US industry mounts new effort to block EPA role in climate rules

11 June 2010 20:13  [Source: ICIS news]

US Congress moves to block EPA control of GHGWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The effort to permanently bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions is being refocused on a bill to suspend EPA climate rules for two years, industry sources said on Friday.

The shift to a temporary ban on EPA regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases comes in the wake of the failed effort on Thursday in the US Senate to wholly revoke such EPA authority.

The Senate on Thursday defeated by 53-47 a resolution, SJR-26, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) that would have essentially overturned the EPA’s “endangerment finding” and would have killed the agency’s plans to begin limiting industrial emissions in January 2011.

But a broad coalition of industrial, agricultural, business and commerce groups was not giving up hopes of blocking the EPA’s plans, according to Charlie Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA).

Drevna said the vote on the Murkowski resolution was just the first skirmish in a campaign that will continue.

“The next skirmish likely will come with the Rockefeller resolution,” Drevna said, referring to a bill sponsored by Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

The Rockefeller bill, S-3072, would not raise an outright bar against EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, but instead it would suspend for two years the agency’s authority to do so.

In theory, that would give Congress enough time to craft a comprehensive climate change bill to reduce US emissions of greenhouse gases. That legislative effort almost certainly would remove the EPA from such a role - an outcome that the agency and President Barack Obama have said they would accept if Congress passes a comprehensive climate bill.

Drevna said he believed that the Rockefeller resolution likely would pass if it were to be voted on in the Senate.

He noted that all 41 Senate Republicans voted for the Murkowski measure and were joined by six Democrat senators. Among the Senate Democrats who voted against the Murkowski resolution were five senators who are cosponsors of the Rockefeller measure.

“So if you add the 47 senators who voted in favour of the Murkowski resolution and the five cosponsors of the Rockefeller bill, you get a 52-vote bipartisan majority in favour of reining in the EPA on greenhouse gas emissions regulation,” Drevna said.

Khary Cauthen, director of federal relations at the American Petroleum Institute (API), shared Drevna’s arithmetic.

“We believe that the next step is the Rockefeller two-year delay, and we think it is off to a good start with the vote yesterday of 47 senators of both parties who don’t believe that EPA should move forward with regulation of greenhouse gases,” Cauthen said.

“Between the Murkowski votes and the five Rockefeller cosponsors, that passes the Rockefeller resolution,” he said, adding: “I think the Rockefeller measure will pass if given a floor vote.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada) is said to have promised his Democrat colleagues that he would bring the Rockefeller resolution to a floor vote, although Reid’s office has not confirmed that.

Paul Schlegel, director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, also said he has hopes that the Rockefeller measure would get a floor vote and be passed before the end of July.

The Farm Bureau strongly opposes EPA regulation of greenhouse gases because the agriculture group believes it will raise energy costs sharply for farmers.

Schlegel  also sees an opportunity for congressional action to block the EPA in appropriations bills that Congress must pass before the end of September. One or another of those spending bills could serve as an amendment vehicle for language blocking EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, he said.

But if Congress should fail this year to block EPA’s emissions plan, some observers think the national elections in November might bring a new game-changing political balance in the 112th Congress that will convene in January 2011.

Republicans are expected to pick up seats in the US House and Senate in the 2 November elections.

There is some speculation that Republicans might even win back majority control in the House, although gaining the majority in the Senate is seen as a long shot.

With or without a shift in majority control in either chamber, “I probably have to say that with more balance in Congress, there will be more serious questions posed to the EPA about the economic impact of its plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions”, said Schlegel.

“With China and India and other developing nations moving forward in their economies without emissions caps and so on, I don’t think the new Congress is going to want EPA tying our economy’s hands with emissions controls while the rest of the world goes on with business as usual,” he said.

NPRA’s Drevna said, however, that he didn’t think the nation can afford to wait to see what position the new Congress might take in 2011 on EPA’s role in emissions control.

“We as an association and as a group of trade associations, and we as consumers have to continue to fight this battle on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis,” Drevna said.

“We can’t afford to wait six or eight months to see what a new Congress might do,” he said.

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