Another Assault on Clean Air

Just before Halloween, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) circulated a draft bill that would block EPA from issuing standards that would cut health-threatening carbon pollution from new coal power plants and repeal EPA's authority to apply carbon pollution limits to existing power plants.  I reviewed the draft bill here, explaining how it would prevent EPA from doing anything meaningful to reduce carbon pollution from America's biggest source of that pollution: coal and gas-fired power plants.

The authors of the bill never disputed what we contended the bill would do. Instead, they introduced the bill unchanged (H.R. 3826 and S. 1905). In January, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 29-19 to report H.R. 3826 to the full House.  And now as Mardi Gras masquers celebrate, the House is poised to vote on this bill.

The Halloween and Mardi Gras timing of this bill is apt, for its dangerous provisions masquerade behind fallacious claims about what EPA is trying to do and what this bill would do.  The truth is that EPA is following the law that bipartisan majorities in Congress enacted and that the Supreme Court has twice held warrants use of the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from the dangers of climate havoc caused by carbon pollution.

In 2012, EPA proposed the first-ever national carbon pollution standards for coal and gas-fired power plants and last June President Obama directed EPA to proceed with safeguards for existing power plants as well.  Under the Clean Air Act, EPA only can set standards that can be shown to the courts' satisfaction, to be technically feasible and economically reasonable and needed to address threats to health and welfare from air pollution.

But requiring EPA to meet those sensible conditions is not enough for the big polluters. They want to block EPA from finally ending the special treatment that has allowed them to put billions of tons of dangerous carbon pollution into the air for decades; carbon pollution that will still be in the air when our children's children reach old age.  The polluters' scheme embodied in this bill would put EPA in handcuffs and leg irons, blocking the agency from doing anything that could protect the public from the continuing scourge of carbon pollution from this industry.

Here's how the bill blocks EPA from protecting us:

  • It repeals all current and pending EPA proposals for power plant carbon pollution standards.
  • It bars anything but do-nothing standards for new coal plants, creating an impossible test before EPA could go further.
  • It repeals EPA’s authority to apply carbon pollution guidelines to existing dirty power plants and requires a new Act of Congress before any national carbon standards for existing power plants could be implemented.

I explain the details here and won't repeat them.

The Whitfield and Manchin bills have been opposed by more than 100 organizations, including the American Lung Association, the Small Business Majority, the American Sustainable Business Council, and scores of other health, environmental, and faith organizations.

These groups, representing ordinary citizens who depend on EPA to protect them from damaging pollution, know this bill would be bad for their families and bad for our efforts to build a thriving economy based on the cleaner energy that we need to prosper in the future.

The question now is how many members of the House will listen to these voices and stand with them by saying "no" to a bill that should be called the "Polluter Protection Act"?