Republicans launch effort to repeal power plant rule

By Sean Reilly | 05/17/2024 04:14 PM EDT

Lawmakers have filed several Congressional Review Act resolutions this week alone.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is helping lead an effort to overturn EPA's new mercury standards for power plants. Francis Chung/POLITICO

North Dakota Republicans are leading a campaign to roll back a recent EPA update to hazardous air pollutant standards for the coal-fired power sector.

The new rule “threatens access to reliable and affordable baseload power,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said in a Friday news release announcing the introduction of S. J.Res. 88, a Congressional Review Act resolution that would scrap the update to what are formally known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

A House companion measure, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), soon followed. “I am proud to partner with Senator Hoeven as we work to undo the Biden administration’s shortsighted rule,” Armstrong said in the same release.


Among other features, the stricter regulations close a mercury emissions loophole for plants that burn lignite, a low-grade form of coal. Those facilities are clustered in Texas and North Dakota.

While EPA air chief Joseph Goffman has described the new requirement as “leveling the playing field” for the coal-fired fleet, Hoeven accused the agency of reviving an unworkable rule “instead of empowering new technology and innovation to keep our lignite industry going.”

He had signaled his intent to seek the update’s repeal as soon as EPA unveiled it last month. His resolution thus far has 10 co-sponsors, including Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Energy and Natural Resources ranking member John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Republican Reps. Ryan Zinke of Montana, Greg Pence of Indiana and Mary Miller of Illinois are among the House backers.

A CRA requires only a simple majority in both chambers to strike down a recently finalized administration action, if the president doesn’t use his veto.

The update marked the first significant strengthening of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards since the landmark regulations were issued in 2012.

It follows a legally required review to explore whether advances in pollution control technology made further emissions cut possible and reverses a Trump administration determination that no changes were needed.

Besides tightening the mercury standard for lignite fueled plants, it more broadly strengthens limits on emissions of other hazardous metals.

The added requirements have provoked bipartisan objections from Montana lawmakers, who say they unfairly target the Colstrip plant in the eastern part of the state.

In a letter last week to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sought additional “flexibilities” to bring the facility into compliance.

Regan, however, maintains that his agency is only asking Colstrip to catch up with the rest of the industry.

“Colstrip appears to be the only utility in the country that wants to continue to be the highest emitter of mercury and these emissions in the country,” Regan said during a tense exchange with Zinke during a hearing last month.

Other CRA resolutions

Republicans and some Democrats have escalated their effort to undo a trove of Biden administration rules. Earlier this week, they filed three resolutions against Endangered Species Act rulemaking.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on Thursday introduced another measure against a Fish and Wildlife Service interagency coordination rule. And Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) filed one against management of grizzly bears in the Northern Cascades.