Toxic Trio Attacks EPA's Carbon Pollution Safeguards

In their latest attack on vital clean air safeguards, three senior House Republicans are trying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from dangerous carbon pollution from new power plants – pollution that threatens our health and drives our increasingly extreme weather

In a letter earlier this week, Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) joined with two other friends of the big polluters, Joe Barton (R-TX) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY), to demand that the White House block those new power plant standards.     

After years of delay, EPA is on the verge of issuing the first national limits on the carbon dioxide that will spew from the smokestacks of electric power plants to be built over the next decade.  EPA is following the Clean Air Act – passed by Congress, of course – and two Supreme Court decisions. 

Carbon pollution threatens the health of Americans by causing more severe heat waves and contributing to more devastating floods, rising sea levels, poor air quality and many other health threats.  Power plants are the nation’s biggest carbon polluters, and there are no national limits on that pollution.

Poll after poll confirms that the American people count on EPA to protect them from dangerous carbon pollution, don’t trust polluters to police themselves, and don’t buy the House Republicans’ claims that EPA safeguards kill jobs.  (See here, here, here, and here.)

But that’s not good enough for the toxic trio.  These are the same guys who led last year’s unprecedented assault on the nation’s public health and pollution laws in the House of Representatives. They helped pushed 191 polluter-protection measures through the House last year.  Fortunately, nearly all of them died in the Senate. 

Their letter attempts to blame EPA for blocking construction of a hypothetical new generation of coal-burning and carbon-spewing power plants.  Well, as my colleague David Hawkins puts it, “What New Coal Plants?”  Citing forecasts from the Energy Information Administration and the private sector, Hawkins writes:  “Haven't they been paying attention?  No one wants to build new coal plants.  Except for a handful already underway, no more are planned for the foreseeable future.”  The future supply of electric power belongs to natural gas, wind power and other renewables, and greater energy efficiency in our homes, offices, and industries. 

This blame-EPA-for-your-own-business-decisions game is nothing new.  Just last week First Energy in Ohio announced that it will close some 50-year old coal-burning plants in September 2012.  As NRDC’s Henry Henderson explains, First Energy sought to blame the 2012 closures on EPA’s new mercury standards – even though it wouldn’t have to meet those standards until 2015, and even though it had idled some of those units more than a year ago. 

Despite the trio’s claims, the standards EPA is expected to propose will not bar the construction of new coal plants.  What they will do is set an emission rate performance standard (not a cap) that new coal plants must meet, based on what is technically feasible and economically reasonable.  Such standards could and should provide the market with a genuine reason to use carbon capture and storage technology – something lacking in today’s policy environment.  Unlike politicians and ideologues who blind themselves to the science, most power company executives and investors understand that they will need this technology if they are ever going to be able build coal plants again.

The Upton-Barton-Whitfield letter repeats the tired-out charge that EPA is engaged in a “back door” attempt to implement the climate and energy legislation that Congress failed to enact in 2010.  They ignore the existing Clean Air Act, passed by Congress decades ago, which gave EPA the duty and the authority to tackle new pollution threats as science identifies them.  As the Supreme Court held in Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007, and again in American Electric Power v. Connecticut last year, it is already EPA’s job to curb dangerous carbon pollution and protect our health and our climate under the Clean Air Act. 

No matter how many times this group of angry lawmakers try to mislead the public with wild claims about EPA's standards, the people's response is the same: we believe in EPA, not you and your polluter friends.