Republicans to question EPA official on air-toxics rule for power plants

House Republicans will bring the Environmental Protection Agency’s No. 2 official before a committee today to question him on the economic impacts of a proposed air-toxics rule for power plants.

EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing on the economic impacts of the agency’s proposed “Utility MACT” rule. The rule would require new and existing generating units at 525 power plants that run on fossil fuels to reduce toxic emissions of mercury, acid gases and non-mercury metals by roughly 90 percent starting in 2016.

The hearing comes as a coalition of states, including Texas, and utilities ask a federal court to delay the final rule’s issuance until late in 2012. The agency is currently scheduled to issue it in mid-December of this year. The plaintiffs, led by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, contend the agency has rushed the rulemaking process and failed to assess economic impacts to businesses and taxpayers.

The hearing is meant to give the public “a forum to assess EPA’s rulemaking process, hold the agency accountable for its decisions, and understand what action is needed in the future to ensure that the regulatory process works with—not against—job creators and consumers,” House Oversight and Government Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement ahead of the hearing.

Utility MACT critics say the rule would raise electricity prices, cost industry nearly $11 billion per year beginning in 2016 and result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

EPA has put public-health benefits at $59 billion to $140 billion per year and said the rule would save 17,000 lives a year and prevent 850,000 missed workdays a year. The agency has rejected concerns the rule would hurt the economy, noting that private-sector jobs increased 86 percent and gross-domestic product grew more than 200 percent in the first 40 years of the Clean Air Act, while emissions of six main air pollutants regulated under the law fell 63 percent.

In late September the House voted to weaken Utility MACT and delay it until at least late this decade. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which would also delay and weaken the agency’s upcoming Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requiring power plants in 27 states to cut smog- and soot-forming pollutants that cross state lines.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a House panel language in the bill “would weaken or destroy our ability to address those toxic pollutants” covered by the two rules.

A poll taken before the bill’s passage showed 67 percent of U.S. voters oppose efforts by Congress to delay the power plant rules.

EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said last month her agency wouldn’t back down from issuing the Utility MACT rule or moving forward with the cross-state rule, which Texas has asked a federal court to block. The agency denies having done anything wrong in how it drew up the rule.

“We must continue, and we will,” McCarthy told an air-quality conference in Washington on Oct. 24.

McCarthy said the mercury reductions in the Utility MACT rule are more than 20 years overdue and the cross-state rule replaces a George W. Bush-era regulation that a court sent back to the EPA in 2008 to rewrite.