Washington, D.C. – The House and Senate approved two resolutions that would halt the president’s plan to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

S.J.Res.23 is a “joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval” to nullify the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules to reduce emissions from new and modified power plants. S.J.Res.24 is a “joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval” to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from existing electric power generators – the latter resolution directly addresses the Clean Power Plan, which is administered by the EPA.

The resolutions passed along a near-party line vote, with several Democrats joining Republicans to support the bill, and a small number of Republicans opposing the bill. The resolutions were introduced on October 26, passed the Senate on November 17 and passed the House on December 1.

The Clean Power Plan is “a historic and important step in reducing carbon pollution from power plants that takes real action on climate change,” according to EPA’s website. The plan’s goal is to see the US reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Although the president is expected to veto the resolutions, and Congress falls short of the votes to override the vetoes, the resolutions reflect the Senate and House’s distaste for the President’s plans to mitigate climate change. “It is Congress who writes the laws, not EPA,” Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement.

The Clean Power Plan

The plan aims to protect human health and the environment by reducing emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants in the US. “These plants are by far the largest domestic stationary source of emissions” according to the plan, officially titled, “Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electricity Generating Units,” and filed with the Federal Register on October 23.

Martins Creek Power Station set behind the Delaware River in Foul Rift, New Jersey. Credit: Doug Kerr, Wikipedia Commons.

The plan targets carbon dioxide emissions because they drive man-made climate change, the plan states. “These guidelines will lead to significant reductions in CO2 emissions, result in cleaner generation from the existing power plant fleet, and support continued investments by the industry in cleaner power generation to ensure reliable, affordable electricity now and into the future,” the plan continues.

“The Clean Power Plan will create thousands of jobs, while also ensuring that big polluters reduce their dangerous contributions to climate change, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in a statement on August 3.

Congressional vibes on the plan

“The impacts of dangerous climate change are all around us,” Boxer said during a hearing on July 8 to discuss President Obama’s plans for the international climate talks in Paris and determine how his plans could affect domestic environmental policy. Texans faced extreme rain and record flooding; Californians are coping with a crippling drought; New Yorkers tackled Superstorm Sandy; and Hawaiians are choosing between saving their beachfront condominiums or losing their beaches and coral reefs, Boxer continued.

However, other members disagree. After a Senate hearing on November 17 to pass the two anti-emission regulation resolutions, Inhofe said that the “potentially illegal mandate” (referring to the Clean Power Plan) would “result in double-digit electricity prices in 40 states, put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and have no meaningful impact on global warming.”

Many House representatives sided with Inhofe. The plan’s measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be economically devastating and provide little relief from sea level rise, Environment Subcommittee Chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) said during a hearing on September 11 to consider the impacts the Clean Power Plan would have on individual states. The climate change benefit is “negligible on a global scale,” he continued.

“This rule represents massive costs without significant benefits. In other words, it’s all pain and no gain,” Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said in a statement on September 11.

Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) touted the benefits of burning coal for energy during a hearing on December 8 to debate the magnitude of human impact on climate change. The coal industry creates good paying jobs and reliable and affordable energy, Daines said, and the Clean Power Plan’s regulations will “kill the economy” especially in Montana, he continued.

At the same hearing, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) focused on the 97 percent of scientists who see evidence in their research for the warming impact of burning coal. The Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, under the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, is turning its back on science, Schatz said.

Admiral David Titley, a retired Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy and professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was a witness at the December 8 hearing and said, “The climate is changing more rapidly than has been observed in the past; we understand why that is so, and we understand that those changes will continue, absent meaningful action in reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions,” in his official testimony statement.

Some representatives agree on the importance of addressing climate change and argue that reducing emissions would not harm the job market but would instead restore air quality and protect human health. “When you have climate scientists and economists agreeing that action to address climate change is necessary and that the benefits outweigh the risks, then it is time for our country to stop dragging its feet and to move forward as a nation and a global leader,” Subcommittee on Environment Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said in a statement.

“Such a position is critical to meaningful international engagement on the issue. I recognize that implementing the Clean Power Plan will not be easy, and that there are real costs associated with transitioning to a low carbon economy. But the bottom line is that the costs of inaction are even greater,” Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in a statement.

Paris talks

The disconnect between what the president hopes to accomplish and what some members of Congress wish to squash could cast a shadow over the U.S.’s commitments during COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change taking place between November 30 and December 11.

“President Obama is in Paris trying to negotiate climate change regulations,” Smith said in a statement on December 1. “His plan to get us there, the EPA’s Power Plan, will do a world of harm to Americans while doing almost nothing to impact climate change,” he said.

“The President may have created legal arguments to sign onto a legally non-binding international agreement but he does not have the backing of the United States Senate, which significantly limits such an agreement’s domestic application,” Inhofe said during the July 8 hearing to discuss President Obama’s international agenda for climate change action.

However, not everyone sides with Inhofe. “I feel stronger than ever the President is on the right path. This committee is on the wrong path,” Boxer said during the hearing.

The Senate heard from various experts in climate and energy policy during the hearing, including Karl Hausker, a Senior Fellow at World Resources Institute. “The U.S. can meet the Administration’s 2025 emissions reduction target while maintaining economic growth and employment,” he said.

Sarah Ladislaw, the Director and Senior Fellow at the Energy and National Security Program, said that although several analyses suggest that the United States will not be able to meet its 2025 emission reduction target under currently announced actions, having exaggerated targets may not be negative for international negotiations. “All countries want to see that other countries are working hard to meet their emission reduction pledges. It signals a level of ambition that entices participation from certain countries well as more ambitious action from others,” Ladislaw said during the hearing.

“If nations fail to combat climate change, the U.S. will suffer billions of dollars in damage to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, coastal inland flooding damages, along with heat-driven increases in electricity bills, among multiple other impacts,” Hausker said.

To that end, ten U.S. Senators arrived in Paris on December 4 to participate in climate talks. “On climate change, we are approaching a now or never moment,” Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), the leader of the delegation and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “The Paris agreement will help create jobs in America and around the world. It will continue to diversify and strengthen economies, as well as protect public health and the environment,” he said.

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, Science Policy Fellow