West Virginia Democrat Unveils Bill To Let Coal Plants Emit Unlimited Carbon Pollution

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Gentner

In this Thursday, April 8, 2010, file photo, U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., listens during a news conference at Marsh Fork Elementary in Montcoal, W.Va.

Coal plants would be able to spew unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere if legislation introduced by a notoriously pro-coal Democrat were signed into law, and the Environmental Protection Agency would not be able to do anything to stop it.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) on Tuesday introduced the Protection and Accountability Regulatory Act of 2014, which would nullify proposed rules recently announced by the EPA limiting carbon pollution from existing coal plants. Rahall’s bill would also nullify other proposed EPA regulations limiting carbon pollution from new coal plants, modified coal plants, and reconstructed coal plants unless Congress specifically acts to allow them.

“The EPA needs to get their head out of the clouds and come back down to Earth where the rest of us must live and work,” Rahall said in a statement. “We don’t need more regulation to solve our energy challenges—we need more innovation.”

The legislation comes a little more than a week after President Obama and the EPA unveiled their rule to set caps on carbon emissions from existing power plants, a move widely seen as the most significant thing the U.S. has ever done to fight the direct cause of climate change. Though the rule sets a national goal of a 30 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, it only requires West Virginia to make a 20 percent reduction in that time. West Virginia is allowed to make its own plan to meet that goal, whether it be by investing in cleaner technology like solar and wind, or lowering electricity demand through efficiency projects.

Still, many — mostly Republican — members of Congress have been working to prevent the rules from happening at all. Last week, forty-one Republican Senators sent a letter to the Obama Administration asking it to abandon the new rules. And Rahall’s bill, introduced with fellow West Virginia Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), is cosponsored by 66 other members of the House, all of whom are Republican.

While much of the effort to nullify the EPA’s regulations has been prompted by politicians who outwardly deny that climate change is a problem, Rahall introduced the bill despite the fact that he evidently accepts that global warming exists and that carbon emissions are the main cause. He indicated this in 2010 in a slightly puzzling interview with the Register-Herald.

“Climate change — to deny it exists, to just put your head in the sand and, ‘oh no, it doesn’t exist, what are you talking about,’ is about like standing on the floor of Macy’s during the month of December and claiming Santa Claus doesn’t exist,” he said at the time. “Come on, get real.”

Despite his apparent acceptance of the science (and Santa Claus), however, Rahall has consistently voted to support policies that essentially deny that global warming is a threat. In 2011, he voted in favor of the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which would have permanently eliminated the EPA’s power to limit greenhouse pollution by legislatively denying the scientific threat of global warming. In 2012, he joined 207 Republicans to sign a letter asking the Office of Management and Budget to allow the coal industry to emit greenhouse pollution without any limits.

In 2013, he introduced a bill specifically barring the Treasury Department from levying a carbon tax; and in 2009, he voted against cap-and-trade legislation. Just last month, he voted to essentially write climate denial into the Defense Department’s budget, supporting an amendment that would prevent the Department of Defense from using funding to address the national security impacts of climate change.

Rahall has also been shaky on general environmental legislation too, declining to pursue legislative changes for the chemical storage industry after thousands of gallons of a mysterious chemical spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River, contaminating drinking water for 300,000 people.