Whitfield seeks Dem backing for bill thwarting EPA’s power plant toxics rule

The utility rules are under attack from Republicans, some Democrats, and coal-burning utilities including American Electric Power, which is seeking to delay the standards. 

Whitfield is crafting a measure to delay and alter the “Utility MACT,” which refers to the Clean Air Act provision requiring “maximum achievable control technology” standards for many pollutants.

Whitfield told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday that he hopes to win backing from committee Democrats including Mike Ross (D-Ark.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah).

Those two conservative Democrats are already co-sponsors of a bill moving through the committee that would require new interagency analyses of the economic effects of EPA rules, and a separate bill to delay EPA’s rules for industrial boilers.

“It will be nice to have some Democrats on there, and we will see,” Whitfield said.

Over two dozen House Democrats – including several Energy and Commerce Committee members such as Gene Green (D-Texas) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) – have expressed concerns about the power plant rule, although it remains unclear what members may back legislation to delay and soften it.

But EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe recently noted that power companies will have several years to comply – up to four – and criticized what he called “extreme assumptions” in some industry analyses.

By limiting toxic emissions, the power plant rules will ultimately prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year, among other health benefits, according to EPA.

The utility rule is among a number of EPA policies – such as greenhouse gas regulations – that Republicans and some Democrats are trying to delay or scuttle through stand-alone bills, riders on spending legislation or other vehicles.

But a senior Senate Republican on Wednesday appeared to rule out addressing EPA policies as part of fiscal negotiations around legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Senate minority whip, said he has not heard about EPA-related policy riders in the discussions.

“We’re talking about some things that raise revenue, and other things that will reduce spending over time. And that’s all,” he told reporters.

Whitfield said EPA-related provisions are unlikely on debt ceiling legislation.

“I would love to see some of this on the debt ceiling, but I really doubt it will be on there,” he said. “I think it is going to be more focused on spending reductions and some sort of enforcement mechanisms and things like that."

Bernie Becker contributed.