Republican lawmakers are launching an investigation to determine whether an environmental group wielded outsized influence in the development of Environmental Protection Agency power plant rules.
The GOP congressmen are concerned that the Natural Resources Defense Council might have coordinated with the EPA when the agency was crafting its proposed rule for limiting carbon emissions from power plants.
"It appears that the NRDC's unprecedented access to high-level EPA officials allowed it to influence EPA policy decisions and achieve its own private agenda," the lawmakers said in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The group, led by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also sent a letter to NRDC President Frances Beinecke.
The lawmakers are seeking correspondence between the agency and environmental group regarding the proposed rule dating back to January 2009. They also want correspondence related to the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a copper-and-gold project that the EPA said could proceed if developers met certain conditions.
The lawmakers cited a New York Times story that profiled three senior NRDC officials who crafted the group's power plant proposal upon which many believe the EPA based its own plan.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have wielded that allegation against the EPA in recent hearings, saying that the agency listened more to environmental allies than the concerns of industry and business groups who say the proposed rule will raise energy costs.
The EPA has rejected claims that the NRDC framework, which the group published in 2012, drove the agency's design of its own proposal.
"We didn’t just hear these ideas from one group or even one sector; we heard them from just about everyone. And what emerged was a collection of ideas — or threads — that guided us as we crafted our proposal," EPA Air and Radiation Administrator Janet McCabe said in a July blog post responding to the Times story.
The key similarity between the NRDC plan and what the EPA proposed in June is that states could include a variety of measures taken to reduce carbon emissions standards that occur outside the power plant.
Opponents, though, have called that approach legally questionable, as they contend the Clean Air Act — the federal law under which the EPA proposed the rule — only allows regulating at the smokestack. Doing so would result in less emissions reduction.
The proposed rule, due for finalization next June, aims to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It's the most aggressive action the EPA has ever taken to address climate change, which a scientific consensus says is largely driven by humans burning greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.