Regional tension over power plant rule
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February 26, 2014
Regional tension over power plant rule

Reactions to EPA’s proposed New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) to control carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new coal-fired power plants are taking on a regional aspect with opponents scattered through the Southeast, lower Midwest, and Mountain States and many supporters in West Coast, upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast states. 

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For example, 41 U.S. senators, mainly from states that produce coal or rely to a large extent on older coal-fired power plants for energy, recently sponsored a joint resolution to “disapprove” the proposal, meaning any final NSPS that match the proposed standards would have no force or effect.  Conversely, 250 businesses in Maine wrote to that state’s two senators that the NSPS is a critical step in controlling climate change that could have a devastating impact on Maine’s economy.

The Congressional Review Act provides Congress with the authority to block major rules by the executive branch with a simple majority vote.  Senate Republicans have tried this tactic in recent years to block other EPA actions but have not succeeded.

Midterm elections

According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), a principal sponsor, the resolution of disapproval responds in part to political maneuvering by the administration.  McConnell claims the EPA timed the release of the NSPS proposal to ensure that a final rule would not appear until after the midterm elections.  This means that “vulnerable Senate Democrats” will not pay a political price for supporting the rule, according to McConnell. 

In his remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell also argued that the proposal is part of the administration’s plan to “eliminate coal jobs in America.”  He added that the NSPS will not reduce CO2 emissions in any meaningful way.  “What it will do, however, is trigger a section of the law that would allow the Administration to eventually shut down coal-fired power plants that exist today,” said McConnell.

Ocean economy

But that may be a desirable outcome for the Maine business leaders, who believe that climate change “poses a serious threat to Maine’s economy, environment, and quality of life.” 

The brief letter to Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King emphasizes the state’s dependence on the ocean and the threat posed by rising temperatures.

“Warmer and more acidic oceans endanger lobsters and other marine fisheries,” the letter states, “jeopardizing the culture and economy of Maine’s coastal communities.  This includes the many Maine businesses supported by tourism that are associated with lobsters and the working waterfront.  A rising sea level and more extreme weather further imperil coastal properties, roads and infrastructure, and wildlife habitat.  Climate change is also likely to increase smog and worsen public health and hurt our economy through impacts to winter recreation, forest products, and other sectors.”

Signatories to the letter add that they believe that limiting carbon pollution from power plants will spur innovation and investment in clean energy, “strengthening Maine’s economy and curbing the climate instability that could have devastating impacts on Maine’s small businesses.”

The EPA is accepting comments on the proposed NSPS for new coal- fired power plants until March 10, 2014. 

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