House panel hammers EPA on US CO2 emissions rules

19 June 2014 20:57 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The Obama administration’s plans to sharply limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by existing US electric power plants came under heavy fire from House Republicans on Thursday, challenging the legality, purpose and effect of the plan.

In a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) assistant administrator Janet McCabe was pressed on multiple fronts by Republicans and one Democrat panel member.

McCabe was called before the panel, part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to explain the EPA’s new proposal to limit CO2 emissions from existing power plants.

Those proposed rules, issued earlier this month, followed a similar EPA initiative in 2012 regarding any new power plants to be built in the US.

Critics of the two proposed regulations, including many in the US chemicals sector and a broad range of other manufacturers, charge that the rules effectively would force the shutdown of any existing coal-fired electric power plant and bar the use of coal for power generation in the future.

The proposed rules set carbon dioxide emissions limits that are far below the level of CO2-generation by even the most modern coal-fired facility.

US Chemicals producers, who depend on natural gas as both a feedstock and power fuel, also are heavy consumers of electric power. They worry that killing off coal in the US electric power profile - which makes up about 40% of current capacity - will drive demand for and prices of natgas much higher.

In the hearing, Representative Joe Barton (Republican-Texas) complained that even if Texas shut down all of its coal-fired and natgas-powered electric utilities, the state would still fail to meet the CO2 emissions targets that EPA has set for the state by 2030.

Barton said that just because President Barack Obama wants to cut US CO2 emissions, makes a speech about it and sends a memo to the EPA to make it happen, does not make it legal. He asked McCabe to furnish the legal grounds for the agency’s action.

Congressman Bill Cassidy (Republican-Louisiana) was sharply critical of the plan, charging that the Obama administration is putting its green agenda ahead of the interests of US citizens and businesses.

“This administration is so busy saving the Earth that they’re willing to sacrifice American families,” he said.

Peter Olson, another Texas Republican, said that when he talks to his constituents, they ask: “Why does the EPA, that works for me, want to kill my job?  Why does the EPA, that works for me, want to hurt my family?”

Addressing McCabe, Olson said, “If you can’t answer these questions today, then they will be answered in November”.  He was referring to this year’s mid-term elections in which Republicans are poised to take control of the Democrat-majority Senate.

Representative Mike Burgess, also a Republican from Texas and a physician, challenged the EPA’s claim that the emissions limits would save 100,000 deaths from asthma.

He grilled McCabe on the medical basis for that claim, noting that “nowhere in medical science is CO2 listed as a trigger for reactive airway diseases” such as asthma.

Democrat John Barrow of Georgia said that while he accepts the theory of human-caused global warming, he objects to the Obama administration acting on the matter without including Congress.

Representative David McKinley (Republican-West Virginia), noted that 82% of global emissions of CO2 come from countries other than the US. 

He charged that if the EPA and the Obama administration press ahead with what he termed harsh CO2 restrictions, it would impose serious costs on the US economy and employment but without purpose, as emerging economies around the world, such as China and India, are forecast to boost their CO2 emissions in the near term by 40-60%.

He asked McCabe whether in a year or two the EPA would withdraw the emissions limits rule if at that time the US economy is in decline and China and India are surging ahead without regard for their emissions.

McCabe said no.

Subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (Republican-Kentucky) said that many more questions need to be addressed by the EPA and that there would be additional hearings.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By Joe Kamalick