House GOP leaders say EPA’s rules are too fast and too spurious

Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from the coal state of Kentucky, along with other GOP members, took their shots May 16 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at a hearing on the agency’s proposed FY 2014 budget.

The hearing was held by the Subcommittees on Energy and Power and Environment and the Economy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Whitfield, the chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, in his opening statement took the chance to slam the agency’s Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule, also known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

“The Utility MACT rule alone has been estimated by the agency to cost $9.6 billion dollars annually, more than the entire budget proposal,” Whitfield said. “And this rule is but one of many recent EPA measures targeting coal-fired electric generation. These rules have already resulted in plant shutdowns and lost jobs, and they may lead to higher electric bills and reliability issues as well.”

Whitfield added: “And the regulations go beyond those aimed at coal. EPA’s new CAFE/GHG rules for cars and small trucks are estimated by the agency to cost $210 billion dollars by 2025. When fully implemented they will add nearly $3,000 to the sticker price of a new vehicle. And this rule is just one part of EPA’s global warming regulatory agenda that is increasingly looking like a very bad deal for the American people and the middle class citizens who rely on affordable and abundant energy resources. Granted, the agency routinely claims regulatory benefits in excess of the costs. But while the costs are very real, the benefits are more speculative and are often based on inflated estimates of hypothetical lives saved from reducing fine particular matter. According to a recent draft OMB report, EPA’s claimed benefits from its air rules alone far eclipses the benefits of all other federal regulatory agencies combined. This simply does not pass the laugh test.”

Coal-fired power plants were sharply reducing their emissions of air pollutants well before the Obama EPA launched its wave of new coal regulations, Whitfield said.

Committee chairman airs his own complaints

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the full committee, said in his opening statement that EPA has reported that total emissions of toxic air pollutants decreased by about 42% between 1990 and 2005 and that between 1980 and 2010, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 63%.

“However, with that success – some might even say in spite of it – the number and scope of EPA regulations is continuing to grow without precedent,” Upton added. “The Obama administration is seeking to regulate where they failed to legislate, and they are doing so at a furious pace. According to our staff’s review, the agency issued over 600 final rules in 2012, bringing the four-year total to more than 2,000. Even more striking than the number of new rules is their unaffordable cost. A recent draft OMB report noted that a disproportionate number of the federal government’s costliest regulations come from EPA, and especially its air office. Rules costing at least one billion dollars are no longer uncommon, and the nation’s struggling economy must absorb them.”

Upton said that frequently EPA’s final rules differ markedly from the proposed versions of those same rules, and that sometimes the underlying scientific justification is considered confidential and not disclosed. Frequently, the cost data is incomplete and the claimed benefits are speculative and “poorly supported,” he added. And quite often, the regulated community is not given sufficient guidance as to how it can comply, he said.

“And while the Obama EPA is aggressively pursuing regulations within its own jurisdiction, it is also extending its reach beyond,” Upton said. “It is continuing to ramp up its greenhouse gas regulations, which have the potential to change the way we power our grid by limiting fuel diversity as well as how we permit new industrial facilities.”

Budget has funding for various greenhouse gas initiatives

Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said in his prepared testimony that the FY 2014 request includes $176.5m to support the agency’s work with partners and stakeholders to address greenhouse gas emissions and their impacts. “These funds will help reduce emissions – both domestically and internationally – through careful, cost-effective rulemaking and voluntary programs that focus on the largest entities and encourage businesses and consumers to limit unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions,” he added. “Some of this funding will support existing, successful approaches like ENERGY STAR, the Global Methane Initiative, the GHG Reporting Rule, and state and local technical assistance and partnership programs, such as SmartWay. $20 million will go towards research, so we can better understand the impacts of climate change on human health and vulnerable ecosystems.”

The requested EPA budget also contains $175m to support Clean Air Act-mandated work to develop, implement and review air quality standards and guidance. This funding will also allow EPA to enhance support to state, local and Tribal partners to implement the programs.

A May 15 memo sent to Democrats on the subcommittees by ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California said in part: “The President’s FY 2014 budget request for programmatic actions related to climate change is $176.5 million, an increase of 4.8% above FY 2012 enacted levels. This funding will support both voluntary and regulatory actions to reduce domestic and international greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and impacts. Specific activities include oversight of third-party certification of Energy Star products and improved data verification in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; distribution of newly revised vehicle fuel economy labeling to include GHG emissions and application of light-duty and heavy-duty vehicle GHG and fuel economy standards; continued work on the proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants and review of petitions for other industrial sources; support for the GHG Reporting program with emphasis on stakeholder support, and verification and dissemination of public information; support for the Global Methane Initiative to reduce short-lived climate pollutants; and encouragement and recognition of cost-effective industry practices that address climate change.”

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.