WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s new emission caps on oil and coal-fired power plants are the most costly regulations on utilities to date, House Republicans argued at a hearing Wednesday.
“It is simply unacceptable for this administration to continue to impose policies that are driving up energy prices and putting the economy and jobs at risk,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the House energy and power subcommittee.
The new standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency approved in December, are the first national standards limiting emissions of several toxic pollutants associated with fossil-fuel plants, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium and hydrogen chloride.
House Republicans said the limits will force power plants to close and lay off workers and downplayed the dangers the emissions pose to public health.
Regina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator, defended the new standards by pointing to EPA analyses showing that the regulations will lead to 100,000 fewer deaths annually from heart and asthma attacks.
She added that the regulations will create jobs because people must manufacture and operate the equipment that power plants need to reduce their emissions.
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, criticized that analysis. “That’s only half the equation,” he said, adding that the EPA should also have estimated the number of existing jobs the regulations would kill. Power plants that find no cost-effective way to meet the standards will close, he said.
While acknowledging the cost of installing new emissions-reduction equipment, McCarthy said the money the public will save on health care costs will outweigh industry costs.
Republican committeemen said the regulations would increase energy prices. McCarthy said that an EPA analysis showed that a typical American household would pay around $3 more per month for electricity. Republican committee members said the EPA underestimated the price effect.
Republicans characterized the new emission limits as a fresh attack in what they say is President Barack Obama’s effort to strangle the oil, coal and gas industries.
“It’s a war on the workers and the families in these industries,” said Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.
Coming to EPA’s defense, House Democrats on the committee emphasized the public health benefits of the regulations and accused Republicans of ignoring science and exaggerating the potential job loss.
“We should be cheering this good news, but instead we’re holding this hearing to criticize the EPA for protecting the health of our children,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “Science denialism should have no place in governance. It’s reckless and dangerous.”
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said that the regulations would create more jobs than the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial oil pipeline that Republicans said would create jobs but Democrats fought for environmental reasons.
Based on some job estimates for the pipeline and the EPA’s regulations, he said, “we would need 26 Keystone pipelines” to match the number of jobs created by EPA regulations.
Markey said he was frustrated with House Republicans constantly bashing the EPA for its regulations.
“It’s groundhog day in the House,” he said, alluding to the movie “Groundhog Day“ in which the main character keeps waking up on the same day, “with the same hearings, the same bills, the same votes, over and over again.”