WHEELING - Sen. Joe Manchin's push to curb U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants cleared its first hurdle this week, but he knows his biggest challenge will come from leaders of his own party.
Manchin, D-W.Va., expects the Electricity Security and Affordability Act - which cleared the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power - to gain approval from the full House. But he predicts the legislation, co-authored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., will face a "hard lift" in the Senate, where Manchin often has found himself at odds with fellow Democrats.
A new rule published last week, four months after EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced it was coming, would limit carbon dioxide emissions from future coal-fired power plants to 1,100 pounds per megawatt hour, about 35 percent less than the 1,700 pounds averaged by existing plants.
"They're putting (in) targets that are unobtainable. ... To do what they're doing is wrong," Manchin said Wednesday during an energy forum at the Newseum in Washington.
Critics of the rule say it effectively bars the construction of new coal-fired generating stations because the carbon capture and storage technology needed to meet the new standards hasn't yet been implemented successfully. The Manchin-Whitfield bill would bar the EPA from enacting standards until at least six U.S. power plants have achieved them for 12 consecutive months. It also would require the agency to provide Congress with a detailed study of the potential economic impact of any new rule.
Manchin challenged opponents of the coal industry to demonstrate how they plan to replace the roughly 40 percent of America's electricity that is generated by burning coal.
"I've often said West Virginia should just turn the switch off and see how the East Coast likes it. Maybe it would bring them back to their senses," he said.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., a member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and one of 62 co-sponsors of the Manchin-Whitfield legislation, pointed to a Friday report that states nearly 92 million Americans are not working as evidence that the country can't afford regulations that may hold back job growth.
"The Obama administration continues to green-light regulations that are killing our economy," McKinley said. "Removing the largest source of America's electricity will lead to higher utility costs and the loss of jobs for millions. Putting more unachievable regulations on coal-fired power plants when the technology is still not there jeopardizes our nation's economic recovery."
During Wednesday's event, Manchin also addressed the Obama administration's continued delay in making a decision on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska - a project he said was supported by Obama's own State Department and which has wide bipartisan backing.
"Do you buy from your friends or your enemies? To me, you buy from your friends," he said. "We don't have a better trading partner than Canada. ... It doesn't make any sense. None at all."