Delay EPA power plant rules, senators demand

Forty-five senators are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to delay new rules on limiting carbon emissions from power plants.

The senators are asking the EPA to extend a public comment period for the rules, which could also delay their issuance. 

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The agency is set to unveil the proposed rule, which seeks to limit the carbon output of existing coal-fired power plants, on June 2.

The senators are pressuring the EPA to set a 120-day comment period rather than the standard 60-day comment period. That would double the normal allotted for industry, consumers, businesses, and states to give their two cents on the rule. 

Fifteen Democrats signed the letter, including the four seen as most vulnerable in the midterm elections: Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Warner (Va), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Begich (Alaska).

In asking for the delay, the senators said utilities and consumers need more time to analyze the rule. 

“Affordable, reliable, and redundant sources of electricity are essential to the economic well-being of our states and the quality of life of our constituents," the letter to EPA chief Gina McCarthy said.

"While we all agree that clean air is vitally important, EPA has an obligation to understand the impacts that regulations have on all segments of society,” it said.

The rule for existing power plants is one of the two most contentious regulations the administration hopes to finalize before the end of the Obama presidency.

Opponents argue that the rules for both existing and new power plants will increase energy costs and effectively shutter existing coal plants.

"The upcoming proposal will be far more complex and critical for the industry to deal with than the proposal for new plants, and stakeholders will need time to analyze the rule and determine its impact on individual power plants, reliability and consumer cost, and on the electric system as a whole," the letter from the senators states.

Others signing the letter led by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) included Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Notably absent from the list of signatories was Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.), another vulnerable Democrat, who typically sides with pro-energy causes like the Keystone XL pipeline.

The administration has worked overtime to ensure the rule for existing plants is sound, embarking on a nationwide push to rally support for the regulation in the name of climate change.

While the rule remains a polarizing issue in Congress, at the local and state level support for it is gaining traction.

More than 600 elected local officials sent a letter to Obama earlier this week, pledging their commitment to implementing the rule once finalized and stating their willingness to help phase-in the carbon limits.