EPA denies politics played role in delay of carbon pollution rules for new power plants

WASHINGTON – The head of the Environmental Protection Agency denied Thursday that the agency delayed formal publication of carbon pollution rules for new power plants for political reasons, as Republican senators have claimed.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency submitted the rules for publication last fall and “tried very hard” to get them published in the Federal Register. The rules were finally published last week.

The proposed rules would impose tough requirements on new coal-fired power plants, setting the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide and other pollutants blamed for global warming.

“As soon as that proposal was released, we had submitted it to the Federal Register office. The delay was solely the backup in the Federal Register office,” McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

McCarthy’s comment came as GOP senators stepped up opposition to the proposed power plant rule, which Republicans say amounts to a “war on coal.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., filed a formal resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, a rarely used provision that allows Congress to block executive branch regulations that Congress considers onerous. The law been used successfully only once since it was approved in 1996, congressional staffers said.

“Kentucky is facing a real crisis here,” McConnell said Thursday in introducing the disapproval motion. Regulations imposed by the Obama administration have already cost hundreds of coal jobs in Kentucky, McConnell said, adding that the EPA rule “would effectively ban coal-fired power plants from being built in the future.”

“These are good jobs that pay more than $1 billion in annual wages to my constituents. And for every miner with a job, three more Kentuckians will hold a coal-dependent job too,” McConnell said.

It was not clear Thursday when or if McConnell’s motion would get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Thirty-nine fellow Republicans supported the petition.

Meanwhile, Republican senators called the delay in publication of the EPA rules political, noting that it means the rules likely will not be finalized until after the 2014 elections.

Sen James Inhofe, R-Okla., said the EPA’s actions show a double standard by the Obama administration on climate change.

“On the one hand, the president says we don’t have time to delay action on global warming,” Inhofe said. “But on the other hand, his actions show it is OK to wait to finalize rules that will harm the economy until after the elections so they won’t have an impact on vulnerable Senate Democrats who face voters this fall” in coal-producing states.

Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said it is normal for a large rule-package such as the power plant rule to “take some time” before being published in the Federal Register. The rule was reviewed by the White House and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs before being submitted to the Federal Register.

The partial government shutdown in October may have contributed to a longer lag time than usual, Johnson said.


Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: