|House Passes Bill to Allow States to Opt out of Clean Power Plan Compliance|
On June 24, Congress took its first concrete step to stall President Barack Obama's efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's fleet of existing power plants by passing a bill, the Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042). Sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the bill would allow states to delay compliance or opt out of the Clean Power Plan. The vote was 247 to 180 with eight Democrats joining all but four Republicans in backing the measure. The House effort is unlikely to succeed as the White House has threatened to veto the bill, but the vote marks the first concrete expression of dissatisfaction toward EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Whitfield's bill would allow states to delay complying with the Clean Power Plan until all legal challenges are exhausted and would allow a state to opt out of complying with the regulation if its governor certifies doing so would significantly raise electricity rates or affect reliability. Senate legislation (S. 1324) that would go further still by immediately killing off the regulation and setting strict requirements for any future rules also could get a vote this summer. EPA expects to release a final Clean Power Plan in late summer.
The House accepted two amendments to the bill but voted down three offered by Democrats. Lawmakers accepted two amendments to Whitfield's bill by voice vote. One, from Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), expressed the sense of Congress that EPA should specifically address how megawatt hours discharged from pumped hydroelectric storage systems would be treated in compliance plans. The other accepted amendment, from Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), would require EPA to treat hydropower as a renewable energy source in the Clean Power Plan.
Three amendments from Democrats fell. House members defeated an attempt from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to require that governors certify that power plants contribute to human-induced climate change if they want to opt out of developing their own compliance plans. It fell on a 181 to 245 vote. Another amendment from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) would have required a governor to certify opting out of developing a state implementation plan wouldn't have a significant impact on the state's ability to respond to extreme weather events fueled by climate change, including flooding, intense storms, wildfires and drought. It was rejected on a 182 to 243 vote. House members then defeated an effort by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) to remove the opt-out and legal challenge provisions from the bill and replace them with broader consultation requirements. That amendment fell 177 to 250.
Separately, on June 24 Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) said his state won't comply with the Clean Power Plan unless the final rule is substantially different from the proposed version. Pence said efforts to cap emissions will result in higher electricity prices, hurting Indiana's efforts to expand manufacturing. In addition, the “premature” closing of coal-fired power plants raises concerns about electricity shortages, he said. Oklahoma is to date the only state to formally say it won't comply with the Clean Power Plan, though Wisconsin and Texas have indicated they are seriously considering the same approach. Most of the nation's governors, however, have rejected calls for them simply to ignore the final EPA rule. The Ratepayer Protection Act (H.R. 2042) is available here.