March 13, 2014

House GOP starts investigation on EPA power plant rules

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans initiated a probe Wednesday to determine who at the Environmental Protection Agency was responsible for crafting greenhouse gas emission rules for future power plants.

The GOP members want to zero in on a provision in the proposed rule that they say violated the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as it cited carbon capture and sequestration projects that received federal funding. They said the act prevents the EPA from requiring new power plants to use that technology, which would be necessary to comply with the rule.

"EPA may only impose emissions standards that would require the use of technologies that have been 'adequately demonstrated,' " the lawmakers, including committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., wrote EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The emissions rule is one of two -- the other is on existing power plants -- that form the cornerstone of President Obama's climate strategy. The administration and most Democrats say it will improve public health and blunt the effects of climate change, while Republicans say it will raise energy costs and stifle the economy.

Republicans say carbon capture and sequestration technology for power plants doesn't meet the "adequately demonstrated" metric, and that the EPA can't base its emissions rule, which is due by June 2016, on it. The lawmakers asked McCarthy for the names of EPA officials who evaluated whether the agency complied with the Energy Policy Act, with other documents.

They say the technology, which traps emissions and pumps them underground, is currently too expensive to install at commercial scale in the electric utility sector. Also, the examples the EPA cited in its proposed rule received federal funding, which Republicans said show the technology isn't viable.

But the EPA has said the rulemaking required it to look beyond the regulated industry — in this case, electric generation. It noted that carbon capture and storage technology is available elsewhere and has argued that it will be ready for the utility sector by the time the emissions rule goes into effect.

"These proposed standards reflect the demonstrated performance of efficient, lower-carbon technologies that are currently being used today," Janet McCabe, who leads EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said Wednesday at a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing. "They set the stage for continued public and private investment in technologies like efficient natural gas and carbon capture and storage."

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