House Passes Measure to Stall EPA Clean Power Plan

A bill that would halt the Clean Power Plan’s compliance deadlines until litigation on the rule has been completed has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a 247–180 vote. 

The Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042) now goes to the Senate, where the GOP is working on a similar measure to suspend the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed rule, which would apply to existing U.S. power plants.

More than 200 organizations have expressed support for the bipartisan bill, which received eight votes from House Democrats. Four Republicans voted against the bill’s passage.

The Obama administration on Tuesday, meanwhile, pledged a veto if both chambers of Congress pass it, saying H.R. 2042 would undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act and “threaten to slow or stop U.S. progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee of Energy and Power introduced the legislation in March. They include the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

The bill would extend the rule’s compliance dates pending judicial review, including the submission deadlines for state plans. Significantly, it also includes a safe harbor for states to protect ratepayers, providing that no state will be required to implement the plan if the state’s governor or other officials determines adverse effects on ratepayers or on the state’s electricity system.

The EPA will finalize the rule this summer. But critics have already raised several concerns about its legality, how it will be implemented, its impacts of electric reliability, and its potential costs.

The EPA has estimated annual costs of $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion in 2020 and $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion in 2030. Estimates prepared for coal, other fuel and petrochemical, railroads, and mining groups by NERA Economic Consulting in October 2014 put potential costs much higher: between $366 billion and $479 billion over the period from 2017 to 2031.

A document circulated with the bill from the Institute for 21st Century Energy , which aggregates concerns expressed by U.S. states about the Clean Power Plan, claims that 28 state governors or attorneys general have raised major concerns with the rule’s legal foundations. A dozen states are suing the EPA regarding its authority to promulgate carbon rules.

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According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, so far, legislatures in 32 states have introduced 81 bills or resolutions related to the Clean Power Plan and power-plant carbon dioxide emissions rules. Of these, 24 states have introduced 52 bills, and seven states have enacted legislation: Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia. An additional 19 states have introduced 29 nonbinding resolutions, and 10 of these states have adopted resolutions.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)