GOP senator eyes politics in delay of EPA climate rule limiting coal pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency may have intentionally delayed issuing a regulation limiting carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants so the rule would not be finalized until after the midterm elections, a GOP senator said Tuesday.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., sent a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy questioning the agency's decision to submit the rule to the Federal Register on Nov. 25, more than two months after the proposal was released to the public.

"Based on this sequence of events, it appears that the delay in the proposal’s publication may have been motivated by a desire to lessen the impact of the president’s harmful environmental policies on this year’s midterm elections," Inhofe wrote.

Inhofe cited a Politico story about the delay between releasing the rule and submitting it -- a move that prevents Republican lawmakers from forcing a vote on repealing the regulation until January 2015 -- after the midterm elections.

"Now, because of EPA’s delay, the proposal will not need to be finalized until well after this election cycle," the senator wrote.

Inhofe said the delay contradicted congressional testimony provided earlier this year by McCarthy, who said the rule had been submitted to the Federal Register office "as soon as that proposal was released" to the public on Sept. 20.

"If the rule was finalized by Sept. 20, 2014, the American people would have about six weeks to consider the negative impact of the rule on the economy prior to going to the polls," Inhofe wrote to McCarthy.

He called the possibility of electioneering with the climate rules "deeply troubling."

McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January that the agency submitted the rules for publication last fall and "tried very hard" to get them published in the Federal Register.

"The delay was solely the backup in the Federal Register office," McCarthy told the committee at a hearing.

Following McCarthy's testimony, Inhofe wrote to Federal Register Director Charles Barth, who informed the senator that his office had received EPA’s proposed rule Nov. 25, according to Politico.

The agency's proposal would impose tough new limits on the amount of carbon dioxide new plants are allowed to emit, essentially requiring any new coal plants to install carbon-capture technology, which critics argue is too expensive.

Inhofe asked McCarthy for documents related to delay and what role the White House Office of Management and Budget had in deciding when to submit the rule.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia told The Hill that the agency's rulemaking process timeline varies for each rule.

"EPA follows routine interagency and internal processes to ensure that formatting, consistency and quality control issues are addressed before any rule package is published in the Federal Register," Purchia said. "This is a normal part of the rulemaking process, and the time needed for these procedures varies for each rule."

Jahan Wilcox, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in a statement that the EPA is "playing politics with their job-killing energy policies."

"While the EPA thinks they are being cute, voters will see through this political fig leaf aimed at aiding vulnerable Democrats – like Landrieu, Begich, Pryor, Hagan and Walsh – so they later help them enact their radical cap-and-trade agenda," Wilcox said.