 178 bipartisan members of the House in asking for a 120-day comment period on the regulation in a May 22 letter to McCarthy. The text of the letter closely resembles a similar one sent from 47 senators May 22.

“We must give the industry the time it needs to appropriately analyze the rule and determine its impact on the industry,” the letter said.

State Legislators Prepare Response

Georgia state Rep. Chuck Martin (R), Nebraska state Sen. Jim Smith (R) and Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith (R) said they attempted to meet with the EPA to deliver measures from 15 states asserting state primacy in environmental regulation but weren't permitted to meet with anyone.

Fifteen states--Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming--have passed similar resolutions or legislation asserting state primacy, according to the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, which sponsored the trip.

Martin said he was afraid the agency would continue its regulatory overreach with the regulation and described the EPA as an agency “running rogue.”

“Based on past performance, I'm very skeptical,” Martin said. “I hope they'll come to some reasonable sense and produce rules and regulations that will do what the law says.”

The state legislators said they had consulted with their federal congressional delegations and faulted the EPA staff for not adequately listening to their concerns.


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

The May 22 letter from 178 House members asking for a 120-day comment period for the proposed carbon pollution regulation is available at http://billjohnson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/final_ghg_120_day_comment_period_letter.pdf.

Bloomberg BNA's video interview with Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) is available at /eye-hill-epas-v17179890852/.

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