A bill that would delay and ultimately weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants is making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.
A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a lengthy hearing on Tuesday on the Ratepayer Protection Act, which allows state governors to refuse to implement the EPA’s proposed carbon reductions if those reductions would have a “significant adverse effect” on electric bills or grid reliability. In other words, the bill — sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) — tells states that, if their proposed plans to reduce carbon emissions might threaten electric prices or electricity itself, they don’t have to make plans at all.
The bill would also delay final implementation of the rule until all legal challenges have been dismissed, a process which could take years. Two high-profile legal cases challenging the EPA climate rules are scheduled to be argued this week.
Whitfield on Tuesday said the purpose of his bill is to prevent states from having to deal with the EPA’s “damaging overreach.”
“We think you are overstepping your authority,” Whitfield said in comments to Janet McCabe, head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “Experts in the Clean Air Act have described this proposed rule as extreme, radical and a power grab.”
Representatives on the other side of the aisle, however, lambasted the bill as an attempt to indefinitely delay and significantly weaken the rule, which aims to cut the power sector’s carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) said the bill would make it “too easy for a governor to just say no” to reducing carbon dioxide emissions — a dangerous precedent considering the climate-related progress that has already been made, he said.
“I think we should think long and hard considering what we’re doing before we go down this slippery slope and allow states to turn back the clocks to the dark days,” Rush said. “We’ve been so very successful so far. This is a bill that frankly doesn’t really deserve our time.”
Whitfield, for his part, is a long-time critic of the EPA and opponent of efforts to fight climate change. In 2011, Whitfield introduced a bill called the Energy Tax Prevention Act, which sought to prevent a national cap-and-trade system and block the EPA’s “controversial backdoor climate change agenda.” Last summer, he sponsored an amendment to prevent the federal government from funding any research specifically regarding climate change.
Whitfield also receives a large chunk of his campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry and electric utilities. In the 2013-2014 election cycle, for example, his top three donors were FirstEnergy Corp., the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Alpha Natural Resources, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets. In his entire career as a Congressman, electric utilities have contributed $707,315 to his campaigns, oil and gas have contributed $503,997, and the mining industry has contributed $315,577.
Whitfield’s efforts to prevent EPA action and funding on climate-related efforts did not sit will with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who during Tuesday’s hearing criticized the bill’s supporters for rejecting solutions to fight climate change without proposing alternatives.
“If my Republican colleagues have a better idea for protecting against a changing climate, then please speak up,” he said. “Just saying no and condemning future generations is not an option.”