POLITICS: PennAve

States use ALEC-backed bills to kill EPA power plant rules

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State lawmakers across the country are pushing bills and resolutions to nullify federal greenhouse gas emission rules for power plants based off a template adopted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, according a Washington Examiner review.

Legislators have filed measures that borrow portions of the ALEC model policy in at least seven states since the group's members approved it Jan. 15, and more state legislatures are likely to adopt the approach.

The state initiatives are more symbolic than anything, as states cannot choose to ignore the standards without fear of sanctions.

The Environmental Protection Agency is slated to offer a draft rule on greenhouse standards for existing power plants in June of this year and final rules for both current and new plants are due in June 2015.

"If you take a step back, why would they do it? EPA has not proposed anything yet," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, whose members include state and local officials. "Already, groups like ALEC are trying to tie the hands of states."

The power plant rules -- EPA proposed the rule for new plants last month, the one for existing facilities is scheduled for a June release -- are the cornerstones of President Obama's second-term climate change agenda.

Supporters say they'll help curtail emissions to combat climate change and save billions in health care costs, but conservatives and industry groups say the rules will hike electricity rates and harm the economy.

The pushback is ramping up at the state level, where lawmakers have lifted language from ALEC's model resolution to include in their proposals. In Florida, Missouri and West Virginia, they're in the form of bills; in Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota and Ohio, they're resolutions that object to the forthcoming federal standards.

ALEC says it does not lobby or craft legislation. But what its paying members — who include trade organizations, private firms and lawmakers at all levels of government — do with the model policies adopted at its meetings is beyond the group's control, said Molly Fuhs, a spokeswoman.

"We truly do serve as an educational organization," she said in an interview. "Of course, state legislators are a member of ALEC, so it's possible for them to access our model policy."

It's not the first time ALEC has put environmental and energy issues in its crosshairs.

Last year, it focused on dismantling or altering state renewable portfolio standards. Those policies, to varying degrees, require states to generate a certain portion of their power from renewable sources.

The group also adopted a resolution that takes whacks at net metering incentives in which utilities pay rooftop solar customers for excess electricity they supply back to the grid.

The power plant push underscores the resentment expressed by coal-heavy and conservative states toward the proposed EPA rules for new and existing power plants. Lawmakers from those states in Washington, for example, have said the policies amount to regulatory overreach.

The rules' opponents are concerned they will push electricity rates higher and possibly lead to more blackouts by taking generators offline. They also contend that the proposal for new power plants is unfeasible because it requires installation of carbon capture and sequestration technology, which traps emissions and pumps them underground, that hasn't yet been demonstrated at commercial scale.

"I just don't think the EPA realizes the jobs impact that they have when they put these harsh rules on things," said Democratic West Virginia state Del. Rupert Phillips Jr., who is sponsoring a bill that would require the new power plant rules to rely on "adequately demonstrated" emissions-reduction technology.

Republican Kansas state Rep. Tom Sloan said more state bills on the power plant regulations are likely to come. Sloan doesn't support those efforts -- a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures' energy supply task force, he's met with EPA air chief Janet McCabe to discuss how to bake state- and utility-level flexibility into the rules. But he said it's illustrative of a broader theme of states' rights that some conservatives have increasingly championed.

"I think for a lot of the legislators, this is a state versus federal agency battle, and nothing else matters. For the utilities — the responsible utilities are working to meet the EPA requirements. It is the law, if you will," Sloan said in an interview.

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