Utilities, Enviros Tracking New Rules

Coral Davenport

The Environmental Protection Agency has embarked on a historic undertaking: writing a sweeping set of regulations aimed at slowing global warming by dramatically cutting pollution from the nation’s fleet of coal-fired power plants.

First will come a finalized rule controlling carbon pollution from new coal plants, which could freeze plant construction. Next up will be a rule controlling carbon pollution from existing facilities, which could lead to the shuttering of old, heavily polluting plants. Once EPA issues the rules, the Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take up legislation to weaken or delay them.

In the meantime, advocacy groups from all sides are focusing their efforts on EPA’s rule-makers, in hopes of influencing the final language.

Electric utilities with large numbers of coal plants, such as Ohio’s American Electric Power and Louisiana’s Entergy, are meeting regularly with EPA officials, trying to hammer out compromises that will allow the agency to move forward with its agenda to reduce global warming without unduly hurting corporate bottom lines.

Environmental groups are engaging heavily as well. The Natural Resources Defense Council has written a model regulation for existing coal plants and offered it to EPA. The environmental group believes its version may be more lawsuit-proof than some others.

For now, the committee is keeping a close eye on the rule-making. Staffers are meeting with electric utilities and environmental groups, and Democratic aides, in particular, maintain good lines of communication with EPA. Once the rules are finalized—which may not happen until 2015—advocacy attention will pivot from the executive branch back to Congress, and the committee will likely again be center stage.

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