WHEELING - The House of Representatives voted Thursday to stall U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal-fired power plants, a measure that faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where similar legislation hasn't moved an inch since being introduced in early January.
Legislation known as the Electricity Security and Affordability act, co-authored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., passed the House 229-183, with 18 not voting. Only 10 Democrats voted in favor of the measure and only three Republicans opposed it.
All area representatives voted in favor of the bill.
Smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal-burning power plant in Montana.
The Manchin-Whitfield legislation not only would reverse new rules on carbon emissions from new power plants announced by the EPA in January, but would limit the agency's ability to regulate existing generating stations - something it plans to do soon, possibly by this summer. The bill would bar the EPA from enacting standards until at least six U.S. power plants have achieved them for 12 consecutive months.
Two amendments to the bill offered by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., were adopted prior to its passage. They would direct the EPA to consult with a number of stakeholders before submitting its report to Congress and require a study of both the domestic and global impact of proposed regulations.
"We've heard from numerous business leaders that tell us that excessive regulations are holding back job growth," McKinley said. "We need to create an economic environment where businesses feel confident about their future in this uncertain economy as the Obama administration continues to bypass Congress with its ever-changing government regulations."
Those fighting the new rules have said they effectively bar the construction of coal-fired power plants because the technology needed to achieve the standards isn't commercially available. But opponents of the bill in the House argued such technology is available, and power plants are unlikely to implement it unless the government requires them to do so.
"Under this bill, EPA would only be permitted to set standards for new coal plants if the power sector first voluntarily broadly adopts the pollution controls needed to comply with these standards, without any government mandate, funding or financial assistance. This simply will not occur," Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Mass., and Bobby Rush, D-Ill., wrote in a dissent to the committee's report.
Manchin on Thursday urged his Senate colleagues to take quick action to pass the bill. After introducing his version in January, Manchin acknowledged it would face a "hard lift" in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where he has found himself at odds with members of his own party in opposing President Barack Obama's climate change policy.
"It's just common sense that regulations should be based on what is technologically possible, and unfortunately, what the EPA has proposed is simply unobtainable," Manchin said. "With the EPA's proposed standards, the stability of our electrical grid will be threatened and the price of electricity will rise dramatically, jeopardizing America's economy and countless jobs without providing any real environmental benefit."