The Republican-controlled U.S. House moved Thursday to block President Barack Obama's plan to limit carbon emissions from new power plants, an election-year strike at the White House aimed at portraying Obama as a job killer.
Ten coal-state or Southern Democrats joined with Republicans to approve the bill, 229-183. Supporters said the measure was part of a strategy to fight back against what they call the Obama administration's "war on coal."
Obama's proposal, a key part of his plan to fight climate change, would set the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants.
A measure sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set carbon emissions standards based on technology that has been in use for at least a year. Republicans and some coal-state Democrats say the EPA rule is based on carbon-capturing technology that does not currently exist and wouldn't make a difference in climate change even it it did.
Many states count on coal for most of their power needs, Indiana, which gets more than 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants.
Whitfield, chairman of a House subcommittee on energy and power, called the power plant proposal "one of the most extreme regulations of the Obama administration," adding that it would "make it impossible to build a new coal-fired power plant in America."
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., denounced the measure as "a science-denial bill" that would strip the EPA of its ability to block carbon pollution. Waxman and other Democrats said the bill was a blatant attempt to thwart the EPA and villify the Obama administration in an election year.
The White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it would "undermine public health protections of the Clean Air Act and stop U.S. progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants." Power plants account for about one-third of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, the EPA says.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and other officials have said the proposed rule — the first of two major regulations aimed at limiting carbon pollution from power plants — is based on carbon reduction methods that are "technically feasible" and under development in at least four sites. The rule affecting future plants is a prelude to a more ambitious plan, expected later this year, to control carbon pollution at existing power plants.
In January, McCarthy told the Senate Environment Committee: "We looked at the data available. We looked at the technologies. We made a determination that (carbon capture and storage technology) was the best system for emission reductions for coal facilities moving forward, because it was technically feasible and it would lead to significant emission reductions."
Whitfield and other critics dispute that, saying carbon capture technology is years away from being commercially viable.
The EPA rule would "mandate (emission) control technologies for power plants that are not yet commercially available, effectively banning new coal-fired power plants … and setting a dangerous precedent that could cascade to other fuels," the National Association of Manufacturers said in a letter supporting Whitfield's bill.
But environmental groups said the bill would gut the EPA's authority to reduce carbon pollution.
"The bill sets up impossible tests for any EPA standard reducing carbon pollution to meet and allows utilities to decide what regulations will be for new power plants — effectively delaying the best emissions reductions technology for years or even decades," the League of Conservation Voters said in a letter urging lawmakers to oppose the bill.
While Whitfield's bill easily cleared the Republican-controlled House, the fate of a companion measure sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is less certain.
Manchin has said his bill would ensure that pollution standards imposed by the EPA are realistic, calling the current proposal "unattainable under today's technology."
A spokesman for Manchin said Thursday that the senator plans to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats to discuss a path forward for the bill.