Murkowski urges EPA to drop Alaska from climate change rule

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency is considering excusing Alaska from its climate change regulation of power plants, the agency chief told Sen. Lisa Murkowski Wednesday.

Murkowski, a Republican, pressed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on the climate rule and several upcoming regulations from her post as chairman of a Senate appropriations subcommittee, where McCarthy testified.

The EPA released a draft rule last summer that required states to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in an effort to reduce one of the main greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. After reviewing millions of public comments, the agency plans to issue a final regulation by mid-summer.

The draft rule would require Alaska to cut its power plant carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent from 2012 levels by 2030 -- a cut Murkowski said is too steep given the state's circumstances.

There is no electrical grid connecting Alaska with the Lower 48 and costs of cutting carbon could run high, according to the Alaska Power Association and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

The rule applies to five power plants in the state, largely clustered in the Anchorage area and the Railbelt. Four are powered by natural gas and one by high-carbon coal. "So when you're talking about how we're going to get to that 26 percent reduction, there's not a lot of give," Murkowski said.

McCarthy acknowledged that "we find ourselves often talking about the uniqueness of Alaska. This is another instance in which that is again the case."


Pressed further about whether EPA is considering giving Alaska a pass on cutting carbon, McCarthy said the agency asked for comments on the issue in the draft rule. "So we will of course take this under very serious consideration," the administrator said. "But you should be, I think, heartened by the fact that we acknowledged the uniqueness" of the state in the rule, she said. Raising the issue in the draft rule gives the agency leeway to make needed changes to Alaska's requirements, McCarthy said.

Murkowski told the EPA chief that "there is no way that we can achieve what has been set out. ... There's no level of flexibility that will make a proposal like this work in a state like Alaska."

The climate change regulation is just one of several regulations Murkowski raised concerns about at the hearing, though the senator noted that she had met privately with the EPA administrator last week and more briefings are in the works.

One EPA rule in particular has been causing concern across the country: an effort to clarify what rivers fall under the Clean Water Act permit requirements. The regulation, which is under White House review now and could be released very soon, comes out of years-long squabbles and negotiations following several Supreme Court rulings that left the scope of the law uncertain.

The rule is "described by some as a simple clarification, but in reality, the change will substantially increase EPA's regulatory reach and will likely subject countless new projects to permitting requirements that I think will be very hard to satisfy," Murkowski said. She called the rule "a potential show stopper for new development in our state."

McCarthy defended the agency's efforts, saying the agency wants to ensure "that we are protecting those waters that are most important." But, she said, "it is a difficult rule … This is serious business."

Murkowski isn't alone in her concerns. On Thursday, Senate Republicans on the environment committee -- including Sen. Dan Sullivan -- plan to introduce a bill that would stop the agency in its tracks.

The legislation may not have much traction, though; the Obama administration issued a veto threat over a similar bill out of the House on Wednesday.

"The agencies' rulemaking, grounded in science, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court," the Obama administration said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The bill would add years of delay to efforts to clarify the scope of the law and waste more money and time on duplicative efforts, the White House said, and "would sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation."

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is Alaska Dispatch News' Washington, DC reporter, and she covers the legislation, regulation and litigation that impact the Last Frontier.  Erica came to ADN after years as a reporter covering energy at POLITICO. Before that, she covered environmental policy at a DC trade publication and worked at several New York dailies.