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House votes to weaken Obama’s climate rule

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By Timothy Cama and Cristina Marcos
The House voted Wednesday to delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rule for power plants and let state governors opt out of complying.

The bill, passed 247-180, is a major blow to the main pillar of President Obama’s effort to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, although the White House has promised a veto to protect his legacy.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s power subpanel, sponsored the legislation as House Republicans’ principal response to the EPA’s climate rule. The rule has become the most controversial aspect of the Obama administration’s environmental policy, and one of its most controversial regulations.

Under the bill, state governors could opt out of adopting state plans for the EPA’s regulation if such a plan would harm electricity rates, reliability or important economic sectors in the states.
The regulation’s enforcement would also be delayed until all court challenges are resolved.

The GOP believes that the rule will not withstand judicial review, so the delay is designed to ensure that the regulation never takes effect.

“They’ve picked up a shotgun and pointed it at the heart of the American economy, our power generation,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said of the EPA.

But Democrats warned it would ultimately gut the regulation intended to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“This ‘just say no’ bill would effectively give governors the power to sabotage EPA’s proposed clean power plan by allowing them to opt out of the federal requirements of the plan based on arbitrary and ambiguous determinations,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

The EPA proposed the regulation last June, and plans to make it final this August. It seeks a 30 percent cut in the carbon emissions of the nation’s power plants by 2030, with specific targets assigned to each state.

Regulators will give states 13 months to draft plans to hit their targets. If they don’t, the EPA will write its own plans and impose them — something the GOP is trying to prevent.

“Earlier we heard the gentleman from Illinois say that this was a ‘just say no’ bill,” Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said in response to Rush. “You bet it is. That’s exactly what it is. It’s a ‘just say no’ bill. No to a weaker electric grid. No to fewer jobs, particularly in manufacturing and also in the coal and energy industries.”

The White House sees the bill as a threat to the centerpiece of Obama’s climate legacy, and it has threatened a veto.

“The bill would give governors unprecedented and broad discretion to avoid compliance with the [CAA, Clean Air Act], thereby delaying the delivery of important public health benefits,” the White House wrote to lawmakers Tuesday.

“The bill’s effects would be felt hardest by those most at risk from the impacts of air pollution and climate change, such as the elderly, the infirm, children, native and tribal groups, and low-income populations,” it said, calling the bill “premature and unnecessary” and saying that Obama’s advisors would urge a veto if it gets to his desk.

The White House added that it “is not aware of any instance when Congress has enacted legislation to stay implementation of a CAA standard during judicial review.”

Senate Republicans have put their efforts into a similar bill that would go even further in its attempts to weaken the rule and impair the EPA’s ability to set carbon rules for power plants.

Their bill, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), would give governors even more reasons they could cite in rejecting compliance, including if doing so would hamper economic growth, competitiveness or jobs.

The Senate legislation would also repeal the EPA’s rule and reinterpret the Clean Air Act to make it extremely difficult for the agency to regulate power plants’ carbon.

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