Panel Aims to Send Clean Air Carve-Out Bills to House Floor


By Stephen Lee

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will try Dec. 6 to send seven environmental bills to the House floor.

Four of the measures would deliver targeted exemptions from clean air rules to a group of narrow industries—coal refuse energy, brick making, wood heating, and car racing. Those bills are in line with the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce environmental regulations.

Given Republican majorities, the bills are almost certain to be approved, but their future is less clear after that.

Clean Air Carveouts

One bill, the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment (SENSE) Act (H.R. 1119), would continue a waiver for waste-to-power companies under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. The exemption is set to expire in April 2019.

According to the coal refuse industry, without the waiver, four of the nation’s 18 coal refuse plants—three in Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia—won’t be able to survive. Democrats say the bill rejects evidence-based scientific decisions made by government agencies and courts that went into the mercury rule.

Another bill (H.R. 1917) extends the date by which brick makers have to control hazardous air pollution from their kilns.

Most brick companies are small firms and would have to borrow millions of dollars to pay for the equipment needed to comply with the EPA rules, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the bill’s sponsor, has said. Democrats, however, argue that H.R. 1917 is merely an attempt to push off health protections until industry lawsuits are fully litigated.

The third air-related bill (H.R. 453) gives residential wood heater and furnace manufacturers three more years before their products have to meet tougher Clean Air Act emissions standards.

Under the current rule, companies have to stop making or selling any wood and pellet stoves, hydronic—transferring heat by cirulating fluid—heaters, or forced-air furnaces on May 2020. Federal regulators “must take into account the real-world needs and time constraints of industries,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), one of the bill’s sponsors, has said.

The panel will mark up a bill (H.R. 350) to exclude cars made or modified for racing from being regulated as motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. Congress didn’t intend for race cars to fall under the Clean Air Act, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the bill’s sponsor, says.

Pro-Hydropower Legislation

Also on the table during the same hearing will be a bill (H.R. 2872) to promote hydropower development at existing nonpowered dams. The bill would also require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Department of Interior to identify which nonpowered dams have the greatest potential for hydropower development.

Another bill (H.R. 2880) would promote closed-loop pumped storage hydropower and require FERC to put together a workshop exploring development of closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mine sites.

Hydropower is a clean, renewable energy source, but Democrats have argued that Republicans are trying to wrest control of the nation’s waterways away from local communities and hand them over to big power companies.

A final bill (H.R. 1733) to be marked up directs the Energy Department to review a report on the energy and environmental benefits of re-refining used lubricating oil.