By Timothy Cama - 05/13/15 02:29 PM EDT
Senate Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday that would overturn the Obama administration’s landmark climate regulations for power plants and make it nearly impossible to rewrite them.
The bill is the GOP’s first major legislative push against the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions limits since Republicans seized control of the Senate in November.
The rules have drawn intense criticism from Republicans and industry groups, who warn they will cost billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of jobs and have negligible environmental benefits.
“Our bipartisan legislation would empower the states to protect families and businesses from electricity rate increases, reduced electrical reliability and other harmful effects of the president’s Clean Power Plan,” Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Senate committee to consider miner pension bill GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-W.Va.), the bill’s sponsor, told reporters Wednesday.
“Our bill would also require that any greenhouse gas standard set by the EPA for new coal-fired power plants are able to be achieved by commercial power plants operating in the real world,” she said.
Twenty-five Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), signed into the bill as co-sponsors, as did Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Mylan CEO should be ashamed of EpiPen prices Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (D-W.Va.).
The bill, dubbed the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act, would prevent the EPA from writing rules that are “significantly similar” to its current proposals unless it follows specific parameters that the bill outlines.
The measure sets out different standards for the two separate regulations the EPA proposed last year on newly built power plants and existing ones. The latter regulation, which aims to cut the power sector’s carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030, is by far the most controversial.
Environmental groups immediately criticized the Republican bill as an attack on clean air and the most significant effort yet to fight climate change.
Republicans say the bill is a necessary step toward protecting states and electricity customers from the rules.
“I’ve never seen anything quite this universally opposed,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
“This is going to go down probably as, probably, the most significant thing we will do in the Environment and Public Works Committee this year,” he said. Inhofe chairs that committee.
The legislation would immediately overturn both regulations and prevent the EPA from reissuing them without taking specific steps.
For the existing plant rule, the EPA would have to submit to Congress reports on the rule’s effects on greenhouse gases and climate change, and would have to write individual sample compliance plans showing how each state could abide by the regulations.
Still, that would not take effect until all court challenges are exhausted, and governors would be able to opt out of complying with it if they believed it would bring any of a wide range of negative impacts.
If the EPA wants to regulate new plants, it would have to develop different standards for plants that use coal and those using natural gas, and technology to achieve the standards would have to be commercially available and in use on multiple existing power plants.
That provision goes directly to GOP complaints that the EPA’s proposal would mandate carbon capture technology not currently on the market.
“The facts are that coal’s going to be used to supply power to the United States for many, many years,” said Manchin, who famously shot cap-and-trade legislation with a rifle in an ad for his 2010 Senate campaign.
“If you’re going to use it, you should use it as clean as possible. And all we’ve asked for is for the federal government to be our partner and work with us.”
The court delay and state opt-out provisions are similar to, though stronger than, ones in a bill passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Manchin and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) sponsored legislation similar to the provisions for new plants last year.
Capito’s bill also modifies the Clean Air Act to say power plants already regulated under one provision of the statute would not be eligible for further regulation under another.
Some opponents of the rule say the Clean Air Act already says that, though there are conflicting interpretations of the law.
That provision of Capito’s legislation would effectively make the Obama administration’s main climate rule moot.
Green groups are sharply criticizing the bill.
“Senator Capito’s radical legislation reads like a polluter’s wish list, with attacks aimed directly at the heart of the Clean Air Act,” Sara Chieffo, legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.
“Not only does this bill allow power plants to continue spewing unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air, it will prevent us from ever putting in place common sense limits,” she said.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the senators’ concerns are on EPA officials’ minds.
“EPA continues to work toward completing the proposed Clean Power Plan that will cut harmful carbon pollution from power plants,” she said.
“The plan will be affordable, will drive innovation and American jobs, and will demonstrate our leadership in the international community.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing the EPA’s final rule for new power plants. The Obama administration plans to make both rules final in the summer.