Environment & Energy Report

Panel Sends Clean Air Carve-Out Bills to House Floor

Dec. 6, 2017, 12:47 PMUpdated: Dec. 6, 2017, 5:31 PM

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent seven environmental bills to the House floor Dec. 6.

Four of the measures would deliver targeted exemptions from clean air rules to a group of narrow industries—coal refuse energy, brick making, wood heating, and car racing. Those bills are in line with the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce environmental regulations.

Given Republican majorities, the bills’ passage on the House floor appears sure: Of the 214 recorded votes cast during the markup, 209 were along party lines. The measures’ futures are less clear after that, however.

Clean Air Carveouts

One bill, the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment (SENSE) Act (H.R. 1119), would continue a waiver for waste-to-power companies under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule. The exemption is set to expire in April 2019. The bill passed on a strict party-line 31-23 vote.

Without the waiver, four of the nation’s 19 coal refuse plants—three in Pennsylvania and one in West Virginia—won’t be able to survive, according to the coal refuse industry. Democrats said the bill rejects evidence-based scientific decisions made by government agencies and courts that went into the mercury rule.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) voted against the bill despite hailing from the state where the coal refuse industry is centered. During the markup he said he had begun conversations with both Democratic and Republican members on legislation to speed the cleanup of Pennsylvania’s waste coal piles, hopefully with some provisions for retraining out-of-work miners.

But Rep. David McKinley (R-Ga.) expressed frustration at Democratic resistance to the SENSE Act, saying he and his colleagues had made many attempts to decrease the bill’s emissions exemptions.

“Just when are we ever going to get around to finding language that we can accept?” McKinley said. “We’ve been trying to work across the aisle on this and all we get is rebuffed.”

Brick Makers, Wood Heaters, Race Cars

Another bill (H.R. 1917) would extend the date by which brick makers have to control hazardous air pollution from their kilns. That bill was approved on a strict party-line 31-23 vote.

Most brick companies are small firms and would have to borrow millions of dollars to pay for the equipment needed to comply with the EPA rules, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the bill’s sponsor, has said. Democrats, however, argued that the bill is merely an attempt to push off health protections until industry lawsuits are fully litigated.

The third air-related bill (H.R. 453) would give residential wood heater and furnace manufacturers three more years before their products have to meet tougher Clean Air Act emissions standards. It was approved, 32-21.

Under the current rule, companies have to stop making or selling any wood and pellet stoves, hydronic—transferring heat by circulating fluid—heaters, or forced-air furnaces in May 2020. Federal regulators “must take into account the real-world needs and time constraints of industries,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), one of the bill’s sponsors, has said.

The panel also approved by 33-20 a bill (H.R. 350) that would exclude cars made or modified for racing from being regulated as motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. Congress didn’t intend for race cars to fall under the Clean Air Act, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the bill’s sponsor, said.

Pro-Hydropower Legislation

Also approved during the hearing, by voice vote, were a pair of bills to promote the development of hydropower. Republicans and Democrats had earlier reached an agreement on those measures.

One bill (H.R. 2872) would promote hydropower development at existing nonpowered dams. It would also require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Department of Interior to identify which nonpowered dams have the greatest potential for hydropower development.

Another bill (H.R. 2880) would promote closed-loop pumped storage hydropower and would require FERC to put together a workshop exploring development of closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mine sites.

Hydropower is a clean, renewable energy source, but Democrats have argued that Republicans are trying to wrest control of the nation’s waterways away from local communities and hand them over to big power companies.

The final bill (H.R. 1733) approved by voice vote would direct the Energy Department to review a report on the energy and environmental benefits of re-refining used lubricating oil.

(Adds votes and comments from House legislators.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bloombergenvironment.com

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