House passes bill delaying emissions rule Texas wants blocked

Despite the threat of a presidential veto, the House passed a bill Friday that delays an emissions rule aimed at reducing pollution across state lines and would require a new committee to analyze how Environmental Protection Agency rules impact businesses.

The TRAIN Act would require a new interagency committee to analyze the business impacts of several EPA rules. It would also delay for two years the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and another rule aimed at reducing mercury pollution.

The cross-state rule would require power plants in 27 states, including Texas, to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that EPA says can harm health across state lines.

Texas officials and utilities have said the rule could force some power plants to shut down when the rule takes effect on Jan. 1, 2012, and the new requirement could cause electricity disruptions and blackouts.

Earlier this month Dallas-based Luminant sued the EPA in an effort to block the rule, while Texas filed a similar suit this week. Luminant said this month that it would shut down two units at a coal-fired power plant and cut 500 workers because it claimed it couldn’t meet the new standard by January.

EPA officials have insisted that utilities should have no trouble meeting the new standards, because they have until March 2013 to comply and can use whatever technologies they’d like. Analysts have also said it appeared Texas could comply with the new rules.

The bill contains a floor amendment from Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, requiring EPA to consider “cost and feasibility” in developing air rules. Currently the agency must consider only public health and environmental considerations.

Another amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio,will require the EPA to complete a study on how an upcoming rule for reducing sulfur in gasoline would impact air quality.

Gonzalez, who’s co-sponsoring the amendment with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said EPA had failed to complete a study required under a previous law.

“EPA should complete the study first and provide for adequate comment and feedback from stakeholders before proceeding with proposed rule,” Gonzalez said on the House floor during debate on the House bill known as the TRAIN Act.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, said the EPA is moving forward with the rule “based on a half-baked study.”

Both Green and Gonzalez ended up voting against the final bill, however, in line with their Democratic colleagues.

While the bill easily passed in the House, it faces a difficult future in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“This amendment would be a disaster because this amendment nullifies these two critical EPA rules to cut air pollution from old, dirty power plants,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said on the House floor before passage.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before a House panel yesterday that the language in the Whitfield amendment (named for Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.) “would weaken or destroy our ability to address” power-plant pollution and could prevent the agency from ever issuing a new cross-state rule.

Obama threatened on Wednesday to veto the TRAIN Act, saying the bill’s analyses would duplicate analyses the administration already does and the bill would “slow or undermine important public health protections.”

Democrats balked that the TRAIN Act is a “Trojan horse” designed to dismantle the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce dangerous air pollution, while Republicans defended the bill as protecting jobs and its required analyses as giving businesses a better idea of EPA rules’ impacts.

Environmental groups blasted the passage of the TRAIN Act, saying it would halt 40 years of progress on reducing air pollution under the Clean Air Act.

“Though first introduced as a misguided ‘study bill’ meant to analyze several EPA clean air safeguards, this reckless legislation has now turned into the single biggest assault on the Clean Air Act in history,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group based in Washington.

The American Petroleum Institute, an oil-and-gas industry trade group based in Washington, welcomed the approval of the Kinzinger-Gonzalez amendment.

“The new requirements could be devastating for consumers and communities across the nation,” said Misty McGowen, API director of federal relations. “American taxpayers deserve a thorough analysis of the economic and jobs impacts before EPA moves forward with its proposal.”

Whitfield said on the House floor that his amendment does not permanently bar any EPA rules.

“We are at very fragile time in our economy,” Whitfield said.