March 19, 2019

Whitehouse Blasts Trump EPA Power Plant Rule as Product of Takeover by Fossil Fuel Industry

Pruitt, Wheeler, Wehrum all examples of fossil fuel lackeys behind EPA decisions, senator writes in Clean Air Act rule comment

Whitehouse: EPA failed to consider dropping cost of CCS technology, new 45Q incentives in replacement proposal

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is blasting the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its Clean Air Act new source review replacement rule, calling it the product of a captured agency.  Whitehouse argues that the EPA under the Trump administration is controlled by the fossil fuel interests regulated under the Clean Air Act, and therefore the replacement rule covering power plant emissions is tainted to the point of illegality.  He also argues that a central premise of the Trump EPA’s decision-making—that carbon capture technology is not a practicable method of limiting emissions from power plants—ignores dropping prices of carbon capture technology and new incentives that Whitehouse and a bipartisan group of colleagues passed into law last year.

The Obama EPA issued a rule in 2015 to reduce emissions from new, modified, or reconstructed power plants.  Fossil fuel companies, fossil fuel-linked trade associations, and fossil fuel-funded front groups then sued to block the plan.  In his comment, Whitehouse points out that many of the companies and groups involved in the litigation have deep financial or professional relationships with Trump administration political appointees at the EPA – appointees who now oversee the process of replacing the rule.

Contrary to the EPA’s stated rationale for the rule, Whitehouse notes that carbon capture and storage (CCS) costs have fallen sharply in recent years, and are projected to fall further in the wake of bipartisan legislation authored by Whitehouse bolstering 45Q tax incentives for carbon capture investment.  “While CCS costs are falling, federal tax incentives to adopt CCS technology have grown more attractive,” Whitehouse writes.  “The economics of CCS have improved significantly since 2015 when they were already cost effective according to the 2015 rule.”

The evidence of agency capture at the EPA is clear.  Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 after a string of bizarre scandals, built his political career on close ties to the fossil fuel industry, at one point submitting fossil fuel company arguments to the EPA on his own official letterhead as Oklahoma attorney general.  Pruitt fostered particularly close fundraising ties to the industry, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests for his conservative groups.

Current Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation William Wehrum have both represented companies and trade groups with business before the EPA, many of which stand to benefit from changes like the power plan rollback. 

Wheeler represented Murray Energy, whose CEO, Bob Murray, put saving coal-fired power plants at the top of the “Action Plan” he distributed to Vice President Mike Pence, Pruitt, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and others.   Wheeler even accompanied Murray to lobby Perry on this action plan and arranged for Murray to meet with Pruitt on the same subject.

Last month, Whitehouse led a request to the EPA Inspector General for an investigation into whether EPA official William Wehrum helped reverse the agency’s position in a major enforcement action to favor a client of his former law firm, whose coal-fired power plant had a stake in the matter.

A PDF copy of Whitehouse’s comment can be accessed here.


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