Week ahead: EPA climate rule goes under microscope

A House subpanel will dive into President Obama’s signature climate change rule next week, holding the first of what will likely be a series of hearings on the controversial carbon pollution standards.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday will examine the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal, which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. 

Expect Republicans to slam the sole witness, Janet McCabe, head of the agency’s Air and Radiation Office. GOP lawmakers argue the rules would kill energy jobs and shutter coal plants across the country. 

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee that is holding Thursday’s hearing, told The Hill to expect “a lot of pushback, a lot of hearings and a lot of lawsuits” related to the rule.

An EPA analysis released with the proposal states electric generation from coal production would drop to 30 percent from 37 percent.

But EPA chief Gina McCarthy says the agency has afforded states a great deal of flexibility to reach the emissions targets, allowing them to invest in their coal units if that is a priority.

The battle over the Keystone XL oil pipeline will also be heating up next week.

On Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote on legislation that would approve the controversial project. 

The pro-Keystone bill is expected to pass out of the committee with ease, but faces an uncertain future after that. 

A floor vote on the bill would give Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is facing a tough reelection race, a chance to tout her post as chairwoman and counter challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy’s (R-La.) claims that she has little sway on energy issues. 

The Senate committee will also vote next week on Obama’s nominees to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is tasked with overseeing the nation’s electric grid.

Landrieu and ranking committee member Sen. Lisa Murkwoski (R-Alaska) have been in talks over a possible deal with the White House to swap the two FERC nominees.

Republicans and pro-energy Democrats want the acting chairwoman of FERC, Cheryl LaFleur, whom Obama has nominated to return as a commissioner, to remain head of the agency rather than step aside. Currently, Obama’s nominee to lead FERC is Norman Bay, who has directed the agency’s enforcement wing since 2009.

Opponents of Bay say he lacks energy policy chops and, unlike LaFleur, has never sat as a commissioner on FERC. If the White House agrees to a deal by Wednesday, the committee could be able to confirm LaFleur as chairwoman of FERC and Bay as a commissioner. 

The rest of the week is packed with a number of energy hearings.  

On Tuesday, a Senate Appropriations subpanel will mark up an energy and water spending bill for fiscal 2015. 

A Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Wednesday will examine “the need to act now” on climate change, an advisory states. 

The hearing, called for by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), will include testimony from four former EPA chiefs. All were in office under Republican presidents.  

Later on Wednesday a House Natural Resources subcommittee will examine the opportunities for U.S. energy jobs at the local and state levels.

And on Thursday, the full Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the energy and water spending bill for fiscal 2015. 

On Friday, a House Natural Resources subcommittee will hold a hearing on a bill that would expedite permits for natural gas gathering lines, and on a second bill that would give the Interior secretary authority to issue permits for natural gas, oil and product pipelines. 

Off Capitol Hill, Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver the keynote remarks of the department’s Our Ocean conference on Monday.

Also on Monday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a talk on warming temperatures in the Arctic, and what the consequences might be for the planet.

On Wednesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center will hold a discussion on the new EPA rules limiting carbon emissions from power plants. Former EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation Jeffrey Holmstead will participate, along with Susan Tierney, former assistant secretary for policy at the Energy Department.