Federal Carbon Reduction Rules Could Face Hurdle With Lawmakers

Dec 10, 2015

The federal government put a plan in motion to drastically cut down on carbon emissions from coal power plants. But lawmakers want to make sure Ohio’s part in that plan comes through them.

Rep. Tim Ginter (R-Salem); Samantha Williams, NRDC
Credit Ohio House/NRDC

Coal has long been a huge industry in Ohio – and still is. It makes up more than 65% of the state’s energy generation and more than 3,100 people are directly employed by the industry. That’s according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Ohio Coal Association.

That’s why many policymakers in Ohio are worried about the U.S. EPA’s new plan to cut carbon emissions. This is a plan that directly impacts coal plants by most likely scaling down their production.

Republican Representative Tim Ginter represents a portion of Ohio’s coal country in Columbiana County. He’s introduced a bill that would require the General Assembly to put its stamp of approval on the state’s plan to implement the federal regulations.

Ginter says this will create an open line of communication between Ohioans and their state government.

"Those individuals who have questions about what is proposed can certainly contact their representatives and then we of course can voice our constituents concerns or their approval," said Ginter.

The U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan laid out a list of guidelines for states to follow. It is up to each individual state to put out a plan to comply with those guidelines.

According to Ginter, he’s most concerned with the pace of the regulations. He says the industry is seeing too much regulation, too fast.

“And quite frankly, they see it as an effort to put them out of business and to make it so expensive or onerous that there’s no way they can survive. And so that’s the communication that I have received from those that have been working directly in the coal industry,” said Ginter.

The General Assembly is just the latest arm of Ohio’s government to chime in.

Ohio’s EPA Director Craig Butler has come out against the plan and Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined other states in a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming the U.S. EPA is overstepping its authority.

But there are several environmental groups that say these new emission standards are crucial, not just for the health of the environment but for everyone who lives around the power plants who breathe in the polluted air.

Samantha Williams with the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, says the General Assembly’s rulemaking panel, known as JCARR, is already required to approve the plan. So, according to Williams, this bill for a full Legislature vote just adds an unnecessary hurdle.

“When you add this additional layer of red tape the bill would require it’s really redundant and it’s having the committee review something that would ultimately -- very possibly put the state plan into legislative purgatory," Williams said.

There’s a deadline for Ohio’s plan. If it fails to reach that deadline -- the federal government will step in with its own strategy to reduce carbon emissions. Williams says that would be bad for everyone involved.

“The best possible outcome here is for Ohio to have control over the plan itself and to use its own internal expertise, the experts in the state of Ohio to take advantage of Ohio’s current energy landscape and that includes the diversity of energy resources that Ohio already has at its fingertips and develop a plan that’s best for the state," said Williams.

The deadline for a rough draft is next September. If Ohio’s plan satisfies the U.S. EPA’s initial guidelines then it’ll have another two years for an all-out blueprint.

While the Ohio EPA does not like the Clean Power Plan, it must still move forward with a way to comply. A spokesperson for the agency says they have significant concerns about this House bill because it could impact its ability to meet the federal standards.