As President Barack Obama is set to highlight measures he can take without Congress, Republican lawmakers are already trying to unravel rules aimed at combating climate change before they are finalized.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation today that would prohibit the standard for new coal-fired power plants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed in September, and head off its plans for existing plants even before they are announced. The Republican-led committee voted 29-19 in favor of the measure.
Republicans “are declaring defeat before the starting bell,” California Representative Henry Waxman, the committee’s top Democrat, said before the vote, referring to the EPA’s rules.
In his State of the Union address tonight, Obama will say he’s prepared to act without Congress to advance parts of his agenda. The pledge comes months after he outlined a plan of executive actions to boost renewable energy, curb carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants and establish energy efficiency standards in order to combat climate change.
When Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, lawmakers tried and failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation to address global warming. All but one Republicans opposed that measure. Without that legislative direction, Republicans now say the EPA has no right to act without Congress and criticize the specifics of the agency’s plan.
“The technology being driven by this administration is not feasible at this time,” Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus said. “The goal of my friends on the left is to shut down fossil-fuel energy.”
Coal is the mainstay of U.S. electricity production, accounting for as much as half the generation in recent years. With the boom in natural gas from drilling advances such as hydraulic fracturing, coal accounted for 37 percent of electricity generation in 2012. Coal emits the most carbon dioxide of fossil fuels used to generate power.
The legislation would prevent the EPA from requiring carbon capture on new coal plants, as it proposed, until six plants have used it for a year. The legislation also would delay action on rules the EPA is now writing for existing power plants until Congress passes legislation to put it into affect.
The EPA argues that it’s not aiming to kill coal and that by establishing rules for its continued use, it could actually save the industry.
The overall outlook for the bill is dim.
“It’s not going to pass the Senate and it will not be signed by the president. In short, we are wasting the time of the American people,” said Representative John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat.