Washington, 21 September (Argus) — The US House of Representatives today approved a package of coal-supportive legislation that would halt or slow implementation of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions rules and limit Interior Department oversight of surface mining.
The Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act, HR 3409, which was dubbed the “Stop the War on Coal Act,” passed by a vote of 233-175, including 19 Democrats who voted for it. It was the chamber's last legislative act before the November presidential and congressional elections.
The bill combined five House measures that together would effectively gut coal-related EPA initiatives rolled out over the last two years. Provisions range from a ban on regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act to prohibitions on implementing mercury and air toxics standards and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule or any “substantially similar” regulation.
It also gives states primary authority over the regulation of coal combustion wastes and restricts the Interior Department's ability to issue new surface mining regulations.
Industry groups hailed the vote as a sign Congress is protecting coal and related jobs while opponents including the Sierra Club and Environment America assailed the action as “reckless.” Before the final vote, Democratic House whip Steny Hoyer (Maryland) called the proposal a distraction from more substantive issues and criticized Republicans for introducing a measure comprised of legislation that was already voted on and sent to the Senate, where it has languished.
“There is no reason why we should be spending our time voting on these issues again,” Hoyer said.
The bill's future is uncertain. The Senate will not consider it until after the election and the White House has threatened to veto the legislation should it reach President Barack Obama's desk. The legislation might have new life next year in the new Congress if Obama loses and Republicans control the House and Senate.
Republicans said the legislation was necessary because US electric generators are closing power plants in response to new and pending EPA rules while other regulations are slowing and limiting coal production.
“The Stop the War on Coal Act is common sense legislation that protects coal jobs from these destructive regulations that have put the heavy boot of an out-of-control federal regulatory bureaucracy on the neck of the coal industry,” said representative Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), whose coal miner employment bill was part of the package approved.
One provision in the bill requires EPA to rewrite its mercury rules for coal- and oil-fired generators to take into account factors including the cost of reducing emissions and the effect on employment. The agency would have to wait a year after a report on the economic effects of various federal regulations before it issues new ones and give utilities at least five years to comply once rules are finalized. The report is due by 30 September 2013.
EPA's current standards call for generators to reduce mercury emissions by about 90pc by 2015 though the agency and states can allow individual units an extra year or two to comply.
The bill approved today also would keep the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) in place while EPA develops a replacement for the cross-state rule, similar to a requirement in last month's federal court ruling striking down the cross-state regulations. But the legislation prohibits the agency from starting work on a new rule for three years.
The bill also blocks EPA from restricting SO2 and NOX allowance trading between entities in different states and requires the agency to allow states at least three years to implement the new program once it is issued. It would require basing any program on monitored emissions data rather than modeling.
The House also approved a handful of amendments to the bill, including two requiring the government to publish and make public scientific data used as a basis for writing regulations and one that limits EPA's authority to regulate the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.
Another amendment approved requires the secretary of transportation to estimate the number of jobs lost because of the auto emissions standards introduced last month that require new cars and light trucks meet the equivalent of a 54.5 miles/USG standard by 2025.
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