U.S. House panel gives OK to energy bills

WHEELING – A pair of bills aimed at shaping the nation’s energy policy – including one that would limit the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate new coal-fired power plants – passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

The Energy Security and Affordability Act, co-authored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., targets new EPA carbon emissions standards for coal-fired power plants that critics of the rules say can’t be achieved using existing technology, effectively barring the construction of any new generating stations that burn coal.

It cleared the committee by a vote of 29-19. The committee’s membership includes 30 Republicans and 24 Democrats.

The Manchin-Whitfield bill would bar the EPA from enacting standards until at least six U.S. power plants have achieved them for 12 consecutive months. It also would require the agency to provide Congress with a detailed study of the potential economic impact of any new rule.

Even if passed by the GOP-led House, the bill is likely to face opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority. Manchin acknowledged that pushing the legislation through the Senate will be a “heavy lift” during an energy forum in Washington earlier this month.

On Tuesday, the Energy and Commerce Committee also advanced another piece of legislation, the Better Buildings Act – co-authored by Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling – by voice vote.

That measure, which McKinley and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Hartland, Vt., proposed in May would require the Department of Energy to perform a study of potential energy-saving measures in tenant-occupied commercial structures, also referred to as “separate spaces.”

It also directs the General Services Administration to develop model leasing provisions for commercial buildings that encourage owners and tenants to work together to improve energy efficiency.

“Finding ways to use energy efficiently is common sense. We ought to be promoting efficiency as a way to save energy, money and create jobs. … Our priority in Congress should be to create an environment where business wants to create jobs and passage of this bill ensures that we truly are working toward that goal,” McKinley told fellow committee members in a statement prior to the vote.

The cost of the required DOE study to taxpayers is unclear, but the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates the legislation could cut consumer and business energy costs by $2 billion by 2030.

The council also estimated the measure would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by almost 12 million metric tons over the same period, though it’s not clear how the organization arrived at those figures.