GOP Bills Target Clean Power Plan, EPA

As Congress works through its array of annual appropriations bills, Republicans opposed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) are moving forward with a variety of riders, amendments, and other bills that would stop the plan in its tracks, at least until the federal court system passes final judgment on its legality.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a long-time foe of the EPA, announced on June 18 that he had added language to the Senate version of the Interior Appropriations bill that was passed out of the Appropriations Committee the same day.

McConnell’s measure would bar the EPA from spending federal funds to take action against any state that declines to submit a compliance plan. It also bars the agency from enforcing its controversial Waters of the U.S. rule that expands jurisdiction over wetlands, and from enforcing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone until 85% of currently non-complying counties are able to come into compliance.

McConnell had previously called on state governments to refuse to comply with the CPP, drawing on opinions from some legal experts that the CPP goes beyond the EPA’s regulatory authority. A number of states have already challenged the plan in court, but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 9 refused to consider the challenge until the rule is final.

The Senate Environmental and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety is considering a separate bill introduced by Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va) that would also repeal the EPA’s rules on new power plants in addition to stopping the CPP. That bill is being considered at a hearing on June 23.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) introduced a similar bill that would extend the compliance dates for the CPP until the federal courts render final judgment on its legality. That bill is not part of the appropriations process, but a motion to add similar language to the House Interior Appropriations bill is being voted on this week. That appropriations bill also makes substantial cuts in the EPA’s budget, scaling it back 9% below 2015 levels—well below the administration’s request—in addition to making cuts in staffing and specific regulatory programs.

The EPA’s ozone standards have also come under fire in the House, most recently in two hearings earlier this month.

The fate of these bills is unclear, as President Obama has already promised a veto of the House bills, and Senate Democrats have united in opposition to policy riders being added to appropriations bills in that chamber. Republicans would need 60 votes to pass them out of the Senate, an uncertain process given that they hold a 54–46 majority.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).