If the Senate votes on a measure this week to overturn the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) using the Congressional Review Act, as has been spearheaded by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), President Obama would veto the resolution.
The resolution, S.J.Res. 27, would block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing the rule it finalized this July, which seeks to reduce smog and particulate-forming pollution from power plants in 27 U.S. states. The resolution would “jeopardize … public health and economic benefits, and perpetuate uncertainty for businesses, freezing investments in clean technologies,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.
“If the President is presented with S.J.Res. 27, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the resolution,” it said.
The Congressional Review Act (5 U.S.C. Chapter 8) is a law enacted in 1996 as part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) “Contract with America”—also known as the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. The law allows Congress to review, by means of an expedited legislative process, new federal regulations issued by government agencies, and, by passage of a joint resolution, to overrule a regulation.
If the Senate agrees to the motion to proceed, debate on the floor is limited to 10 hours, and no amendments to the resolution or motions to proceed to other business are in order. That means the Senate may pass the joint resolution with 50 votes, rather than the 60 usually required to overrule a regulation.
An assorted list of utilities, rural electric cooperatives, state regulatory agencies, and even grid operators have decried what they say are the interstate pollution rule’s unrealistic deadlines, drastic economic impact, and effect on electricity reliability.
Sen. Paul told reporters last week that a vote could come as early as today. The Hill reported that Paul was seeking the support of conservative Democrats, including Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Paul reportedly said that one reason for the Senate measure was that “All of the science and objective evidence says that we are polluting less than we used to.” He said, “And so the debate should be the rules that we have currently in place—are they adequate, what will new rules do, will it cause unemployment, will it cause power plants to shut down, will major cities have brownouts and lack of electricity in the heat or in the coldness of winter?”
“President Obama believes that American families should never be asked to choose between the health of their children and the health of the economy,” blogged Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal. “That is a false choice. Four decades of success under the Clean Air Act have shown clearly that strong environmental protections and a strong economy can go hand in hand.”
Zichal alleged congressional Republicans were trying to use the “current economic climate as an excuse to roll back clean air protections that Americans have counted on for decades.” That was a “brazen effort” not just to undermine the public health, but to undermine the judgment of the courts.
“In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit found critical flaws in the Bush Administration’s efforts on interstate air pollution and directed the EPA to issue a replacement rule as quickly as possible,” she said. “After seeking and incorporating extensive input from the public, the states, environmental and public health groups, as well as industry, the EPA finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution rule in July of this year.”
The rule would prevent between 13,000 and 34,000 premature deaths, 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, and 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks. The EPA has said benefits of this rule are expected to far outweigh its costs, producing over $100 billion in net benefits each year.
Several eastern states are supporting the rule. Last week, the EPA granted its first-ever single source petition to force a coal plant to reduce emissions on the grounds that they affect air quality in another state. The EPA found for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which alleged GenOn’s coal-fired 400-MW Portland Generating Station in Pennsylvania’s Northampton County was adversely impacting air quality in Warren, Sussex, Morris, and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey.
New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, who hailed that decision by the EPA, has since been criticized for refusing to back federal measures to curb interstate pollution. “New Jersey is adversely impacted by air pollution that comes from this coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania that is one of the most polluting power facilities in the nation, and which negatively impacts the health and welfare of our residents,” Christie said Monday. “This Administration’s commitment to the improvement of air quality remains a top priority, and that includes targeting some of the most prolific out-of-state air polluters.”
But he added: “My inclination is not to deal with these things on a blanket basis by giving more power over to the federal government. I think they have more than enough power as it is.”
The CSAPR takes effect January 1, 2012. A 2005 rule known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) will be implemented through the 2011 compliance periods, and then be replaced by the CSAPR.
Sources: POWERnews, The White House, EPA, The Hill, Office of the Gov. Chris Christie