News Flash: GOP hates greenhouse gas rules, EPA loves ’em

If you’re a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, greenhouse gas (GHG) rules are economic and coal industry Armageddon, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thinks this is the only path forward to a clean, sustainable future.

Those opposing viewpoints were on display June 29 at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, in the twenty second day of its basically anti-EPA series of hearings called “The American Energy Initiative.” Subcommittee chair Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who represents a major coal-producing state, launched into EPA in his opening statement – after greeting the sole witness politely.

“Today, we are pleased to be joined by EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy,” Whitfield said. “I welcome her back and look forward to learning more about EPA’s perspective on these regulations and their impacts on the economy and jobs. But first, I would like to say a few words about the DC Circuit Court decision on EPA’s GHG regulations that was handed down earlier this week. A lot has been said and written about the decision in the last few days.”

On June 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld EPA’s previous endangerment finding, its greenhouse gas emission standards for light duty vehicles and its Tailoring Rule, which establishes a phased approach for applying certain Clean Air Act permitting requirements to stationary sources based on greenhouse gas emissions – focusing on large sources.

Whitfield said about June 26 decision: “I think it is important to set out what the decision says and what it doesn’t say, especially on the Tailoring Rule. We need to make clear that the court never addressed the legal merits of that very important rule. Instead, the court declined to pass judgment on the Tailoring Rule because it concluded that none of the petitioners had standing to challenge it. The end result of the court’s ruling is the Obama EPA’s backdoor carbon tax remains in effect. So now we have an Obama health care tax and a carbon tax. As permitting thresholds under the Tailoring Rule are ratcheted down in the coming years, it will affect hundreds of thousands of farms and small businesses.”

Whitfield said he is deeply troubled by “EPA’s war on coal, and the role of GHG regulations in that war.” McCarthy’s written testimony claims that the GHG New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) “provides a pathway forward for coal,” but at a June 19 subcommittee hearing on GHGs, an official of an electric cooperative, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Assn., testified quite clearly that this “is simply an illusion,” Whitfield said. Steven Winberg, the Chairman of the FutureGen Industrial Alliance, stated at the June 19 hearing: “in effect, EPA’s rule will eliminate any new coal for years to come because EPA is requiring new coal-fueled power plants to meet a natural gas equivalent CO2 standard, before [carbon capture and storage] technology is commercially available.”

Whitfield also linked recent coal mine worker layoffs in his home state of Kentucky by Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI) and Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR) to EPA actions on clean-air rulemaking.

Upton says GHG decisions should be made in Congress, not at EPA

 “It has been more than a year since the House passed H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act. That bill would have reined in EPA’s back door cap and tax authority,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich, the chair of the parent House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in his opening statement.

“Earlier this week, a federal court upheld key portions of EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory agenda. No question, it was a victory for the Obama EPA. However, it is important to note that federal courts can only decide whether agency rules pass legal muster – not whether they are a good idea. And the GHG regulatory agenda is proving to be a very bad idea. Policy decisions belong in Congress, and Congress needs to stop the threat to our economic future posed by GHG regulations,” Upton said.

Republican opposition helped stall the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, better known as the Waxman-Markey bill, which would have set up a GHG cap-and-trade system.

Upton also cited the Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources layoffs, which he said are “adding to the list of victims in the war on coal that is an integral part of EPA’s GHG regulatory agenda. The sad reality is that we are no longer just predicting job losses; we are beginning to see them.”

Waxman says coal industry layoffs not EPA’s fault, but cheap natural gas

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in his opening statement: “I’m sorry to hear the statement about people losing their jobs in the coal industry. I know that is very difficult for those people and their families, but I would respectfully submit that if they’re losing their jobs, it’s not because of regulation. It’s primarily because they’re not able to compete in the marketplace where natural gas is cheaper.”

Waxman later added: “I would submit that the coal industry is going to suffer even more, because they’re not willing to work with us to try to find a way to make coal a viable option in our energy portfolio by figuring out the technology to remove the carbon emissions.”

The June 29 hearing continues the 18-month Republican attack on the Clean Air Act, EPA regulations, and the science of air pollution, and that House Republicans have made this the most anti-environmental House in history, Waxman stated. He noted the June 26 appeals court decision. “The court found that an ‘ocean of evidence’ supported EPA’s findings,” he said. “And it held that EPA was right to rely on the work of the National Academy of Sciences and other authoritative bodies, writing: ‘This is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom.’”

McCarthy says Supreme Court gave EPA the right to act

McCarthy in her prepared remarks noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA, did rule that greenhouse gases are “pollutants” subject to Clean Air Act and EPA regulation. “The Court said that EPA must decide whether greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare, and whether emissions from new motor vehicles contribute to this air pollution,” McCarthy wrote in her opening statement. “After considering the extensive scientific evidence, EPA issued endangerment and contribution findings in December 2009. Since then, EPA has taken a deliberative and common sense approach to limiting carbon pollution – using Clean Air Act tools to focus on the largest emitters first and to achieve cost-effective reductions.”

McCarthy said that in its June 26 decision, the appeals court confirmed that EPA followed both the science and the law in GHG rulemaking actions.

  • In upholding the endangerment finding, the court stated: “The body of scientific evidence marshaled by EPA in support of the Endangerment Finding is substantial,” McCarthy noted.
  • The court also confirmed that the Clean Air Act required EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks, and that the act “unambiguously” requires application of relevant stationary source permitting programs to greenhouse gases, McCarthy said.
  • And, the court ruled that the litigants in the case are not harmed by EPA’s Tailoring Rule –which establishes a phased approach to stationary source permitting for greenhouse gases –and therefore lack standing to challenge it, McCarthy added.

McCarthy contends there is “pathway forward” for coal in new rule

In a section of her testimony on power plants, McCarthy noted that on March 27, EPA proposed a Carbon Pollution Standard for new power plants. Power plants represent the single largest source of industrial GHG emissions in the U.S. and account for about 40% of all U.S. anthropogenic CO2 emissions, McCarthy added.

“EPA’s proposed standards apply to fossil-fuel-fired boilers, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) units and stationary combined cycle turbine units that generate electricity for sale and are larger than 25 megawatts (MW),” McCarthy said. “The proposed standards would require covered units to achieve an emission rate of 1000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. This standard could be met by current natural gas combined cycle units without controls, or by units fueled by coal or petroleum coke that implement carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). EPA has proposed an alternative compliance pathway, whereby units implementing CCS could comply by meeting the standard on average over the course of a 30-year period. A company could build a coal-fired plant and add CCS later, or a company that installs and operates CCS from the outset would have the flexibility to emit more CO2 in the early years as it optimizes the controls over time.”

The March proposal, which is still up for review, does not apply to existing power plants or to “transitional” units, which include power plant units that already have Clean Air Act permits and that start construction within 12 months of the proposal, McCarthy pointed out. The transitional category also includes units that are part of a Department of Energy carbon capture and storage demonstration project and are in the process of renewing such permits, and that begin construction within 12 months of this proposal. In addition, the proposal does not apply to modifications of existing plants, or plants outside of the 48 contiguous states.

“The nation’s electricity comes from diverse and largely domestic energy sources, including coal, nuclear, and, increasingly, natural gas and renewable energy sources,” McCarthy wrote. “The proposed standard would not change this fact. The proposal reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants that take advantage of modern, technologies and fuels produced in the United States, and would ensure that current progress continues toward a cleaner, safer and more modern power sector. It provides a pathway forward for a range of important domestic resources, including coal with technologies that reduce carbon emissions.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.