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US Senate Committee Hears from States on Clean Power Plan

Senate Republicans on the Environment and Public Works committee used a Wednesday hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) landmark climate rule to highlight the objections from states that oppose the rule.

State officials from Indiana, Wyoming and Wisconsin, each of which has Republican legislatures and governors, told how they find the rule unreasonable, irresponsible and illegal.

Democrats on the Committee brought in officials from New York and California — whose governors are Democrats — to support the regulation, which is designed to cut carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.

(Congress and Clean Power, continued) This was the second hearing by the Committee and more will be scheduled in the future. 

“The proposal undermines the longstanding concept of cooperative federalism under the Clean Air Act where the federal government is meant to work in partnership with the states to achieve the underlying goals,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s chairman, said at the hearing. “Instead, this rule forces states to redesign the ways they generate, manage and use electricity in a manner that satisfies President Obama’s extreme climate agenda.”

The witnesses from Republican states said that the EPA’s proposal from last year was unattainable given the time constraints, the high amounts of carbon reductions and the inflexible tools.

“This proposal will cause significant harm to Hoosiers and most residents of the United States without providing any measurable offsetting benefits,” said Thomas Easterly, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Ellen Nowak, chairwoman of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, said the rule threatens Wisconsin’s economy.  “If the problems in the Clean Power Plan are not remedied, the work Wisconsin has done to restore our manufacturing sector will be threatened,” she said.

Democrats used New York and California to prove their contention that states can cut emissions and remain economically competitive.  Both states are in the midst of their own efforts to slash carbon pollution from power plants.

“I have good news for other states: you can significantly reduce these emissions from the power sector and do so in a way that helps grow your economy,” said Michael Myers, chief of the New York Attorney General’s Office’s environmental litigation section.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Committee said, “California, New York, and other states should be proud of their leadership in putting forward real solutions to climate change and showing that meeting the goals of the Clean Power Plan will benefit states and the American people,” she said.

EPA head calls for US leadership in climate
The head of the EPA Wednesday told the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States should lead the way to fight climate change internationally.  Gina McCarthy said climate change causes global unrest and instability, and it is in the United States’ best interests to play a leadership role in stopping it.

“Climate change fuels instability around the world, by amplifying risks to global health, security and to growth,” McCarthy said. We should be “building it into all of our existing international efforts.”

“The Pentagon calls climate change a ‘threat multiplier,’ ” she said. “President Obama’s national security strategy recognizes climate change as the gateway to more natural disasters, refugee flows and conflicts.” And she said again that climate change is a national security risk on par with threats like terrorism and war.

McCarthy said that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is significant for international relations and diplomacy in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  She compared this to the Montreal Protocol of 1989, when the leaders of the international community agreed to reduce emissions of chemicals to protect the ozone layer.

“It was an American university that uncovered the problem. And it was American industry that innovated solution. It was American leadership that forged a global market for better, safer products, and American companies that sold those solutions across the world.”

The power plant rule puts the United States in a leading position in climate change policies, McCarthy said.

McCarthy noted work under the United Nations to establish an international agreement in December in Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  She said the President’s recent agreement with China puts a higher emphasis on working with India in seeking international agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Keystone Pipeline Fails Override in Senate
While the House ended their week early due to impending snow, the Senate attempted to override President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline legislation last Wednesday.  Falling just five votes short of the needed two-thirds majority, this was the first time Congress has voted to override a veto by Obama.  Eight Democrats voted with Republicans including Senator Casey.

The Keystone Pipeline legislation will still be a hot topic this session.  Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said he’s “open to trying anything” to move the pipeline legislation forward including adding it to other bills, specifically the upcoming highway bill. 

More Presidential Vetoes on the Horizon?
Before even being sent to the House for consideration, the White House has stated they will veto to EPA bills – HR 1029 (EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act and HR 1030 (Secret Science Reform Act).

HR 1029 would expand industry access to the Science Advisory Board, by altering who could serve on the board.  The White House believes this would weaken the Board’s “scientific independence and integrity.”

The Administration is taking the stance that HR 1030 “would impose arbitrary, unnecessary, and expensive requirements that would seriously impede the [EPA’s] ability to use science to protect public health and the environment.”

House GOP Slow to Review Crude Export Ban
A 40-year old export ban on U.S. crude oil will not be lifted without much review and discussion.

In a meeting last Tuesday, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that any move by his Committee to propose a lift on the ban “will only happen after an open review of the current policy.”   He further cited the process used in the previous Congress to expedite LNG permits.

“We thoroughly studied the potential impacts,” Upton said, “acted only after listening to all of the interested parties and concluding that LNG exports would be beneficial for the economy and a net jobs creator, and we passed it in a bipartisan way.”

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ConocoPhillips Chairman and CEO Ryan Lance remarked that the export ban was outdated and that “we shouldn’t put U.S. producers at a competitive disadvantage by limiting access to global markets.”

EPA’s CCS Technology Faces Tough Scrutiny From House
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Gina McCarthy, faced tough questioning by Congressman Tim Murphy two weeks ago.

The EPA’s stance on their proposed mandate that new coal plants have to utilize carbon capture sequestration (CCS) technology has been “adequately demonstrated,” was undermined by McCarthy acknowledging that the Kemper, Mississippi project cited in their rule, is $3 billion over budget and is still not complete.

Congressman Murphy said, “It appears that all the projects … cited by the EPA, they haven’t been completed, some haven’t been started, one’s been discontinued, one isn’t even in this country, and none of them are large-scale.”

Murphy also mentioned that all the facilities used by the EPA in its rule making received federal subsidies even though it is in violation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which does not allow for the use of such technologies at facilities receiving federal assistance to be used for the purpose of adequately demonstrating the purposes of the Clean Air Act.

During the hearing, the Congressman also brought up that the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has told the EPA that the agency misrepresented NETL’s study and had underestimate the cost of CCS technology.  NETL further went on to recommend EPA change their cost of CCS by 30 to 63% more.

Murphy said he would continue to review the EPA’s greenhouse gas rule and its impact on consumers, manufacturers, and job growth.

EPA Up Against the Clock On Climate Change Regulations
Environmental Protection Agency Chair Gina McCarthy has just under two years to pass what is being touted as landmark climate change regulations before President Obama leaves office.

These new regulations would require existing power plants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030 from 2005 levels.  GOP leaders are already making it known that they will do what they can to dismantle these new regulations and other existing EPA regulations. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is reaching out to the states, asking them to refuse to comply with the carbon regulations and it appears that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking up the banner along side McConnell (see related article in regional news).

US in second place for energy diversification
The latest annual Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index, published by Ernst and Young, ranks the United States second, right behind China.

The index reports that solar will reach grid parity in many states by 2016.  Additionally, a one year renewal of the production tax credit (PTC) for wind projects will be applied retroactively through 2014 and is expected to boost the wind energy sector.