Republicans pitch budget amendment to let states opt out of Clean Power Plan

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) put forward a budgetary amendment to allow states to opt out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the nation’s power plants by 30% by 2030. The Senate could vote on the budget this week.

The Hill (3/25, Cama) reports that McConnell proposed the amendment “on behalf of Sen. Rob Portman,” the junior senator from Ohio “who is up for reelection in 2016.” The amendment would give either the “governor or legislature” of a state the option of being exempted from the EPA rule for a number of reasons, including the cost of the rule on “low-income or fixed-income households,” the risk to grid reliability, the possibility of reduced “investments in power plants,” and harm to a state’s manufacturing sector or to its overall employment and tax base. Additionally, on Monday, House Republicans presented “another kind of opt-out for states” that would allow governors to “veto any compliance plan for the rule,” although this proposal “would not completely shield states from complying like Portman’s amendment.”

The Hill (3/25, Cama) also reported online that any vote on Portman’s measure “would likely come Wednesday or Thursday during one of the Senate’s budget ‘vote-a-rama’ sessions.” Also, the article pointed out that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will appear before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday to testify about the DOE’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee on the environment will pick up with “the markup meeting it started Tuesday for its bill to change the EPA’s coal ash regulation.” Finally, a House Appropriations subcommittee has a hearing scheduled for today related to DOE’s “military nuclear agencies.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer (3/25, Koff) calls the move “a symbolic stand” by Portman, “although it could set the stage for concrete action later.” The EPA claims that the Clean Power Plan “would help avoid 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days,” while further reducing “electricity bills roughly 8 percent.” Ohio used coal for about two-thirds of its electricity generation last year.