Most of the media attention on the hill yesterday was focused on the big Planned Parenthood debacle, but regular business was taking place in other committees as well. One such case was a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works where EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Janet McCabe was invited to sit down and explain some aspects of new regulations for power plant emissions. The exchange got rather heated when West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito took the microphone and asked McCabe how some of the poorest residents of her states were supposed to deal with their energy bills suddenly suddenly jumping up. (West Virginia Metro News)

“We found by 2030 the average cost of a person’s electric bill would go down by about seven percent as a resulted of increased efficiency in energy coming into the system,” said McCabe.

Capito wasn’t convinced.

“Right now we have 430,000 low and middle income people in West Virginia who’s take home pay is $1,900 a month. They spend 17 percent of their take home money to pay for their energy,” Capito said. “When this goes up, say 20 percent, this is going to have a cost to them, a human cost to them.”

Capito also didn’t buy McCabe’s answers regarding the slight cost elevation to clean the atmosphere.

“I would take exception to that, If it goes up 20 percent and you’re bringing home $1,900. That’s a significant amount,” she said.

West Virginia is currently leading the charge along with 14 other states who are refusing to even submit a plan to comply with the new regulations until the courts have a crack at the question. After the EPA walked away from the Supreme Court with a bloody nose when Michigan challenged their latest raft of regulations the states have good reason to be optimistic. The court agreed that the EPA needed to take undue, burdensome costs into consideration before issuing their mandates from on high and Capito brought that question home in a fashion which may force the agency to consider the harm being inflicted by the federal government on the poorest Americans. Unlike luxury taxes or the price of yachts, energy bills are one of the great equalizers in American life. Unless you are receiving public assistance with them, everyone has to keep their lights on and heat their home in the winter. A 20% bump in those bills could be a killer for lower income families scraping by in the Obama economy.

West Virginia’s own Secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection has been wrestling with this very question since the new rules were announced. He sat down for an interview with NPR last month and explained the various impacts of the regulations and what, if anything, West Virginia could or should do to comply. As he notes, there was a sense of sticker shock when the EPA demanded a reduction in emissions which was a full ten percent higher than originally forecast and well beyond what they could achieve without breaking the bank.

Senator Capito has done a good job on this, but could use some more support from the rest of Congress. The EPA is out of control and getting the appropriate challenges through the courts takes far too long under the current system. We need some checks and balances on the regulatory power of these non-legislative entities because the the balance of power today is completely out of whack.