WASHINGTON — A federal proposal to impose strict new rules on emissions from new coal-fired plants has drawn the ire of critics who are determined to stop regulatory effort from affecting coal-producing states such as Colorado.
On September 20, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new rule for new coal plants: large plants can emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour while smaller plants can emit the slightly higher figure of 1,100 pounds. The proposal would not apply to existing coal-fired plants.
“Climate change is one of the most significant public health challenges of our time,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a press release. The EPA said coal plants harm public health and are the largest concentrated source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Lawmakers from coal-producing states have protested many of the ambitious regulatory proposals put forward by the Obama administration since the president took office in 2009, claiming the curbs represent a “war on coal.” They did not let up at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
With the white dome of the Capitol at their backs, nearly two dozen members of the House and Senate, including one Democrat, denounced the EPA proposal primarily in economic terms, saying it would raise energy rates and cause coal plants to lay off employees.
“Shovel-ready jobs apparently don’t apply to those who work in coal,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) quipped, referring to President Obama’s description of the jobs that the 2009 economic stimulus bill would produce.
“Coal produces low utility rates. This (proposal) is a disaster,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, squeezing a crinkly white sheet of paper in his hands.
“This proposed resolution would make America the only country in the world where you could not build a coal plant to produce electricity,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said.
The immediate impact of the proposal is unclear. Colorado ranks eleventh in coal production and three-fifths of the state’s energy comes from coal, according to the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative-leaning non-profit based in Washington, D.C.
Whitfield said if the proposal became law, it would affect three coal-fired plants in production in the United States — a plant in California, Texas, and Mississippi. Media outlets have said it would affect two.
The effect of the proposal on consumer energy bills is also unclear. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a leading environmentalist in Congress, argued that California has high energy rates because of legislation stretching back to 1974, but low utility bills.
“The way we build homes and insulate them — it’s more energy efficient,” Miller said in an interview Thursday.
The typical energy consumer in California pays $83.70 a month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The sum compares to $80.12 in Colorado and $108.16 in Kentucky.
Regardless of the impact, Whitfield announced he would hold a hearing of the House Energy and Committee soon and is drafting bipartisan legislation with members of the House and Senate. The EPA proposal, which rescinds a March 2012 draft, has a 60-day comment period.