Whitfield vows bill within 2 weeks offering states relief from EPA rule

By Jean Chemnick | 03/24/2015 07:12 AM EDT

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said yesterday he plans to introduce legislation soon that would let states opt out of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan permanently.

Article updated at 4 p.m. EDT.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said yesterday he plans to introduce legislation soon that would let states opt out of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan permanently.

His measure would grant all states an automatic reprieve from deadlines to submit implementation plans (SIPs) for the existing power plant rule until judicial review has concluded, according to a draft bill provided by the committee.


It would also let governors refuse to comply indefinitely if they determine, after consulting with state agencies and regulators, that the carbon rule would drive up electricity rates or harm grid reliability, he said. EPA would be barred from stepping in with a federal implementation plan (FIP) in either case.

Whitfield, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee, has introduced numerous bills in past years to limit or kill EPA’s carbon rules. All have died in the Senate, and it’s unclear whether the upper chamber’s new GOP majority will change that equation. The president would be likely to veto the bill in any case.

Speaking to reporters in his Capitol Hill office, Whitfield said he expected a measure similar to his bill to be introduced in the Senate.

"I don’t know if we’ll be successful or not, but we are going to do everything possible so that the American people are aware of the effort made by EPA to control the electric generating system in each state," he said.

Succeed or fail, he said, his bill would give lawmakers an opportunity to weigh in on the policy, "rather than just saying ‘EPA, you made the decision. We’ll just bow down to it.’"

Whitfield said he will introduce his bill in the next two weeks, and a hearing with EPA officials is scheduled for April 14.

He pledged to move the bill through "regular order," allowing opportunity for amendments at both the subcommittee and committee levels.

He said he hoped to move it on its own, though he said he was open to other "vehicles" — including must-pass spending legislation. He said he hoped a bill to offer states "safe harbor" from the EPA rule — rather than to kill it outright — would appeal to more members.

Also in the coming weeks, Whitfield plans to release a separate bill that would knock down EPA’s new power plant rule. That measure will track more closely with a version Whitfield and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced in the last Congress, which would have swapped EPA’s proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) mandate for new coal for a laxer standard that would allow new supercritical coal plants to comply.

Whitfield has said he does not believe CCS has been technologically and commercially demonstrated, but he added yesterday that he would not back new federal funding to help make it so.

"I’m just not a big fan of that right now," he said.

Whitfield said he believes that human-generated emissions are contributing some to climate change but that President Obama places too much importance on the issue.

"He thinks that it’s the No. 1 issue," Whitfield said. "He wants to make sure as part of his legacy that the U.S. is the world leader" on carbon reduction, he said.

Obama has set his sights on an international agreement on global greenhouse gas emissions to be finalized in Paris at the end of this year. Last year, he pledged that the United States would cut its emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — a commitment he said would help spur other countries to act.

While EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said her agency is not tailoring its actions to an international goal, Whitfield said the Clean Power Plan seems to be playing to a global audience.

Whitfield has said his bill will have Senate support but has not said from whom. Manchin has not said whether he will back it.

He said he has not spoken with his fellow Kentucky Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has proposed that state governments wait to submit SIPs until litigation concludes on the rule. McConnell reiterated last week in a letter to all 50 governors that he believes the Clean Power Plan is legally vulnerable and that EPA may ultimately be prevented from imposing a FIP that is as stringent as the SIPs it hopes to persuade states to devise for themselves (E&E Daily, March 20).

Some officials in the Southeast have hinted they may hold off on submitting state plans until legal questions are resolved — rather than meeting EPA deadlines that begin next year.

It is likely that litigation on the Clean Power Plan will be expedited. But if a decision isn’t rendered next year, states that miss deadlines risk losing control of their state’s implementation process, said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"You go to court on your own time," he said. "It doesn’t stop the clock."