UpdateUS Senate Democrats question EPA on CO2 ruling

22 February 2010 23:29  [Source: ICIS news]

(adds EPA response, paragraphs 20-24)

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Leading Senate Democrats said on Monday they want an explanation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week on its plans to regulate greenhouse gases, suggesting they may join a Congressional effort to block EPA.

Senator Mark Begich (Democrat-Alaska) said through a spokeswoman that he and seven other Democrat senators want an answer by the end of this week to a lot of questions they have about EPA’s controversial plans to impose limits on US industrial emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG).

The eight Democrat senators sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, asking her for detailed explanations on how the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases would impact major industries, family farms, hospitals and the nation in general.

The eight Democrat senators - which in addition to Begich include Jay Rockefeller and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Carl Levin of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Max Baucus of Montana - expressed concern that EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases could have broad and detrimental effect on the US economy.

The eight Democrat senators represent states where coal is produced or where home state manufacturing industries are heavily dependent on coal-fired electric power.

The EPA's regulation of CO2 could make coal-fired electric power generation cost prohibitive.

“We remain concerned about the possible impacts on American workers and businesses in a number of industrial sectors, along with the farmers, miners and small business owners who could be affected,” the senators told Jackson.

The EPA's plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions are widely opposed by US industry, including the refining sector, petrochemical producers and the broad range of other manufacturers.

The eight Democrats broadly hinted that if Jackson does not promptly provide the comprehensive explanations they seek, they might join other Senate Democrats and Republicans who are seeking to block EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gases.

“As you are undoubtedly aware, there are legislative efforts in the House and Senate seeking to disallow further agency action based on the endangerment finding,” the letter said, referring to EPA’s decision last December - in a ruling known as an “endangerment finding” - to regulate greenhouse gases.

The eight Democrat senators signing the letter to Jackson appear to be close to joining the three Democrat senators who already support Senate Joint Resolution 26, which essentially would overturn the agency’s endangerment finding.

The resolution is sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) and is cosponsored by 37 other Republicans and three Democrats.

The three Democrats supporting SJR-26 are Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

That means 11 Democrat senators and at least 38 Republicans - 49 in all, or nearly half of the Senate - have expressed either opposition to EPA’s plans or have serious reservations about that looming action.

Asked whether Begich and the other seven Democrat senators who signed the letter to Jackson might throw their support to the Senate resolution to block the EPA, his spokeswoman, Julie Hasquet, said: “Of course, I can only speak for Senator Begich, but that is why he signed this letter”.

“He wants to find out from EPA if the Murkowski resolution is necessary,” she said.

“Is the option open for him to join with the resolution?  Yes,” Hasquet said. “But he will make no decision on that until he hears back from EPA.” 

Murkowski said late on Monday that she welcomed the addition of eight other Democrat senators concerned about EPA’s pending action.

“It is a simple issue: Senators either support EPA imposing these regulations without input from Congress, or they don’t,” Murkowski said.

In a response issued late on Monday to the latter, Jackson said that she did not expect that the EPA would require any major industrial facilities to begin filing for greenhouse gas emissions permits this year.

Responding to the senators’ concerns about how quickly the agency would impose such emissions limits, Jackson said the regulations likely would begin to apply for larger facilities next year.

Other plants or facilities emitting greenhouse gases likely would not be covered by EPA emissions permitting requirements and limits until a phase-in process begins in 2012 and runs through 2016, she said.

In addition, Jackson said she expects the reporting and permitting threshold for greenhouse gases will be raised by EPA from its per-site initial 25,000 tonnes/year level to “a substantially higher” range.

However, the EPA’s legal authority to unilaterally adjust the threshold reporting and permitting level is being challenged in federal court.

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