WASHINGTON, April 14, 2015 - In the latest battle over U.S. energy policy, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky, on Tuesday chaired another in a series of House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearings on EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan (CPP) to regulate existing power plant emissions in each state – setting the stage for another epic battle between GOP leaders and the Obama administration.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has already signaled that the plan will be revised before it is finalized this summer.

“Changes will happen with this rule,” McCarthy said during a Chicago interview session hosted by The New Republic on Friday. But she insisted that her agency will not back down on requirements that states meet interim reductions before achieving final targets in 2030.

In an Agri-Pulse interview, Whitfield dismissed EPA’s plan as “a radical, extreme step that is not necessary at this time.”

To at least delay the EPA proposal that threatens to close hundreds of coal-fired electricity plants coast to coast, Whitfield introduced the “Ratepayer Protection Act” to block implementation of the plan until the courts rule on whether it’s legal. In case the courts rule in EPA’s favor, the bill also would give state governors the right to opt out of emissions mandates if they conclude that the EPA plan would have “a significant adverse effect on the state’s residential, commercial, or industrial rate-payers” or “on the reliability of the state’s electricity system.”

Whitfield said he’s not sure of whether there are enough votes to override a presidential veto of his bill but that “We’ll certainly have enough votes to pass it.” In Tuesday’s hearing, Republican committee members along with several witnesses said the Whitfield bill is needed to prevent having the EPA plan drive electricity rates up sharply while reducing reliability.

Democrats on the panel joined EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe and other witnesses in arguing that the EPA plan will actually lower electricity bills while improving human health. 

Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush, D-Ill., warned that passing the Whitfield bill “would give governors veto power over the Clean Power Plan.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. warned that the Whitfield bill would undermine EPA’s “unprecedented public outreach to finalize a rule that works for everyone” and would “overturn the principle of cooperative federalism.” He warned against giving states that refuse to implement the CPP rules “a free ride to pollute.”

McCabe said that although the administration does not have an official position regarding Whitfield’s bill, EPA’s view is that the bill is “premature, unnecessary and ultimately harmful.”

She explained that EPA’s Clean Power Plan is needed – and should not be postponed – because “The science of climate change is clear. The risks of climate change are clear. And the high costs to American families of inaction are clear. That’s why in 2013 President Obama laid out a Climate Action Plan directing agencies to undertake actions to reduce emissions of CO2 in the U.S., help prepare communities across the country to adapt to the changes being caused by climate change, and show leadership abroad in what must be a global effort.” 

McCabe said EPA plans to finalize the CPP this summer.

Whitfield says he supports renewable energy along with natural gas, nuclear energy and coal “because I don’t think we can meet our electricity needs without having an abundance of electricity produced from all of these sources.”Coal has to be in the mix, he says, “if we are going to meet our electricity demands and have low enough rates that we can be competitive in the global marketplace.”

Whitefield argues that utilities are finding wind and solar power cheaper than coal power, only because renewables are subsidized. He charges that “without the Production Tax Credit, not one of these windmill farms would be built anywhere” and predicts “subsidies are going to go away.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seems equally determined to block EPA’s Clean Power Plan. In an Agri-PulseOpen Mic interview this week he said, “We’re certainly going to fight back in the war against coal.”

He said Republicans may add riders to appropriations bills to stop EPA and that if the president vetoes a bill that results in a temporary shutdown of the agency, “I don't think that's a national calamity.”

Another Republican joining the fray is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Last week Walker, who’s expected to join the race for the GOP presidential nomination, announced that his state has joined the 13 other states which have launched a legal challenge to EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

But Democrats aren’t backing down and, if anything, seem to be upping the ante. Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg added new firepower to the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign aimed at closing half of the nation’s coal power plants by 2017. Bloomberg’s $30 million donation announced April 8 is being matched by other donors, giving the effort an additional $60 million to take its anti-coal message to Congress and the public. So far, the campaign has helped close down 187 coal power plants since 2010, replacing more than 76 gigawatts of coal-generated power with wind, solar, natural gas, and energy efficiency.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Whitfield got solid support from House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., who said, “The Ratepayer Protection Act’s reasonable and targeted provisions will greatly reduce the major risks to ratepayers from the administration’s plan.” Upton explained that “the bill extends the compliance deadlines until after judicial review is completed.”

Upton concluded that “States, not EPA, should have the last word with respect to the affordability and reliability of their electricity systems . . . States can and should be a necessary check on EPA’s otherwise one-sided authority to change a state’s electricity system and do so without regard to the consequences.”

Challenging the EPA claim that its plan will reduce rather than raise consumers’ electricity bills, Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., told EPA’s McCabe that “you make assertions, unsupported by data, unsupported by science.” Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., joined in challenging McCabe’s prediction of lower electricity bills, charging that “it’s an assumption that you’re calling an analysis.”

During the hearing, economist Eugene Trisko testified about the impacts of higher electricity costs on households and families, particularly the most vulnerable populations like the poor and elderly who spend a larger portion of their income on energy needs. Trisko summarized the findings of studies examining the impacts of energy costs on American households across 31 geographically diverse states.


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