In the News  Archive

Stefanik votes to let plants avoid clean air regs

Adirondack Daily Enterprise
June 26, 2015

By SHAUN KITTLE 

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik voted for a bill Wednesday to postpone states' compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

Other Republicans followed suit - 239 voted yes, and four voted no, while 176 Democrats voted no and eight voted yes. Therefore, the bill passed the House by a 58- to 42-percent ratio, 247-180.

The Ratepayer Protection Act, sponsored by Kentucky Republican Ed Whitelaw, extends the deadline for mandatory compliance with regulations under the Clean Air Act of 1990, aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

The EPA accepted public comments on the draft Clean Power Plan until Dec. 1, 2014. The standards are scheduled to be finalized this summer.

There are currently no federal laws that limit carbon dioxide emissions, which many scientists have identified as a primary driver of climate change.

The Ratepayer Protection Act shields a state from having to adopt or submit a state plan for reducing carbon emissions if its governor notifies the administrator of the EPA that such a plan would have an adverse effect on the state's residential, commercial or industrial ratepayers, or on the reliability of the state's electricity system.

Proponents of the Ratepayer Protection Act say the regulations would result in increased energy costs for small business owners and taxpayers.

Opponents of the bill say there is no evidence that cleanup would necessitate future rate increases, and even if there were, those increases are negligible compared to the effects the air pollution does to the environment.

According to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics, Stefanik received $38,550 in contributions from individuals and political action committees associated with the oil and gas industry.

In an email to the Enterprise, Stefanik spokesperson Tom Flanagin wrote that Stefanik's vote reflects her dedication to protecting the constituents of her district.

"This piece of legislation stands to protect hard working North Country families from additional costs to comply with a potentially burdensome regulation handed down from the EPA until it has been subjected to a thorough judicial review," Flanagin wrote. "Under the proposed EPA rule, states, consumers, and stakeholders will face new costs, regulatory burdens, and uncertainty."

Flanagin noted that 32 states have made legal objections to the rule, and this legislation delays the deadline to comply until judicial review is finalized.

"Congresswoman Stefanik understands the importance protecting our environment has to our community and our economy, which is why she is a strong supporter of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation Fund and Plan 2014, among other initiatives," Flanagin said.

John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, said there have never been significant utility rate increases in the Northeast as a result of emissions standards.

"Back when Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to create the first acid rain program in the nation's history, we heard the same argument that there would be rolling blackouts all over the country, that there would be economic hardship as a result of making the pollution cuts that were necessary to curb acid rain," Sheehan said. "New York really had to take matters into its own hands initially to get the rest of the country to pay attention to the issue, and we did that by passing a law in 1984 (the State Acid Deposition Control Act) that affected our own power plants and showed that it wouldn't harm our economies."

New York later enacted a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing emissions from fossil-fuel power plants. The program distributes a number of pollutant allowances to electric generation companies in the state, which can be traded among the companies like money.

Power plants with the best technology can improve their facilities first. As the program continues, the state plans to distribute fewer allowances over time to further reduce emissions.

Sheehan said New York's program is evidence of two things: The Clean Power Plan is cost-effective, and the Ratepayer Protection Act wouldn't affect New Yorkers because the state already has emissions regulations in place.

Also, New York makes power companies go through an application process to raise rates, another level of consumer protection.
"We were told it would cost the nation $20 (billion) to $40 billion a year to implement those cuts, and in the end it wasn't anywhere near that costly because industry found ways to reduce the price and made longterm investments that reduce pollution at the same time," Sheehan said. "If this program were spread out across the country, we'd be able to achieve our goals of reducing carbon to the point where we've made a significant impact on what the future is like."

Conor Bambrick, air and energy director for Environmental Advocates, agreed with Sheehan's assessment. His group is vocal in its opposition of the Ratepayer Protection Act.

"We're not even talking about the particular regulations at hand with the EPA and the Clean Power Plan," Bambrick said. "They're actually going right at the heart of the Clean Air Act, something that's been in place for decades, and basically saying states don't have to comply with it. Whether it's carbon, mercury, ozone or whatever air pollution standards the EPA sets, they're basically saying states don't have to come up with a plan and we'll protect these states from having the EPA enforce it."
Bambrick said the issue also affects human health.

"Whatever impacts there might be on rates, positive or negative, they're going to be completely offset by the economic impact of the air quality and the significant health costs that are associated with that, especially if we're talking about lower-income communities that are already overburdened with air pollution," Bambrick said. "There are higher instances of asthma and pulmonary disease. If it's a lower-income community, there's a good chance that a lot of those health costs are picked up by Medicaid."

Despite Stefanik's vote, Bambrick said he'd still like to see the state lead the country in clean air policy.

"New York already caps carbon pollution from power plants, so the Clean Power Plan is really about the rest of the country catching up to what we've been doing for years," Bambrick said. "We would like to see the New York delegation stand up for the interests of New Yorkers and tell the rest of the country it's time to stand up for what New York is already doing."

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