By Ben Geman - 10/28/13 06:22 PM EDT
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) are floating legislation to greatly scale back Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon emissions rules for new coal-fired power plants.
It would also block planned EPA carbon emissions rules for existing power plants unless Congress votes to allow them to proceed.
The draft plan arrives on the eve of a coal industry-sponsored rally on Capitol Hill, where EPA critics will allege the regulations will hurt coal-mining regions and areas that rely on coal for electricity.
The draft bill unveiled Monday, unlike many past Capitol Hill proposals to undercut EPA rules, would not outright overturn the agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
But it would greatly soften the upcoming standards for new power plants, and put Congress in charge of the effective date of separate planned EPA rules for existing power plants.
“We are simply saying look, we think [EPA’s] proposed regulation goes to the extreme, and we have a middle ground here that, for those utilities that may deem it in their best interest to build a coal-fired plant, that there would be a way forward legally to do so,” Whitfield told reporters Monday in touting the provision to soften rules for new plants.
Whitfield is a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and has scheduled a hearing on the bill in mid-November. Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) supports the bill and vowed to move it through the panel and onto the House floor.
The bill would scrap proposed EPA rules for new plants that force power companies to trap and store a substantial amount of the plant's carbon emissions. EPA floated those rules in draft form September and plans to finalize them next year.
Whitfield, calling the rules a de facto ban on new plants, told reporters in a briefing that carbon capture and storage technology “is not a proven commodity right now” and “simply not available.”
“There is not any way that any new plant could meet any of their new regulations,” said Whitfield, who like Manchin hails from a major coal producing state. Instead, according to a summary, the bill sets an emissions standard that’s based on what at least six coal-fired plants in different parts of the country have achieved over a one-year period.
Manchin told reporters it’s a “very reasonable and responsible and it should be a target that we all can meet,” and called the bill a “responsible” approach.
It also creates a separate standard for plants powered by a lower-energy form of coal called lignite.
In addition, the plan would put big new hurdles before separate planned EPA rules for existing coal plants by preventing them from coming into force until Congress passes a bill setting the effective date.
EPA intends to float rules for existing plants in draft form next June. While the Whitfield-Manchin measure can likely clear the House, it faces a much less certain political path in the Senate.
Manchin said he hopes to work with a number of centrist Democrats, such Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), the Senate duos from Montana and Virginia, and others. Whitfield predicted there would be bipartisan support in the House.
But the draft plan drew quick attacks Monday from a senior Democrat and environmentalists. “The bill is scientific lunacy. It will endanger the future of our children and grandchildren,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Four weeks ago, Republicans in Congress recklessly shut down government. Now they are recklessly trying to shut down efforts to protect the planet,” Waxman said.
A major coal industry group praised the bill.
“The Manchin-Whitfield discussion draft for greenhouse gas regulations would ensure that regulatory standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are based on technology that is proven and commercially available for use by coal-based power plants,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association.