EPA assailed on power plant regulations

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A slew of Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked an Environmental Protection Agency official essentially the same question Thursday: What planet are you on?

GOP lawmakers blasted the EPA’s proposed climate rules for new power plants at a hearing, arguing that the rule forces coal plants to use carbon-trapping technologies that aren’t ready for prime time.

“You don’t live in the real world,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) told Janet McCabe, the EPA’s top air pollution regulator, who testified before an Energy and Commerce Committee panel.

“You are saying the technology is available. We are saying it is not,” said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.).

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in opening remarks that “the EPA is holding the coal industry to impossible standards.”

The hearing became the latest chance for critics of the EPA’s proposed regulations to batter the proposal that would require future coal-fired power plants to trap a significant amount of carbon pollution.

Republicans and some coal-country Democrats say the climate change rules would cost jobs. The EPA floated the rules in draft form in September and plans to complete them next year.

McCabe, echoing EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, said the rules are not pie-in-the-sky and would provide a clear path forward for coal as a power source.

“It is available. It is feasible,” said McCabe of the carbon capture and storage technology.

She noted it has been used in other industrial applications for many years and is now going forward with a few commercial-scale coal-fired power plants.

“We are not saying you can’t build a new coal plant in America,” McCabe said, and stated the rule provide a "clear regulatory path" for new coal plants.

“The [proposed] standards reflect the demonstrated performance of efficient, lower carbon technologies that are currently being constructed today,” she said in prepared testimony.

EPA officials point to four power plant projects that are underway, including utility giant Southern Company’s Kemper County facility that’s under construction in Mississippi.

But that project has faced cost overruns, and Scalise’s “real world” comment to McCabe was made as he argued that the Kemper facility is not a nationally replicable model.

In addition, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the subcommittee on Energy and Power, which hosted the hearing, noted that all four have received some level of government funding.

But the EPA and its defenders say that the 40-year-old Clean Air Act shows that industrial facilities have been able to meet standards that industry critics initially called infeasible.

“The Clean Air Act drives innovations in pollution controls ... and that becomes the industry standard,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, citing examples, such as scrubbers on power plants that cut sulfur dioxide emissions and technology to cut nitrogen oxides.

“Almost every time the EPA proposes a significant new requirement, industry tells us it can’t be done,” Waxman said, saying that warnings of economic harm and risks to power supply have never been realized.

And Democrats said Republicans who are bashing EPA efforts to set carbon standards are not acknowledging the need to address climate change, he said.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) cited the “costs we are already paying for because of these unchecked emissions.”