House committee launches investigation into EPA climate regulations

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday launched an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed greenhouse gas standards that would limit the amount of carbon new power plants can emit.

Republican leaders on the committee sent a letter to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy requesting documents and information to examine whether the agency complied with the law when it developed the climate change regulations.

The committee's investigation centers on the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which the lawmakers argue limits agency's consideration of certain government-funded projects using carbon capture and storage technology, a process that involves burying carbon underground.

The EPA maintains that carbon capture and storage technology has been "adequately demonstrated" based on a government-funded project under construction in Mississippi and three planned projects in Texas, California and Canada.

But provisions in the Energy Policy Act say the technology can't form the basis for future EPA regulations simply because it's deployed at these projects, according to the National Journal.

"We continue to have questions about EPA decisions concerning agency consideration of [carbon capture and storage] technologies, and the information derived from use of these technologies, at facilities that have been receiving federal funding or tax credits authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005," read the letter from Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and other Republicans.

The investigation comes just days after the House-led GOP voted to require the EPA to set carbon emissions standards based on technology that has been in use for at least a year. The bill passed by a 229-183 vote. Ten Democrats, mostly from coal-producing states or the South, joined Republicans in support of it.

The White House has threatened to veto, saying the bill would "undermine public health protections of the Clean Air Act and stop U.S. progress in cutting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants."

McCarthy and other officials have said the proposed rule — the first of two major regulations aimed at limiting carbon pollution from power plants — is based on carbon reduction methods that are "technically feasible." The rule affecting future plants is a prelude to a more ambitious plan, expected later this year, to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants.

"We looked at the data available. We looked at the technologies," McCarthy told the Senate Environment Committee in January. "We made a determination that (carbon capture and storage technology) was the best system for emission reductions for coal facilities moving forward, because it was technically feasible and it would lead to significant emission reductions."

Republicans and some coal-state Democrats dispute that, saying carbon capture technology is years away from being commercially viable.

McCarthy announced the proposal in September, but the measure was not printed in the Federal Register until January. The delay means the rule is unlikely to be completed until next year. A public comment period on the rule was supposed to expire next week, but has been extended until May 9.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.