INSIGHT: US Congress moves to block EPA regulation of CO2

11 February 2010 16:31  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

US Congress moves to block EPA control of GHGWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--There is a growing bipartisan effort in Congress to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proceeding with its controversial plans to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Now that a cap-and-trade emissions control bill appears dead in Congress, there is mounting concern among federal legislators of both parties that EPA will press on with its broad regulatory plan – which even the agency, the White House and those in Congress fear will wreak havoc on the nation’s industries, agriculture, commerce and even the medical and educational sectors by raising energy costs to crushing levels.

The death of cap-and-trade in Congress has been declared by members of both parties in that august body, and most recently by President Barack Obama himself.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on 2 February, the president said:

“The most controversial aspects of the energy debate that we've been having - the House passed an energy bill and people complained about, well, there's this cap and trade thing. … The only thing I would say about it is this:  We may be able to separate these things out.  And it's conceivable that that's where the Senate ends up.”

Translation: Let’s separate cap-and-trade from the energy conservation and alternative energy incentives in the Senate energy bill so that it can pass.

In short, the president has abandoned cap-and-trade.

But the EPA is still moving forward with its plans to regulate US emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases under authority of the Clean Air Act.  The agency issued an “endangerment finding” last year, holding that greenhouse gases threaten human health and the environment and therefore are subject to EPA regulation.

By their own oft-stated admissions, both President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson think that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is a bad idea, that such a programme would have – in the language of the Clean Air Act – an “absurd result”, namely a catastrophic impact on the nation’s economy.

It would be far better, Obama and Jackson have said, if Congress were to act on greenhouse gases and climate change instead.

EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases was broadly seen as an effort by the White House to force Congress to pass a comprehensive cap-and-trade emissions mandate that, among other things, would pre-empt the EPA’s regulatory action.

That EPA policy has been widely condemned by petrochemical producers, other chemical makers and the broad range of US industry and agriculture because of higher energy costs that would result.

But now that the cap-and-trade corpse is stinking up Congress, the EPA plan is rolling on with the inexorable momentum of government regulation.

As a consequence, members of both parties in Congress are scrambling to stop the EPA juggernaut before it crushes the economy.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) has initiated a parliamentary procedure known as a disapproval resolution.  The resolution simply states that “Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding for greenhouse gases … and such rule shall have no force or effect”.

“Make no mistake,” said Murkowski, “Congress is being threatened in a misguided attempt to move a climate bill forward.  But this strategy is highly flawed because it assumes Congress will pass economically damaging legislation in order to stave off economically damaging regulations.”

“That’s a false choice and it should be rejected outright,” she said.

Under the rules of the Senate, Murkowski’s disapproval resolution first must be considered by the appropriate panel, in this case the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by die-hard cap-and-trade advocate Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California.

As chairman, Boxer can see to it that the disapproval resolution never comes up for a vote in the committee. But the Senate rules provide that if the committee does not act on the resolution, it can be sent on to the full Senate anyway if 30 or more senators support it.

Forty other senators, including four Democrats, have co-sponsored Murkowski’s resolution. That doesn’t guarantee passage for the measure in the 100-seat Senate, but those senators who vote against it will be marked forever with a scarlet letter that ties them to EPA greenhouse gas regulation and its dire consequences.

That Senate vote may come later this month.

In the meantime, two powerful House committee chairmen have moved to block the EPA.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (Democrat-Minnesota) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (Democrat-Missouri) have cosponsored a bill, HR-4572, that would amend the Clean Air Act to remove greenhouse gases as qualifying pollutants subject to EPA regulation.

In passing the Clean Air Act in 1963 and later amendments, said Skelton, “Congress never explicitly granted EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases”.

Skelton said his bill was necessary to stop further EPA action on greenhouse gases “because, simply put, we cannot tolerate turning over the regulation of something as important as the American energy system to unelected bureaucrats”.

“I have no confidence that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act without doing serious damage to our economy,” said Peterson.

“The Clean Air Act was not meant to fight global warming,” Peterson said, adding: “Congress should be making these types of decisions, not unelected bureaucrats at the EPA.”

Another House Democrat, Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, has introduced a bill, HR-4396, the “Save Our Energy Jobs Act”, which would remove greenhouse gases from the purview of the Clean Air Act.

Additionally, Pomeroy, who serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee – the taxing authority in Congress – said he will work to deny funding to EPA for implementing its proposed greenhouse gas regulations.

Whether any of these measures to stop EPA will pass remains to be seen, but by themselves they indicate strong bipartisan displeasure in Congress with the agency’s plans.

And in this election year, few in Congress will want to be tarred with the EPA’s heavy-handed brush.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy
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By: Joe Kamalick
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