by Jean Chemnick and Manuel Quiñones

Coal industry allies on and off Capitol Hill have seized on emails sent between a Sierra Club lobbyist and U.S. EPA staff that they say confirm their belief that the agency and environmental advocates colluded to write a new power plant rule that would end coal-fired electric generation in the United States…

“Unfortunately, this is what happens when regulations are being written by environmental special interests,” Mike Duncan, CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said during an appearance yesterday at the Newseum.

“These emails show an unprecedented level of coordination between EPA and environmental groups, with no interest in producing energy and every interest in a political agenda,” he continued. “They also left a clear impression that the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards were intentionally crafted to make it impossible to build new coal plants in this country.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said today in his opening remarks at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the president’s Climate Action Plan that the emails show that the environmental group and EPA “met and corresponded frequently about the agency’s work on coal regulations.”

While the agency has maintained that its rules will not put new coal-fired generation out of reach, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the panel’s ranking member, said, “The agency was working closely behind the scenes with Sierra Club — an environmental organization that was pushing the agency to adopt standards that would be impossible for power plants to meet.”

Also this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cited the emails when introducing a resolution of disapproval against EPA’s power plant rule (see related story).

“The point here is to eliminate coal jobs in America,” McConnell said about EPA’s intentions. “The emails even referred to previously shuttered power plants as ‘defeated,’ making the intent behind coal-related actions seem clear.”

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