RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina senator introduced legislation on Wednesday to block state agencies from taking action on expected Environmental Protection Agency rules to cut carbon emissions on power plants until the rules complete what will likely be a lengthy legal challenge.
Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, took preemptive action against the EPA's Clean Power Plan, which was announced by the Obama administration last year and is expected to require states to develop their own plans to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels. If states do not implement their own plans, they will likely be required to follow a federal plan.
A bipartisan majority in the House passed a bill earlier this year calling on state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to develop a state plan in consultation with state agencies, power companies, researchers and environmental activists. When the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources met to discuss the House bill Wednesday, Wade introduced her own substitution bill.
Led by Wade, Republicans on the committee expressed concerns that the state would spend funding and government resources to implement a program that will likely undergo tough legal challenges that may last several years.
Donald van der Vaart, the secretary of the DENR, agreed with the senators' concerns, saying the state is already on track to cut emissions along levels proposed by the president, and that the EPA rules would increase electricity costs and hurt manufacturing.
However, he also cautioned lawmakers that refusing to implement any of the rules would leave the state open to intervention by a federal plan.
"If we cannot put forth any plan at all, we'll be relying on the EPA to take over the world's greatest electricity generating system," van der Vaart said.
The committee voted to approve Wade's bill, but the senator said afterwards she planned to have discussions with DENR over allowing the agency to implement the first set of less expansive rules under the federal plan. If the EPA rejects that plan, van der Vaart said, it would give the state grounds to sue the EPA.
The new rules come under the federal Clean Air Act, a 1963 law that has been the frequent target of lawsuits against its efforts to regulate emissions.
"Everything in the Clean Air Act is controversial, and it's gonna be litigated," said Harvey Richmond, a representative for the Sierra Club in North Carolina. "That's always going to be a long process."
Richmond said environmental activists are concerned they will be denied input if the state delays action and is forced to implement a federal plan.
The EPA is expected to release its final version of the Clean Power Plan in August, at which point states will be expected to begin developing their plans.