US Chamber urges support for new bill to thwart EPA climate rules

The powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to build political momentum behind legislation that would greatly scale back Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon emissions rules for new power plants.

The bill they're backing would also halt planned rules for existing power plants unless Congress votes to let them take effect.

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The Chamber, in a new letter to Congress, says a draft bill that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) are circulating would provide “critical protections” against “economically damaging” regulations.

“These are common sense solutions that would serve to uphold the spirit and intent of the Clean Air Act and prevent disruption to the affordable and reliable electricity that provides the backbone of the American economy,” Bruce Josten, a top lobbyist for the business group, writes in the letter that urges lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill when it's formally introduced.

The Chamber and other EPA critics have previously sought, through the courts and legislation, to outright nullify the agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions.

But those efforts haven’t advanced, and opponents of climate regulation have turned to trying to thwart or greatly soften the looming power plant rules without completely blocking the EPA’s underlying authority.

The draft Manchin-Whitfield bill would scuttle EPA plans to require newly constructed coal-fired power plants to trap and store a substantial amount of their carbon emissions, which EPA critics say requires technology that’s far from ready for widespread commercial adoption.

“EPA’s designation of [carbon capture and storage] as the best system for compliance under this rule amounts to little more than a regulatory euphemism for what is plainly a ban on the construction of new coal-fired power plants,” the Chamber writes.

Instead, the Whitfield-Manchin bill would require the EPA to set an emissions standard for new plants that’s based on what a handful of existing plants around the country have already achieved.

Separately, the bill would effectively block planned carbon emissions rules for existing power plants. Under the bill, the rules that EPA plans to finalize in 2015 would not come into force unless Congress passes a bill setting the effective date.

A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel that Whitfield leads will review the draft bill at a hearing Thursday