House Republicans are moving at a feverish pace to pass legislation to delay the Environmental Protection Agency's emission rules for power plants, the linchpin of a climate agenda President Obama hopes to make one of his legacy achievements.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday began marking up the bill, the Ratepayer Protection Act of 2015, which would allow state governors to opt out of compliance with the plan if they believe it would impose undue costs on their ratepayers.
The bill would also allow states to delay submitting compliance plans to the Environmental Protection Agency until the courts have finished weighing the legality of the climate plan, which directs states to make specific cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions.
Many scientists say these emissions are causing the Earth's climate to warm, resulting in more severe weather, floods and droughts.
The markup began with a clash between GOP supporters of the bill and Democratic opponents.
Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., was the first to submit an amendment to limit governors' ability to resist compliance with the EPA emission rules. The amendment would make any decision by a governor not to comply to be made subject to court review.
Tonko argued that the current bill provides governors with "absolute power" to resist federal regulation. "What kind of precedent does that set?" he asked. He said a federal court should be able to determine a governor's decision to "opt out" so as not to constrain the EPA's power under the Clean Air Act.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., one of the principal authors of the bill, admonished Tonko over his amendment. Whitfield explained that the bill is about "checks and balances," and that many states believe the EPA does not have the legal authority to move forward with its climate change plan.
EPA is shifting decisions about resource planning from the states to the federal government, and is doing so on an abbreviated schedule, Whitfield said. The bill recognizes that the Clean Power Plan is "so controversial," and allows for the courts to decide first whether it is legal before states move forward to comply, he explained.
Kentucky and more than a dozen states have sued EPA over the emission rules in federal appeals court. Oral arguments in the case were held April 16. The states argue that EPA does not have the authority to move ahead because the section of the air law it uses to develop the rules restricts it to regulating individual power plants. Thus, EPA cannot impose rules regulating an entire state's emissions.
Tonko's amendment was rejected by voice vote.
The energy and power subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Bobby Rush from Illinois, immediately called for another amendment to be considered. Rush's amendment would direct states to consider the costs of combating climate change affects before seeking to opt out of the Clean Power Plan over electricity price increases.
Rush said the Congress should not allow individual governors to make "willy-nilly" decisions regarding federal regulations. Rush said lawmakers must "ensure some sense of accountability and protect … the public interest." His amendment was shot down, 26 nays to 19 yeas, in a roll call vote.
Lawmakers will reconvene later Wednesday with a vote expected on the bill. If approved, the bill would go to the House floor for a vote by the entire chamber.