House votes to block EPA regs on coal-fired electricity plants

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The House voted Thursday to override a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule limiting carbon emissions from future coal-fired electricity plants.

Members passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act, H.R. 3826, in a mostly partisan 229-183 vote; 10 Democrats voted for passage.

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The bill is a response to a proposed EPA rule Republicans say would require new coal-fired plants to achieve an emission standard that is virtually impossible using today's widely available technology. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the bill's sponsor, says that means the rule will effectively ban new power plants.

"In January of next year, it is anticipated that they will finalize a rule from EPA that will make it impossible to build a new coal-powered plant in America," he said during Wednesday debate. "That is hard to believe that that can be the situation in our great country, particularly since 40 percent of our electricity comes from coal."

Whitfield added that the EPA has not responded to complaints about its proposed rule, which is why legislation is needed. He also stressed it would simply require emission standards to reflect available technology.

The legislation also requires Congress to set an effective date for coming EPA rules relating to existing power plants. EPA chief Gina McCarthy has said the agency is on track to release a proposed rule on carbon emissions limits for existing plants by June. 

Democrats attacked the bill as an attempt to undermine efforts to control carbon emissions from electricity plants, which are a major source of emissions. House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of belonging to the Flat Earth Society and said the bill would prevent the U.S. from taking steps to reverse climate change.

"If we pass this terrible bill, we will vote to let China leap ahead of us in the race to build the clean energy economy for the future, and we will be ignoring our moral obligation to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren," he said.

The White House agreed with that argument in its Wednesday announcement that it would veto the bill. Its Statement of Administration Policy on the bill said coal-fired plants account for about one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions, and Whitfield's bill makes it harder to curb those emissions.

"Because H.R. 3826 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector, if the president is presented with H.R. 3826, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill," the White House said.

Republicans countered that the EPA's effort to regulate power plants would increase electricity costs by as much as $1,200 per household. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that would put people further behind and hurt job creation.

"This regulation will cause the greatest amount of harm, lost jobs, diminished incomes, and higher electricity bills in areas where incomes are modest, as are the lifestyles of those who live there," he said. "It isn't the rich on Fifth Avenue or in Beverly Hills who will be impacted; it is the American working class."

While Republicans won the debate in the House, today's vote is likely to again send a bill to the Senate that will not consider it, especially in light of President Obama's veto threat.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the House disposed of eight amendments to the bill. Members rejected the three Democratic amendments presented and accepted five Republican amendments. Results follow:

— Lamar Smith (R-Texas), requiring the EPA to apply specific criteria for setting an emission standard based on existing, available technology. Passed 230-184.

— Lois Capps (D-Calif.), allowing the EPA to consider all pollution control technologies when setting new emission standards. Failed 184-228.

— Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), clarifying that the bill does not preclude standards based on foreign technology. Accepted in voice vote.

— David McKinley (R-W.Va.), requiring the EPA to consult with other agencies when submitting its report to Congress on its electricity regulations. Accepted in voice vote.

— McKinley, requiring the EPA to examine the economic impact of its rule, including effects on capital investments. Accepted in voice vote.

— Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), accepting the EPA's scientific finding that greenhouse gas pollution is contributing to climate change. Failed 190-221.

— Bob Latta (R-Ohio), clarifying that the definition of "demonstration project" under the bill refers to projects receiving federal funding or aid. Accepted in voice vote.

— Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), providing that the bill will only take effect when the EPA certifies that the emission program will reduce carbon pollution. Failed 178-231.