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Electricity Security and Affordability Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations wrote in The Washington Post earlier this year:

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time. It threatens the well-being of hundreds of millions of people today, and many billions more in time.

Robert Rubin, the former Treasury Secretary, said recently:

There are a lot of really significant monumental issues facing the global economy, but this supersedes them all.

The Energy and Commerce Committee is the committee in the House that has the power to tackle this monumental issue, the biggest challenge of our time, but we are missing in action. Instead of listening to the scientists and working on a bipartisan basis to protect the planet for our children and future generations, we are considering today a science denial bill that would strip the EPA of authority to stop dangerous carbon pollution.

The venerable John Dingell, the longtime chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is famously known for pointing to a photo of the Earth, which I have here to the right, to describe the committee's jurisdiction. Under his leadership, the committee was known for listening to the experts, tackling the toughest problems, and crafting responsible science-based policies. But today we need a new symbol to represent what we are doing.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has joined The Flat Earth Society. We considered a very similar bill to this one last Congress.

Here is what Nature, one of the world's leading science journals, said at the time:

Misinformation was presented as fact, truth was twisted, and nobody showed any inclination to listen to scientists, let alone learn from them. It has been an embarrassing display, not just for the Republican Party, but also for Congress and the U.S. citizens it represents.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the U.S. Congress has entered the intellectual wilderness--The Flat Earth Society.

The United States is a major contributor to climate change. It cannot be stopped without us. We have a moral responsibility to act, but the Republican majority has brought a bill to the floor that does just the opposite. It makes the problem worse by preventing EPA from acting.

If we pass this terrible bill, we will vote to let China leap ahead of us in the race to build the clean energy economy for the future, and we will be ignoring our moral obligation to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren.

As you might have guessed, I strongly oppose this bill. Future generations will be appalled that we are considering it today. Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of carbon pollution in the country. Today, there is no limit on how much carbon pollution these power plants can emit. That is why President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to use its existing authority under law, under the Clean Air Act, to require power plants to control carbon pollution. EPA has proposed a rule to require new coal plants to use available pollution control technology to capture and sequester carbon. For existing coal plants, EPA is working with stakeholders to think through the best approach. H.R. 3826, the bill under consideration today, would stop EPA from issuing any rules and allow these plants to continue to keep emitting unlimited amounts of carbon pollution.

Republicans complain they don't like EPA's approach, but they won't even admit climate change is a problem, much less accept the President's invitation to work together on a solution. Instead, they want to pass a bill to deny the problem, block EPA action, and weaken the Clean Air Act.

My message to my Republican colleagues is simple: if you don't like what EPA is doing, tell us your plan. If you have other ideas for reducing carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, let's hear about them. If you don't, you should step aside and let the President lead.

Today is an embarrassing day for our committee on Energy and Commerce and the U.S. House of Representatives if this bill is to be passed. I hope that does not come about.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman, the previous speaker said that heating oil prices are going up, energy costs are going up. Well, if they are going up, it is not because of what President Obama has done by regulation because he has not adopted any regulations through EPA. The bill before us would stop any regulations from being adopted under current law. They would change the current law and say nothing could be adopted in the future.

The chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy made the statement no coal power plants are being proposed, yet what he is also suggesting is that we not allow them to be built in the future should they want to be built in a way that would reduce the pollution of carbon. What is unfair, it seems to me what is unfair is that coal-burning power plants can burn all the coal they want and put out all the pollution they want, and we are allowing it even though everyone is suffering from the consequences. So I find it amazing to hear the arguments: One, coal burning power plants are not going to be built; on the other hand, we are already paying higher prices and nothing has even been passed by the EPA and put into effect.

At this time I yield 5 minutes to my colleague, the gentleman from California (Mr. McNerney).


Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman, House Republicans are telling us greenhouse gas emissions are falling in the United States. They suggest the U.S. doesn't need to do anything more about climate change, but they couldn't be more wrong.

A couple of years ago when the utilities were switching out of coal and going to natural gas because natural gas was cheaper, we saw some leveling off of those emissions, but what matters most is whether the U.S. emissions are on track to decline in the future by the amount needed to prevent dangerous climate change.

Scientists say we need to reduce carbon pollution by 80 percent by 2050, but will not get anywhere near that level of reductions if we go about business as usual and stop EPA from acting and Congress doing nothing to respond to this emergency.

At this time, I yield 4 minutes to the gentlelady from California (Mrs. Capps), a member of our committee.


Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to point out that the speakers in favor of this bill describe themselves as part of the coal-producing regions of the country. They are representing, they think, the coal-producing regions of the country because they fear, if the coal industry had to use some technology that would reduce carbon emissions, that would cost jobs.

I want to dispute that in two respects. One, they claim that no one is using this technology, and that is not accurate. In fact, the control technology is already in effect, being used commercially in the United States for decades. There are seven large commercial CCS--that is carbon capture and sequestration--projects operating today.

Dr. Julio Friedmann, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal at the U.S. Department of Energy, recently testified: ``First generation CCS technology is commercially available today.''

So why are they worried about jobs? They are being told by the coal miners that, if they have to use a technology that costs money, that would raise the price of coal and, therefore, coal will lose out to other technologies.

Well, that hasn't been the case. I have been in Congress for 40 years. I remember the coal industry coming in and saying: If we have to put scrubbers on, we will go broke; they will never burn coal again.

The coal industry uses scrubbers right now. The cost of scrubbers has gone down. They overstated how much it would cost. They cried about the lost jobs. It didn't happen.

The other thing I want to point out is that they talk about the coal jobs that will be lost. Well, coal jobs are being lost now because the utilities realize they can burn natural gas. It is cheaper, so coal is losing out in the market.

If natural gas is cheaper than burning coal now, they are going to burn natural gas. That is called the market. It is like cars replacing horse and buggies.

But the reality is that coal is going to be able to compete if we have new technologies imposed on them, just as they have been able to compete in the future. They can't compete if they are expensive, so they have got to figure out ways to produce coal that is less expensive.

That may happen, but we shouldn't subsidize coal to compete by having the world have to deal with carbon pollution.

We decided years ago that we weren't going to help coal compete by poisoning people with toxic mercury pollution when we required they use the technology to stop toxic mercury pollution. We decided they had to use scrubbers. They said they would go broke, that they couldn't afford it, that people would lose their jobs, but we required it because it reduced pollution that harmed people. Carbon pollution harms people on this planet, as we see the impact of climate change continue, because we refuse to require them to use less carbon and spew it out into the atmosphere.

Let me just say that you don't have to buy all of the arguments on climate change, but consider this: if there is a 10 percent chance that carbon pollution is going to cause greenhouse gases and climate change and do all of the terrible things that the scientists overwhelmingly tell us will happen, how many people want to take that 10 percent chance on the only atmosphere that we share on this planet?

I know that the coal people say they are willing to take that chance. They are afraid their constituents will turn against them because the coal companies will tell them to turn against them. They may lose their next elections. I don't think that is the case, but that is their fear. They are speaking from fear. They are speaking from a fear of jobs being lost, but that hasn't been the experience under the Clean Air Act, and we shouldn't repeal the Clean Air Act now as it relates to giving the EPA the authority to regulate these coal-burning power plants.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WAXMAN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I just want to say that it was unfortunate to make a reference personally to Gina McCarthy, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, on her listening tour. The Republicans have not allotted enough money to the EPA to let her go everywhere in the country, so she went to 10 regional offices as well as the Washington headquarters, and she invited people to come in and give their points of view.

That is the full amount of money she had available to her. So it seems to be unfair to criticize her for not going to every nook and cranny in coal country, when she went to every part of the country and had representation for those regions.

At this time I yield 3 minutes to my colleague from the State of California (Mr. Peters).


Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chair, the underlying bill, H.R. 3826, is a radical rewrite of the Clean Air Act. It effectively repeals the EPA's existing authority to address carbon pollution from coal-powered plants.

It says that EPA cannot set a standard for new plants unless the standard is already being met by power plants using technologies that can achieve that standard.

Well, why would any power plant want to spend the money to use technology to achieve a standard that their competitors do not have to achieve?

So it is a chicken and egg problem. You cannot require them to do what they are not already doing.

Well, this amendment goes a step further and it says, for natural gas-fired power plants, they shouldn't have to do anything that they are not already doing either. They would block EPA from requiring natural gas-fired power plants to install pollution controls.

The problem is, EPA's current proposal for new natural gas plants doesn't require any pollution control technology. EPA is going to set a standard, and then let that standard be achieved however the industry would accomplish it.

So this amendment would preemptively block EPA from ever considering rules that might further reduce carbon pollution from any future power plants, whether they be coal or natural gas.

I think it makes no sense. It is a disaster for the climate. I urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment.


Mr. WAXMAN. Mr. Chairman, if you look at what is happening with this bill and this amendment, if both were passed, combined, coal and natural gas power plants emit a third of all carbon pollution in this country. They are responsible for virtually all carbon pollution from the electricity sector.

This amendment would ensure that industry can keep building new fossil fuel power plants without modern pollution controls, whether they be natural gas or coal.

So, in effect, if this amendment is agreed to, and the underlying bill is adopted, it would say, in effect, we are not going to control any of the carbon pollution coming from any power plant.

Now, if we don't control the pollution from any power plant, and we let them emit whatever pollution they choose to emit, and it is obviously cheaper to pollute than to stop polluting, we will, in effect, condemn us to all that pollution which happens to be--let me repeat this again--it happens to be a third of the carbon pollution in this country today.

That would mean there is no chance in hell that we will ever reduce the pollution in this country that we can reduce that is adding to climate change pollution, in addition to all the other pollutants coming from around the world.

Those pollutants don't go away; they accumulate in the atmosphere, and when they accumulate in the atmosphere, we see the impact on the climate.

At some point, we are going to have so many pollutants in the atmosphere from carbon that scientists are telling us we won't be able to do anything. We won't be able to continue to contribute to that pollution without making it impossible to do anything about climate change.

We have a chance to do something about climate change now. We should not lose that chance by adopting this amendment and the underlying bill. So, I would urge that we vote against the amendment and the underlying bill.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WAXMAN. I don't know how to oppose this amendment because it doesn't seem to make the underlying bill any worse.

The problem is this: The bill requires that, before a new standard for coal-powered plants is set, there has to be six coal-powered plants in this country that are already using this technology; and we have argued: Well, that is not going to happen because no one is going to use the technology if their competitors aren't going to use the technology.

And if there is technology outside of this country that is being used successfully, EPA can't rely on that. Mrs. Capps' amendment would have changed that. That is still going to be voted on later.

Mrs. Capito's amendment says EPA could consider technologies developed in other countries, but only if those technologies are also being broadly adopted in the United States, as I understand it.

Well, in fact, that will lead to the exact same problem as we have in the underlying bill. Under both the amendment and the bill, EPA would still be prevented from proposing a standard based on cleaner coal technologies, such as ultrasupercritical boilers, which can reduce pollution by improving efficiency.

That kind of technology is already being used in more than 100 ultracritical coal units generating power in China, but the United States has only installed one. Well, we can't let that one and all the others that are being used in China allow the EPA to set a standard that would require that technology.

Under the bill and the amendment, that one U.S. plant won't be sufficient for EPA to set a new standard. So even if this amendment passes, EPA will still be prohibited from setting pollution control standards based on effective pollution controls that have been deployed overseas.

Well, I guess if you are going to pretend that climate change isn't happening, why not pretend that clean air technologies used in other countries don't exist, either? So I can't oppose--I am not going to ask for a rollcall vote. I am not going to even--I will even vote against your amendment. I am not going to vote for it. But it seems to me the amendment has a problem that the underlying bill already has, and it doesn't fix anything.

So if people want to vote for this amendment, vote for the amendment because it doesn't make anything any different than the problems that I see with the underlying bill.

With those comments, Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WAXMAN. I didn't speak on the last amendment. I didn't think that last amendment did anything worse than the bill already does. This amendment modifies a section of the underlying bill which requires EPA to report to Congress on the economic impacts of any regulation of carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.

Well, this reporting requirement is largely meaningless because EPA already does this analysis, and if this bill were adopted, EPA wouldn't issue any rules to trigger the reporting requirement anyway. But this amendment would add more items to be considered in EPA's report on a rule regulating carbon pollution from existing power plants.

For example, this bill would require EPA to look at the rule's potential effects on capital, operation, and maintenance costs for pollution control equipment. But that is exactly what EPA already does for every significant rule that requires pollution controls. The amendment also requires EPA to analyze how our particular pollution control requirement may affect the global economic competitiveness of the United States. I don't think that makes any sense to add this because it is questionable whether we even have reliable economic models to make this assessment.

If this bill were adopted, EPA wouldn't be doing this report anyway, so it doesn't really matter. I am not going to object to the amendment, and I am not going to vote for the amendment, but it won't have any effect because the underlying bill is going to prevent the EPA from acting whether it is a new power plant or existing power plants.

But I did want to single out this provision which I think is unreasonable to expect EPA to be able to do this global economic competitiveness analysis. That is not what EPA does. They are not in the position to do it, and to add that requirement, I think, is a very bad precedent.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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