EPA to publish carbon rule today, starting comment period

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2014

U.S. EPA will publish its proposal to limit existing power plant carbon dioxide emissions tomorrow in the Federal Register, marking the opening of a 120-day public comment period.

But as interest groups prepare comments for and against the proposal, and states continue to assess its impact, Capitol Hill remains deadlocked over how or whether to respond to the rule.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) have introduced legislation in their respective chambers to prevent EPA from implementing the rule unless several agencies certify it would have no negative economic impact.

And Democrats from states that produce and consume coal say they are still eyeing the proposal’s impacts. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.), for one, has been among her party’s most outspoken critics of the proposal. She said she had yet to see the McConnell language.

“But I will be looking very carefully at it,” she said. Although she praised EPA for building a rule that includes some compliance flexibility and a long phase-in time, Landrieu said, “The bad part of it is that it holds some states, including Louisiana, to targets that I’m not sure it can meet, even with our extraordinary efforts on efficiency and the use of natural gas.”

Landrieu, who is up for re-election this year, has expressed strong reservations about the draft’s potential impact on reliability of power supply.

But other Senate Democratic senators from coal states have said the McConnell language goes too far.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said congressional efforts to strip EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory authority were “nonsensical.” Although his state’s coal industry might find it difficult to adapt to carbon restraints, he said, reducing carbon is important to safeguarding areas like Hampton Roads from the effects of sea-level rise.

“But the coal industry’s biggest challenge is not the EPA,” he said. “The coal industry’s biggest challenge is innovation in natural gas.”

Coal should focus on innovation as well, he said, including developing lower-carbon technologies. Congress should help by enacting legislation sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) that would support the development of that technology, he added.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she hadn’t decided whether to support the minority leader’s bill yet, but she didn’t think she would. “He typically goes too far,” she said of McConnell. “I’m usually in the moderate middle on this subject.”

While members of Congress continue to grapple with their messaging on the draft rule, advocates are preparing to deliver as many public comments on it as they can before the public comment period closes in October.

The Climate Action Campaign’s actonclimate.com asks supporters to tell EPA they “strongly support” carbon dioxide emission limits, while the Natural Resources Defense Council has a form comment prepared urging EPA to “stand strong against” industry opposition and finalize the rule.

A CAC spokesman said environmentalists hoped to top the 4 million comments they delivered to EPA in favor of its new power plant rule.

Opponents including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers did not respond to inquiries this afternoon about their plans for outreach.