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Congressman calls EPA actions 'un-American'; lawmakers clash over Interior-EPA budget bill


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Congressman calls EPA actions 'un-American'; lawmakers clash over Interior-EPA budget bill

Acongressional hearing on U.S. EPA regulations went sour after a subcommitteemember called the agency's regulatory actions "un-American" andanother questioned an EPA official's credentials.

Thetumult began with comments from Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, who asked JanetMcCabe, the EPA's acting assistant administrator for the office of air andradiation, repeatedly if the EPA had fulfilled its duties under the Clean AirAct to study the wider economic impacts of regulations. Johnson asked McCabeseveral times if her agency intended to enlist the Clean Air ScientificAdvisory Committee, which provides independent advice to the EPA administrator,to do so.

Republicanlawmakers kept up their fight to block major federal regulations for the energysector by submitting amendments to the U.S. House of Representatives' spendingbill for the U.S. Department of Interior and EPA. At the same time, Democratssubmitted dueling amendments aimed at protecting many of those rules, includinggreenhouse gas emissions standards for the electric power sector.

GOPlawmakers pushed for further restrictions on EPA activity in recently submittedamendments. A proposal from Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., would prohibit funds frombeing used to implement, administer or enforce any new regulatory action costingover $100 million.

Newdata released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration tracks thepollution controls that the nation's coal-fired power plants have installed inresponse to the U.S. EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

TheEIA has now looked at how power plants have responded to the regulation thusfar in a new brief. According to data released July 7, coal-fired plants with87.4 GW of total capacity added pollution controls between December 2014 andApril 2016.

Atotal of 19.7 GW of coal-fired capacity retired in that time frame as well,exceeding the EPA's December 2011 estimatethat 4.7 GW of smaller and older coal-burning units would retire as a result ofthe rule. Overall, coal-fired generation capacity dropped from 299 GW at theend of 2014 to 276 GW as of April. Coal's share of total electricity generationdeclined from 39% in 2014 to 28% in the first four months of 2016.

TheRepublican National Committee this week voted to return the word "clean"to the discussion of the need for coal in the party's platform, following anabsence ahead of the last presidential election.

Proposedby party delegate David Barton of Texas, the addition marks a modest, butnotable change from the party's previous defense of coal in its officialplatform.

"Texas,unknown to most, is a very high coal producing state — we have a lot of coalresources," Barton said. "I would insert the adjective 'clean' alongwith coal, particularly because the technology we have now so 'the DemocratParty does not understand that coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliabledomestic energy resource,'" he said in defense of the amendment, whichpassed with no objection.

FormerPeabody Energy Corp.executive Fred Palmer called for a stronger partnership with the U.S.government to ensure "21st century coal" in the post-electionlandscape, during a talk July 12 sponsored by the American Coal Council.

Palmerpushed for greater federal support for coal technologies that will allow loweremissions from power generation to ensure industry longevity. "In all ofthis, technology is key, and the way forward for coal and a partnership withthe United States of America is required in this space, just as wind and solarhave partnered with the U.S. in getting where they are today, taking awaymarket share from coal," Palmer said.

Citingdata compiled by the National Coal Council, Palmer argued the currentadministration has overwhelmingly supported renewable energy efforts with muchless support for technologies like carbon capture and storage.

TheU.S. EPA has taken a step forward in updating recommended safe fresh waterconcentrations of selenium, an element often unearthed during .

Thecriteria are used as a standard for states to determine how they should settheir own water quality standards. Where the EPA previously suggested statesmeasure selenium concentration in the affected bodies of water, it nowrecommends tissue-based measurements from fish, fish eggs, ovaries and more.

Environmentalistshave expressed concern that tissue-based sampling could make it more to initiate citizenlawsuits. In a July 12 statement, the Center for Biological Diversitydescribed the standard as a "gift to industry."

TheIllinois Environmental Protection Agency has limited the powers of its newacting director, Alec Messina, over a possible conflict of interest, accordingto a memo received by the Illinois Times.

Thestate regulatory agency said in a memo dated July 5 that Messina's previous jobmay mean his appointment is not in compliance with a section of the Code ofFederal Regulations that states that state National Pollutant DischargeElimination System's state permitting programs cannot include as a memberanyone who has received 10% or more of gross personal income "directly orindirectly from permit holders or applicants for a permit" currently or atany time during the past two years.

Illinoishas brought its mining safety regulations in line with U.S. Mine Safety andHealth Administration rules, according to a bill signed July 8 by RepublicanGov. Bruce Rauner and created by state Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton.

"Theregulations that were more stringent really didn't do anything for employeesafety," Illinois Coal Association President Phil Gonet told S&PGlobal Market Intelligence. "We didn't believe that it made mines safer,it just incurred more costs."

Theamended law also requires the examination of every underground seal beforeminers can enter the mine if examiners find more than 1% methane in the air, aswell as other safety updates concerning things like monitoring technology andescape path inspections.