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House Republicans pressure EPA to drop coal-plant carbon rules

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Jan. 10, 2009: A flock of geese fly past a smokestack at the Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan. (AP)

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw its proposal to impose carbon dioxide limits on power plants.

Committee leaders sent a letter to EPA director Gina McCarthy on Friday, asking her to withdraw the proposed regulations, arguing that the agency is trying to "impose standards beyond the scope of its legal authority."  

In September, the EPA released a proposal to set emissions caps for new coal-fired power plants that would likely require the industry to use carbon-capture technology, which involves burying the carbon underground.  

Critics argue the technology, which is still under development, is too expensive, not commercially available and poses serious safety risks.

The agency maintains the technology has been “adequately demonstrated” based on three government-funded projects. The lawmakers argue the EPA is prohibited by law from using the projects to justify its proposed regulations.  

Last month, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., released a draft a bill to block the EPA's proposal to limit emissions from new power plants and require the agency to set rules for coal-fired power plants that incorporate "commercially feasible" technologies. 

At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the matter Thursday, Manchin said the EPA's proposal would hold the coal industry to "impossible standards" by forcing it to do something that is impossible to achieve. 

"If we just stand by and do nothing and let the EPA eliminate coal from our energy mix, we’re going to see the stability of our electrical grid threatened and see the price of electricity rise
dramatically, jeopardizing America’s economy and countless jobs with no real environmental benefit, " Manchin said. 

Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who has endorsed the Manchin-Whitfield proposal, said the EPA's proposed rule is a threat to the nation's fuel diversity that allows for a stable and affordable electricity supply. 

"The president's energy strategy is the exact opposite of an all-of-the-above approach and would limit our energy choices, jeopardize jobs, raise energy costs and threaten America's global competitiveness," Upton said. 

During the hearing, EPA official Janet McCabe voiced concerns over the GOP proposal, which she said would limit the development of cutting-edge clean energy technology and prevent timely action on cutting carbon pollution.

The Manchin-Whitfield proposal has yet to be introduced.