An Obama administration proposal to limit the amount of carbon emissions power plants emit into the atmosphere was barely an hour old before congressional Republicans were vowing to repeal it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lashed out at the Environmental Protection Agency for announcing a strict set of rules Friday that will require future coal-firing power plants to capture almost 40 percent of the carbon dioxide they release. McConnell, who has made protecting the coal industry a cornerstone of his re-election fight against Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said he would introduce legislation to undo the EPA's rules.
“The president's decision today is an escalation of the war on coal, and what that really means for Kentucky families is an escalation of his war on jobs and the Kentucky economy," McConnell said. "This is another attempt by the president to fulfill his long-term commitment to shut down our nation’s coal mines."
Lawmakers have 60 days after an agency releases a new rule to propose a resolution to nullify the regulation. However, the resolution must pass both the House and a Democratically controlled Senate that is overwhelmingly sympathetic to climate change.
Regulating CO2 emissions from new and existing power plants is a major component of President Obama's second-term agenda to fight climate change. Under the proposal released Friday, new coal plants and small gas-fired plants will have to limit carbon output to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour, while large natural gas plants must keep emissions below 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour. The typical coal plant produces about 1,800 pounds of CO2 per hour.
Lawsuits challenging the new regulations are expected.
A proposal released last year would have limited coal plants to the same standards as large natural gas plants, but the EPA decided to provide greater flexibility after significant blowback from Republicans and energy companies. By next year, the EPA must release regulations for existing facilities, which could prove equally controversial.
To prevent surpassing the threshold, coal plants must capture the carbon gases before they reach the atmosphere. That technology is not readily available, Republicans and coal advocates say.
But EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said four plants are currently in the works that use carbon-capture technology and will serve as a model for the industry.
"These standards are achievable because they'll secure major public health and environmental protections, but they reflect the demonstrated performance of a variety of clean, homegrown technologies, technologies that are already entering the market and being constructed in plants today," McCarthy said.