House Passes Legislative “Stop the War on Coal Act” Package, Takes Aim at Carbon, Coal Ash Rules

In its last legislative act before the November election, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed by a vote of 233 to 175 the controversial "Stop the War on Coal Act," a legislative package of measures that seeks to bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from promulgating carbon emission rules, calls for an analysis of the cumulative economic impacts of certain environmental rules, and would create a state-based program to regulate coal ash.

But even with support from 19 Democrats—most from coal-producing states—the bill had been pronounced dead as it headed to the Democratic-led Senate. The White House on Thursday, meanwhile, said it would veto the bill. The House returns for a lame-duck session after the November election.

The "Stop the War on Coal Act" (H.R. 3409), sponsored by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) packages five bills, many of which had been previously passed by the House but were blockaded in the Senate: The Energy Tax Prevention Act, the TRAIN Act, Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act, Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, and Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act.

The Energy Tax Prevention Act (H.R. 910), authored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), had passed in the House in April 2011 by a vote of 255-172. It sought to prohibit the EPA from "pursuing its climate change agenda" and regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was stalled in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts to the Nation (TRAIN Act, H.R. 2401), introduced by Energy and Power Subcommittee Vice Chairman John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and subcommittee member Jim Matheson (D-Utah), which called for an interagency committee to analyze the economic impacts of certain EPA rules (and specifically, its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards), also passed the House by a vote of 249-169 in September 2011. No action was taken on that bill either by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2273), introduced by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.V.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), passed the House by a vote of 267 to 144. It seeks to provide a "practical alternative" to EPA-proposed rules to regulate coal ash by creating a state-based program that set enforceable federal standards.

The Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act is seeks to block the EPA’s "usurpation of the state’s role under the Clean Water Act in setting water quality standards." Introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), the bill limits the EPA’s ability to veto permits it has previously approved and for which there have been no violations.

“Coal is the cornerstone of our economy—estimates suggest that every mining job creates an additional 3.5 jobs. We are electricity independent—and we want to stay that way," said Rep. Upton in a statement.

Rep. Whitfield called the EPA’s recent rules an "outright assault on coal" that is "having a destructive effect on our economy, and we will likely see more and more coal-fired power plants closed and more mining operations shut down due to EPA’s outrageous expansion of regulations."

Natural Resources Committee member Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) decried the "war on coal" as a politically wrought effort that was counterproductive, calling the legislative package a "Republican ‘Polluterpalooza’ bill.’"

"Republicans have been so busy manufacturing fake wars on coal and oil that they’ve missed the real American energy revolution in natural gas, wind, solar and other cleaner, cheaper forms of energy,” he said in a statement. “Republicans are saying they aren’t going to worry about the 44 percent of our electricity that comes from the natural gas, hydropower and clean energy industries, just like their standard-bearer at the top of the ticket won’t worry about 47 percent of Americans. This bill doesn’t create an American energy strategy, it’s just an election strategy for Republicans.”

Markey also railed against the rejection of several amendments sponsored by Democrats, including one by himself to set a 25% federal renewable energy standard by 2035, and another by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to erase language that denies the "fundamental science of climate change."

The House instead approved two amendments before the final vote on Friday, one that would require the government to publish scientific data it uses as a basis for promulgating rules, and another that would require the secretary of transportation to estimate job losses due to vehicle emissions standards.

Coal’s share of the U.S. power profile has shrunk from nearly half to 35% over the last four years, but natural gas’s share has increased from 21% to 30%, and wind power has grown from nearly 0% to 4%, Markey pointed out. “House Republicans appear to be in an intellectual fog when it comes to energy policy. I guess that’s why they can’t see the invisible hand of the free market moving America to clean energy and natural gas,” he said.

Sources: POWERnews, House Energy & Commerce Committee, Rep. Ed. Markey
—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)