GOP Can’t Wait to|Kill Clean Power Plan

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Though the Supreme Court put a pin in Obama’s environmental legacy, debate over his Clean Power Plan and its implementation raged Thursday in Congress.
     The referendum today devolved from a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that had been billed as an examination of the stay the Supreme Court granted in February.
     Just days after the Supreme Court blocked the Clean Power Plan from taking effect with a 5-4 order, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left the court without its previous conservative majority.
     Two dozen states and regulatory agencies are challenging the plan, codified at Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which requires a 32 percent reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants across the nation by 2030, relative to 2005 levels.
     Though the Obama administration defends the rules as historic action on climate change, but challengers, led by West Virginia, say the plan will destroy jobs, cause electricity bills to skyrocket and weaken the nation’s electric grid.
     The D.C. Circuit is poised to consider the merits of the challenge at an en banc hearing in September, but Republicans used today’s hearing as an opportunity to renew complaints of executive overreach.
     “Neither the Clean Air Act nor the regulatory system was meant to operate like that, and the president knows that,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said at the hearing.
     Two witnesses on today’s five-person panel joined Democrats on the committee in praising the plan.
     “These rules are enormously important for the health of Americans and EPA has done these rules paying attention to both the costs and the benefits,” said Richard Revesz, a law professor at New York University School of Law. “Each rule has regular impact analysis that shows the benefits of these rules significantly outweigh the costs. And I don’t mean to deemphasize the costs, there are costs, but there are benefits that are much greater than those costs.”
     Revesz told the committee the Supreme Court’s stay does not prevent states from implementing their plans if they wish and should not force the administration to move back its implementation dates.
     If upheld, the plan gives states until September, or 2018 if granted a waiver, to submit CO2-reduction proposals. Otherwise the EPA imposes its own plan.
     “In arguing the EPA must put its pencil down, opponents confuse the effects of a stay with those of an injunction, which the Supreme Court did not hand down,” Revesz said.
     But Allison Wood, a partner at Washington law firm Hunton & Williams, told the committee a later deadline is necessary for states “who become fearful that, if they do not continue the plan and work for compliance with the power plan, that they will not have enough time to do so if the rule is ultimately upheld by the courts.”
     If the stay is in effect for 500 days, she explained, the EPA should give states 500 more days to come under compliance.
     “That is what status quo means,” Woods added.
     Debate over the EPA’s handling of the stay proved brief, however, as senators and witnesses sparred over whether the Clean Power Plan should even exist.
     Republicans, like West Virginia Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, said the rule has caused “irreparable harm” to states that rely on coal plants for their power needs. West Virginia is one of the 29 states that have decided not to move forward with their implementation plans during the stay, Capito said at the hearing.
     Missouri Rep. Jack Bondon touted legislation he introduced that would suspend the use of any state money to comply with the plan while the stay is in effect — a fitting tribute to the character of Missouri that earned its nickname as the Show Me State.
     Bondon predicted “double-digit” increases in power costs under the Clean Power Plan.
     “In summation, I believe that the Clean Power Plan is bad for the people that I represent,” Bondon said. “And in Missouri many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agree. And so I am pleased that the Clean Power Plan has been stayed by the Supreme Court, and it is my hope the plan will be withdrawn or overturned.”
     Clean Power Plan proponents on the left meanwhile hit Republicans for their inaction on climate change, drawing parallels to their handling of polluted water and air.
     “My point is this: that rather than looking at ways to stop the administration moving forward with regulations, it would be good if Congress just passed laws as to how we can meet our obligations for clean air,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said at the hearing.
     Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat whose weekly speeches on climate change are a regular Senate spectacle, took the critique a step farther. Some would say backward.
     After spending most of his five-minute allotment for questions describing a two-day hearing on greenhouse gasses and climate change held 30 years ago by the late Sen. John Chaffee, Whitehouse suggested Thursday’s hearing was a sham.
     “Of course all of this predated the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which has allowed the fossil fuel industry to effect a virtual hostile takeover of the Republican party, rendering that party today the de facto political wing of the fossil fuel industry and producing hearings like today’s, after 30 years,” Whitehouse said.
     The Chaffee discussed in Whitehouse’s speech was the father of the former Rhode Island senator who briefly sought the Democratic presidential nomination last year.
     Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., took offense at Whitehouse’s accusation.
     “Presumably it is improper for Sen. Capito, for example, to raise the question in light of the 40 percent increase in power rates for her constituents, what difference is this going to make once we’ve implemented every word of it?” Wicker said, though Whitehouse had left the room.

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