The energy efficiency bill currently on the Senate floor may ultimately be sabotaged by the addition of controversial amendments on climate change and the Affordable Care Act. Particularly, a Republican amendment to the bipartisan bill would effectively block Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon emissions standards for new and existing power plants.
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) filed the amendment that would stifle the EPA’s carbon standards, The Hill reports. The amendment would prevent federal agencies from using the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) system. The social cost of carbon is way for the EPA and federal agencies to measure economic damage that releasing small amounts of carbon dioxide, and, conversely, the value of damages avoided by a small reduction in carbon emissions.
In May, President Obama’s administration published new estimates of the SCC, which Republican Senators, including Barrasso, David Vitter (R-LA), and James Inhofe (R-OK) promptly challenged, saying that the SCC number was inflated in order to advance a regulatory agenda. “The SCC is crucial to the Administration’s environmental agenda because the higher the number, the more benefits can be attributed to ‘costly environmental regulations and standards,” their letter to the EPA states.
Barrasso’s state of Wyoming led the country in coal production in 2011, accounting for roughly 40 percent of production, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The coal industry was the loudest to protest when rumors of Obama’s new carbon standards initiative first surfaced. Members of the industry continue to claim that Obama’s new standards would cripple the industry and quash the construction of new power plants.
According to the EPA, coal-fired plants accounted for 42 percent of the nation’s electricity production in 2011, and 80 percent of carbon dioxide emission from power producers. Last fiscal year, the state of Wyoming collected $289.4 million in coal severance taxes, Wyoming’s Star Tribune reports.
From 2009 to 2014, Sen. Barrasso received $363,366 in contributions from the oil and gas industry. He is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which determines how much oil, gas, mining, and timber industries can use public lands, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which determines how to solve the nation’s environmental problems.
Sen. Vitter received $582,950 from the oil and gas industry during that time period, and Sen. Inhofe received $260,350. Both are also members of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
The original bill contains measures to boost building codes, train workers in energy efficient construction technologies, help increase manufacturers’ efficiency, and increase conservation efforts at federal agencies, but may not go forward after the inclusion of the amendments.
Earlier this week, several industry groups, including manufacturing, coal, power, and refining businesses, pressured the EPA to include them in the crafting of carbon emissions standards for new and existing power plants. The groups wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, stating that it is “critical” that carbon regulations be set at “achievable levels,” stressing the potential impacts to the “economy and jobs.”
Even before President Obama formally announced his intentions to create the first-ever carbon emissions standards to limit pollution, industry members opposed and attempted to fight having to comply with new pollution standards.
Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.