WHEELING - Legislation targeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules for new coal-fired power plants would prevent the agency from setting impossible-to-achieve standards in the future, Sen. Joe Manchin told a House subcommittee Friday.
That draft bill, co-authored by Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., was the subject of a hearing before the Energy and Power subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. During the hearing, EPA official Janet McCabe also faced pointed questioning from U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., following her defense of the EPA's new rules announced in September restricting carbon emissions for new power plants.
Critics of the rules, including Manchin and McKinley, say they can't be followed using existing technology and effectively bar the construction of any new coal-fired generating stations.
"Our legislation tries to get the EPA back on track, but in a way that does nothing to prevent the EPA from acting in a reasonable, rational way. ... The EPA is holding the coal industry to impossible standards," Manchin, D-W.Va., said. "And for the first time ever, the federal government is trying to force an industry to do something that is technologically impossible to achieve."
Under the Manchin-Whitfield bill, the new rules would not take effect - and the EPA would be permitted to impose new standards only if such standards have been achieved for 12 consecutive months by at least six U.S. power plants. The bill also provides that any rule must distinguish between coal- and natural gas-fired plants and requires the EPA to provide Congress a detailed study of the potential economic impact of any rule.
McCabe, acting administrator of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said the administration has not yet taken a position on the draft bill, but has "serious concerns" about it.
"Such a requirement would stifle progress in reducing carbon pollution by discouraging the adoption of innovative technology that is available and effective today - and would limit further development of cutting-edge clean energy technologies. ... President Obama's Climate Action Plan provides a road map for federal action to meet the pressing challenge of a changing climate - promoting clean energy solutions that capitalize on American innovation and drive economic growth and providing a role for the full range of fuels, including coal and natural gas," McCabe testified.
Following her testimony, McCabe faced questions from a number of legislators, including McKinley, who questioned McCabe's assertion that the technology is in place to meet the new standards.
"Lisa Jackson said back in November of 2011, that it wouldn't be available for ... maybe a decade or more," McKinley said. "So I'm curious how that's moved up on the chain."
He asked McCabe to respond to his question in writing rather than verbally.
McKinley, noting American power plants account for 0.2 percent of global carbon emissions, also disputed whether the environmental benefit of the rules justifies the potential cost.
The rules "are putting at risk all the American workers in these power houses and coal mines all across this country. (For) two-tenths of one percent, you're willing to put all this - our economy - at risk, for two-tenths of one percent. I'm not comfortable with that," McKinley said.
Though she wouldn't provide specific figures, McCabe said administration officials "expect coal to remain a substantial portion of the energy portfolio, even under these proposed regulations."
The Manchin-Whitfield bill remains a discussion draft and has yet to be introduced. It would first come before the House of Representatives.