A bipartisan bill taking aim at the centerpiece of President Obama's agenda on climate change probably has little chance of becoming law, but it gives the coal industry and its supporters a new rallying cry against impending Environmental Protection Agency regulations for power plants.
On Monday, House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced a discussion draft of legislation to significantly rein in EPA's regulatory authority over greenhouse gases in the electricity sector.
The draft would block the agency's proposed new source-performance standards for future power plants, released in September. It calls on future EPA rule-making for new coal-fired power plants to mandate already existing, commercially proven technology to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, and it would allow Congress to determine when regulations on existing plants take effect.
"We're just using a practical, common-sense approach," Whitfield said at a press briefing on the bill. "If an entity wants to [build a new coal-fired plant] and they can use the best available technology ... then the EPA ... should not be able to stop them from doing that."
The release of the discussion draft comes ahead of a major push against the regulations on Tuesday, with a pro-coal rally set to take place on the West Lawn of the Capitol. The rally, organized by Count on Coal, a grassroots coal advocacy campaign, is expected to draw between 3,500 to 4,000 participants, many of them miners and utility workers concerned about the EPA regulations.
"There's a real human impact here," said Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association. "There are a lot of people who are very concerned about how extreme these regulations are and want to make their voices heard."
Coal-state lawmakers from both parties are expected to attend, including Manchin and two fellow West Virginians — Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall and Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito — along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.
"I would be hopeful that [the administration] would listen and not just give us lip service," Capito told National Journal Daily. "If all we're doing is raising the level of discussion and shining a light on it and hoping to change things that way, I'll take what I can get. Because I'm very frustrated that it's been a deaf ear up to this point."
Environmentalists began attacking the Whitfield-Manchin draft as soon as it became public Monday. "This would handcuff the EPA, preventing it from reducing carbon pollution that puts our children's health at risk," said David Hawkins, director of climate programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's the latest attempt by radicals in Congress to gut the Clean Air Act's ability to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change."