The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed issuing a final regulation limiting greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants until after the midterm elections.
The agency pushed back publishing the rule for two months, allowing vulnerable Senate Democrats to avoid a vote on the measure six weeks before voters go to the polls.
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President Obama directed the EPA to issue a proposal requiring new power plants to reduce their carbon pollution by "no later than" Sep. 20, 2013. The EPA posted the proposal on its website that day, but did not submit the rule to the Federal Register until Nov. 25, 2013. The rule was then published in the Federal Register on Jan. 8.
Once a rule is published in the Federal Register, agencies are required to finalize it within one year. As a result, the EPA does not have to finish the regulation until Jan. 8, 2015, instead of this September, just weeks before the midterms.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) suggested the delay was motivated by politics.
"Based on this sequence of events, it appears that the delay in the proposal’s publication may have been motivated by a desire to lessen the impact of the president’s harmful environmental policies on this year’s mid-term elections," he wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday.
"If EPA had kept the timetable mandated by the president, it would have been obligated to finalize the new rule about six weeks before the 2014 elections," Inhofe said. "Now, because of EPA’s delay, the proposal will not need to be finalized until well after this election cycle."
The EPA admitted that they did not submit the rule to the Federal Register until November, but blamed the delay on "routine" processes, and last fall’s government shutdown.
"EPA follows routine interagency and internal processes to ensure that formatting, consistency, and quality control issues are addressed before any rule package is published in the Federal Register," EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said to the Washington Free Beacon. "This is a normal part of the rulemaking process, and the time needed for these procedures varies for each rule."
Purchia said the agency "lost a significant amount of time," due to the shutdown.
However, an Office of Management Budget (OMB) official questioned the EPA on why the rule was taking so long.
"Lots of folks are confused as to why the rule hasn’t yet published in the [Federal Register]," OMB Policy Analyst Nathan Frey wrote in November, before the regulation was submitted. "Are there particular reasons for this?"
Inhofe said the shutdown would not have prevented the EPA from releasing the rule.
"The EPA has now admitted that they held the rule until Nov. 25, a
full 66 days after they made it available to the public," Inhofe told the Free Beacon. "This is unprecedented and definitely not ‘normal.'"
"EPA's spokeswoman Liz Purchia attempted to blame the government shutdown and holidays, but that only excuses the EPA roughly a third of that time," he said. "Furthermore, the EPA typically submits a major regulation to the Federal Register within five days of its announcement."
"If the EPA had followed this same protocol, the [New Source Performance Standards] rule would have been submitted to the Federal Register's office two full working days before the shutdown," Inhofe added. "Adm. Gina McCarthy misinformed the Environment and Public Works Committee about when this rule was submitted, and I expect her to respond to my letter explaining why this happen and who is responsible."
McCarthy had testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee in January that as soon as the proposal was released online in September 2013, "we had submitted it to the Federal Register office."
"The delay was solely the backup in the Federal Register office," McCarthy said.
However, Inhofe’s office contacted the Federal Register, which revealed that they did not receive the regulation until Nov. 25.
The regulation would require new gas-fired and coal-fired power plants to emit fewer than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour.
Inhofe said in his letter that the costs associated with the regulation would be "enormous with far-reaching and irreparable impacts on our electricity generation capacity, affordability, and reliability."
"With this in mind, it makes sense that the American public would react negatively to the finalization of the first round of [green house gas] regulations for power plants," he said.
Republicans in the Senate could have forced a vote on a resolution of disapproval against the rule once it was finalized. The earliest Democrats would have to defend the rule is now next January.
"This possibility of electioneering is deeply troubling," Inhofe said.
Inhofe is now asking the EPA to answer how they made the decision on when to submit the rule to the Federal Register, and if the White House played any role.