House passes package curbing mining, power plant rules
Written byMANUEL QUINONES, Greenwire
The House voted 233-175 Friday to pass a legislative package aimed at rolling back Obama administration regulatory efforts at coal-fired power plants and mines.
Nineteen Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the bill, while 13 Republicans voted against. Democrats who joined the GOP-led effort include Reps. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania and Jim Matheson of Utah.
The legislation, H.R. 3409, combines measures that would block U.S. EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, prevent a hazardous designation for coal ash, delay implementation of new mercury limits on power plants and limit the Interior Department's ability to finalize a strip mining rule.
"We're the ones affected, we're the ones hurting," West Virginia coal miner Joshua Nelson said at a morning news conference arranged by the supporters of the legislation.
Even with competition from natural gas and other factors affecting coal power generation, Republicans and some Democrats say Obama administration rules are at least partly to blame for companies like Alpha Natural Resources Inc. announcing layoffs in recent months.
"We're trying to create jobs, not lose jobs, especially when we're trying to be and remain competitive in the global marketplace with countries like China that are stepping up the use of their coal," said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Energy and Power Subcommittee.
The legislation will be the House's final action before leaving Capitol Hill to campaign for the November elections with coal having become a significant talking point in Ohio and other key states.
Coal boosters are making the most of the debate. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this week released ads criticizing Obama's coal policies. And today the Republican National Committee released a 25-page report on the issue.
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) dismissed claims that the GOP-controlled House is playing politics on coal.
"We've been for a long time worried more about the next generation than the next election," he said during this morning's news conference. Johnson is in a tough race against former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) in a coal-producing district in southeastern Ohio.
While there has been some movement in the Senate in favor of some aspects of the House's coal bill, the overall package is unlikely to gain traction.
"I implore the Senate to act on this," Johnson said.
Asked about the chances of upper chamber passage, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, "No."
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said of the Republican coal package, "Their partisan legislation would have terrible effects on the air our children breathe and the water they drink, and it won't help us meet the challenge of creating jobs for our middle class or provide us with greater energy security."
The House voted down all Democratic amendments, including efforts at creating a renewable energy standard, studying the health effects of coal dust and allowing the administration to issue mining rules aimed at protecting people from ailments like cancer (E&ENews PM, Sept. 20).
Lawmakers adopted all Republican amendments, including one prohibiting EPA from retroactively vetoing Clean Water Act permits like it did in West Virginia last year. They voted to limit the agency's oversight over the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and over air clarity.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) also successfully added a provision to require the secretary of Transportation to estimate costs, injuries and fatalities stemming from motor-vehicle fuel economy and emission standards. The legislation already included clauses to scrap new standards, spurring the White House to issue a veto threat.
Environmental groups chastised Republicans for fast-tracking the coal bill while putting off votes dealing with extending the wind production tax credit and farm bill. They decried what they called a gutting of environmental protections and a giveaway to polluters.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, said immediately after the vote, "Republicans have been so busy manufacturing fake wars on coal and oil that they've missed the real American energy revolution in natural gas, wind, solar and other cleaner, cheaper forms of energy."