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U.S. Congress Moves To Nullify Obama Regulation Of Power Plant Carbon Dioxide

Legislation: Lawmakers seek to torpedo President’s hallmark policy on climate change

by Cheryl Hogue
November 4, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 44

Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Wknight94
Obama’s Clean Power Plan will require coal-fired power plants to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Photo of Big Bend Power Station, a coal-fired power plant near Tampa, Florida.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Wknight94
Obama’s Clean Power Plan will require coal-fired power plants to reduce their CO2 emissions.

While governments from around the world are preparing to finalize a new climate change agreement by mid-December, many in the U.S. Congress are attempting to undermine President Barack Obama’s negotiating stance. Those lawmakers hope to scuttle Obama’s centerpiece policy to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants, saying it will raise consumers’ electricity bills too much.

That policy, called the Clean Power Plan, is an Environmental Protection Agency rule that limits carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. EPA estimates that by 2030, the rule will shrink CO2 emissions from the power sector some 32% below 2005 levels–or by 870 million tons. It calls for coal plants to improve conversion of heat into electricity, an emissions trading program, and greater reliance on renewable energy.

By issuing the Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration demonstrated to other countries that the U.S. President has power, through regulation, to implement domestic action to curb greenhouse gas emissions even if the majority controlling Congress opposes such action. Obama wants to show the world that the U.S. can back up its emission reduction pledges in a new climate change deal to be finalized in Paris next month.

But now, conservatives and coal-state legislators hope to rescind that EPA rule via the little-used Congressional Review Act. That 1996 law, enacted as part of Republican’s “Contract With America,” allows Congress to pass resolutions that nullify a regulation. Legislators have used this law successfully only once.

Introduced in late October, companion resolutions in the Senate (S.J. Res. 24) and House of Representatives (H.J. Res. 72) would overturn the Clean Power Plan. “Our bipartisan legislation enables senators to express their frustration with the rule,” says Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Lawmakers also introduced a second set of resolutions (S.J. Res. 23 and H.J. Res. 71) that would revoke a related EPA regulation that sets tough CO2 emission standards for new or refurbished fossil-fuel-fired plants.

House and Senate committees are working to vote on the resolutions in the coming days and weeks. If Congress passes them by a simple majority, which is possible, supporters would next have to garner enough votes for a two-thirds majority to override a virtually certain veto by Obama.



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