House votes to loosen air pollution rules for some coal plants

House votes to loosen air pollution rules for some coal plants
© Greg Nash

The House voted Thursday to loosen certain air pollution standards for a specific kind of coal-fired power plant.

The Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment Act, which passed 215 to 189, would set less stringent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for hydrogen chloride and sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants that burn coal refuse, a waste byproduct of the coal mining process.

The plants are mostly in Pennsylvania, and since they don’t burn standard coal, it’s more difficult for them to reduce their emissions to the levels called for in the Obama administration’s landmark 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule.

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“This is a debate about one-size-fits-all coming out of Washington, D.C., and the failure of folks in this town at regulatory agencies to not appreciate nuance of what’s going on in the rest of the country,” Rep. Keith RothfusKeith James RothfusConservative group pledges .5 million for 12 House GOP candidates Election handicapper moves GOP leader's race to 'toss-up' Buckle your seatbelts for 100 days of political drama before midterms MORE (R-Pa.), the bill’s lead sponsor, said on the House floor.

Rothfus argued the bill would be a boon to the environment, since the plants clean up coal waste that would otherwise be harmful to ecosystems.

“The bill recognizes the huge success that the coal-refuse-to-energy industry is making in Pennsylvania, and especially my district, to make it a healthier and cleaner place to live.”

Democrats said the bill amounted to a regulatory exemption that would increase air pollution, similar to a bill passed Wednesday that would delay air emissions rules for brick kilns and wood-fired heaters.

“It continues the theme of the floor this week, giving unnecessary preferences to a handful of special interests at the expense of clean air and people’s health,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoA bipartisan approach to protecting racehorses Overnight Energy: House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuke waste plan | EPA won't reverse danger findings for paint stripping chemical | County sues oil companies over climate House votes to advance Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project MORE (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Environment Subcommittee.

“This bill is against the spirit of the Clean Air Act and the bipartisan amendments that have followed,” he said. “Polluters should be pushed to do better, especially when comparable facilities are meeting those given standards. But instead, these power plant owners would prefer to get special treatment and a pathway for meeting the weaker standard for many, many years to come.”

In addition to setting weaker emissions rules under the 2012 rule, the bill would prohibit the EPA from making rules for those pollutants more stringent for coal refuse plants in the future.