Environmental Protection

EPA plan all pain, no gain

By William L. Spence

Obama administration efforts to regulate power plant carbon dioxide emissions came under fire from two energy state Republicans during a House subcommittee hearing Thursday.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., who heads the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on environment, said President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan regulations are “all pain, no gain.”

“The plan does nothing to avert future temperature rise or to prevent future sea rise,” he said. American consumers and manufacturers, however, will end up paying billions of dollars per year in higher energy prices, while “China, India and the rest of the developing world build coal-fired plants and emit carbon at unprecedented rates.”

The Clean Power Plan, released last summer, establishes a national cap on power plant carbon emissions, with the goal of cutting emissions by 32 percent within 25 years. It also implements state standards designed to shift them away from fossil fuel energy sources to renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydropower.

Ten days after the Environmental Protection Agency released the new rules, 27 states sued in federal court; another 18 states filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the stricter standards.

In a 5-4 ruling in February, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on the plan – reportedly the first time in history it has stayed a regulation prior to a lower court ruling.

During a testy, hourlong hearing Thursday, Bridenstine expressed outrage that the EPA, rather than stop all Clean Power Plan activities following the Supreme Court ruling, has continued to work on its regulatory structure and has notified stakeholders the compliance deadlines won’t be adjusted should the court uphold the plan.

“In other words, there’s a stay, but it isn’t a stay,” Bridenstine said. “This is unacceptable.”

However, Brianne Gorod, chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center, testified that a stay is different from an injunction.

“An injunction is a binding restriction on the conduct of an agency,” she said, whereas “a stay focuses on the enforceability of a rule. It just means the EPA can’t enforce the plan while the stay is in effect.”

Gorod went on to note the Clean Power Plan gives states the opportunity to design emissions-reduction plans that make sense for their citizens; only if they choose not to do so would the EPA directly regulate plant emissions in that state.

“The states themselves face no sanctions and are not compelled to take action to implement the federal standards,” she said.

The EPA estimates that cutting carbon pollution could prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths annually by 2030, Gorod said, together with as many as 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

The other witnesses who testified Thursday were Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Bridenstine’s home state of Oklahoma, and Charles McConnell, the executive director of the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice University, Bridenstine’s alma mater.

McConnell, who previously served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, said the Clean Power Plan “has been falsely sold as impactful environmental regulation, when it is really an attempt (by the EPA) to take over federal and state regulation of energy.”

While he believes in climate change and believes carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to global warming, McConnell noted the annual emissions reductions projected under Obama’s plan “will be offset by three weeks of China’s emissions.”

Rather than pick winners and losers by favoring certain fuel sources over others, he said, the federal government should support research into carbon storage and other technologies that support a variety of fuel types.

If carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions can be captured and stored, McConnell said, “then every major source of energy we have today can be used in an environmentally responsible manner. That’s a real ‘all of the above’ energy strategy.”

McConnell headed up the Department of Energy’s fossil fuel program when the EPA first began developing the Clean Power Plan. Despite a requirement for interagency collaboration, he felt the regulatory agency had an institutional bias against coal and oil.

“Interagency collaboration is a convenient term, but it doesn’t happen in an honest form,” he said. “When (the EPA) asked for information on fossil energy, we’d get a 600-page document and have a weekend to look at it. The time provided was ridiculously short.”

Pruitt said Congress has every right to choose an energy policy for the country, including one that moves away from fossil fuels.

“To members of this committee who strongly support the Clean Power Plan, I say: Pass a bill,” he said. “Let democracy decide if it’s right for America. But we didn’t get democracy; we got a regulatory cram-down.”

Frustrated by congressional inaction regarding greenhouse gas emissions, Pruitt said, the EPA suddenly “discovered” sweeping new authority in an obscure section of the Clean Air Act to start regulating power plant emissions.

“If EPA gets its way,” he said, “that section will be transformed from a limited provision into the most powerful part of the Clean Air Act, making EPA the central planner for every industry that emits carbon dioxide.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is scheduled to hold oral arguments in the Clean Power Plan lawsuit in September. A ruling likely will not be issued until after the presidential election in November.

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