EPA's Power Plant Rules Top Target If Republicans Take Senate

Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

Coal moves down a conveyer belt to unit number one at the Intermountain Power Plant outside Delta, Utah. Close

Coal moves down a conveyer belt to unit number one at the Intermountain Power Plant outside Delta, Utah.

Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

Coal moves down a conveyer belt to unit number one at the Intermountain Power Plant outside Delta, Utah.

Bloomberg BNA — A House-passed bill to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants “is a top priority” for Republicans if they gain control of the Senate in the fall elections, a House Republican said April 10.

“We think our chances are good for taking over the Senate,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, told Bloomberg BNA in an on-camera interview.

The Electricity Security and Affordability Act (H.R. 3826), introduced by Whitfield, was passed by the House on March 6. The bill would bar the EPA from setting emissions limits for new power plants until carbon capture and storage technologies have been successfully demonstrated at six different sites for at least a year.

For existing power plants, the EPA would be blocked from regulating greenhouse gas emissions unless Congress approves legislation authorizing it to do so.

Whitfield said he is optimistic Republicans can gain a majority in the Senate, in part because voters are weary of the Obama administration's “extreme” energy policies.

The administration argues that it is pursuing EPA regulation of power plants—the largest emitting industry sector—largely because Congress has for years failed to take up U.S. climate change legislation.

The White House has opposed the Whitfield measure, issuing a statement warning that President Barack Obama would veto the bill if it is enacted.

The White House statement of administration policy said the legislation would “arbitrarily restrict” the technologies that could be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and prohibit standards that would “end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants.”

U.S. Needs Power Flexibility

Whitfield said the EPA rules, if implemented, would make the U.S. “one of the few countries in the world where you don't have the flexibility” to build new coal-fired power plants, an option for future U.S. power that he said should be preserved in case natural gas prices escalate.

European nations thus far have maintained that flexibility, Whitfield said, giving them the option to build new coal-fired power plants should natural gas prices spike.

“When natural gas prices coming from Russia [to Europe] were so expensive, what did they do in Europe? They built new coal plants,” the chairman said.

Coal consumption is projected to decline in Europe in coming decades, however, in part due to action in the European Union to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to control sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other air pollutants, according to the Energy Information Administration's most recent International Energy Outlook.

Total coal consumption is projected to decline over the coming decades for European members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group that now includes the Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia as well as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, according to the EIA 2013 outlook. Coal consumption in Europe is projected to fall from 12.2 quadrillion Btu in 2010 to 10.7 quadrillion Btu in 2040, EIA said.

Obama Takes Action

With no prospect of near-term congressional action on climate change, Obama in 2013 directed the EPA to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing and future power plants, part of a broad range of climate policies he is pursuing using existing executive branch authority.

The EPA's proposal for existing plants was sent March 31 to the Office of Management and Budget for its review; Obama has called on the EPA to propose the limits in June and finalize them by June 30, 2015.

Whitfield argues that his legislation would not strip the EPA of its authority to regulate; rather, it would require the agency to demonstrate that technologies to reduce emissions from new power plants, such as carbon capture and storage, have been successfully demonstrated.

For existing plants, however, the bill would require the EPA to submit its regulatory proposal, along with potential cost estimates, to Congress, which would then have to approve legislation to authorize that power plant rule.

Environmental groups and other advocates of climate action argue that Congress has repeatedly failed to demonstrate any significant commitment to addressing greenhouse gas emissions and thus would be unlikely to authorize the EPA rules anytime soon.

Whitfield countered that his legislation “restores some common sense” to the EPA's approach.

“We give the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but we set parameters so a new coal-fired power plant could be built using the best avail technology,” he said.

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