Standing up against EPA overreach benefits all Americans

Standing up against EPA overreach benefits all Americans
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As the Environmental Protection Agency plunges headlong into remaking the very fabric of American electricity generation, it is reassuring to know voices of reason continue to challenge the agency’s reckless plans.

Later this summer, the EPA is expected to issue its final rule for regulating carbon emissions from power plants. The EPA’s proposal for those regulations is a classic case of government overreach, extending far beyond the fence lines of the power plants the EPA has authority to oversee, and usurping power from the people and agencies that guide our nation’s energy policy.

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The EPA’s carbon regulations would be just another expensive Washington boondoggle if not for one thing: This time, the physical safety of Americans is at stake because the regulations threaten to destabilize our electricity grid and harm the reliability of power we take for granted. By choosing winners and losers among energy resources, the EPA seeks to prematurely retire coal-fueled power plants, which have been the backbone of our power grid for generations. That’s right: Federal environmental regulators are telling states to change how electricity is generated regardless of whether new energy production and storage technologies are ready for prime time.

One bright spot in this contentious debate is the growing chorus of voices standing up to the EPA’s encroachment, including voices of North Dakotans who are in a position to bring a dose of prairie practicality to the debate. For instance, my former North Dakota Public Service Commission colleague Tony Clark — now serving on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — has emerged as a stalwart defender of states’ rights to determine energy policy and the need to preserve reliability on our national electricity grid.

“What EPA is asking states to do, depending on how states choose to write their [state implementation plans], is to give EPA authority over things that it, on its own in the Clean Air Act, does not have authority to claim jurisdiction over,” Clark told a meeting of state utility regulators. “To the degree that you put that in a plan, and it gets a seal of approval from the EPA, that then becomes a federally enforceable plan. So what happens then is the administrator of EPA is really in charge of state energy policy. … It simply gives Washington so much authority over the decisions that have traditionally been made by state public utility commissions, legislators and governors.”

As a FERC commissioner, Clark is at ground zero for dealing with the fallout of the EPA’s rash proposals. “It’s not our rule,” he recently told another regional energy conference. “And yet just about every potential negative impact that folks have brought up are things that are squarely within FERC’s wheelhouse. Whether it’s related to the need for infrastructure because of the push towards natural gas; whether it’s potential market issues that come up at the seams in markets … whether it’s reliability issues, which in certain regions of the country we’re very concerned about — all of those are squarely within FERC’s wheelhouse.”

It’s reassuring to have people like Clark working to inject some sanity and practicality into the debate. Environmental protection is a goal Americans of all political persuasions share. Hikers, conservationists, outdoors people, farmers, ranchers and city folk alike are all in favor of preserving and improving our environment. But when Washington bureaucrats with a stroke of a pen threaten to upset systems that are far afield from their authority and expertise, it’s time to bring the discussion back to the real world.

This is why the Energy and Commerce Committee favorably reported, and I expect the full House of Representatives to pass, the Ratepayer Protection Act of 2015. The legislation would halt the rule for judicial review and significant adverse effect on ratepayers or reliability as determined by a state’s governor.

State officials should refuse to go along with the EPA’s proposals to seize new authority through the back door. And more people like Tony Clark need to speak up against dangerous and unprecedented EPA overreach. All Americans will benefit when voices of reason prevail.

Cramer has represented North Dakota as its at-large congressman since 2013. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.