INSIGHT: US Congress moves to block EPA greenhouse role

03 February 2011 17:26  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

Congress moves to shut down EPA GHG regulationsWASHINGTON (ICIS)--Momentum is building in the US Congress to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plans to impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions by the country’s power, refining and other industrial facilities.

Late on Wednesday, Congressman Fred Upton (Republican-Michigan), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, issued a proposed bill that would roll back the agency’s controversial plans to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.

Titled the “Energy Tax Prevention Act”, the Upton-Inhofe measure would amend the Clean Air Act (CAA) to bar regulation of greenhouse gases under that statute.

Among its major provisions, the bill says that the EPA administrator “may not, under this act [CAA], take action relating to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas due to concerns regarding possible climate change”.

In addition, the proposed measure amends the Clean Air Act to exclude any greenhouse gas from the law’s definition of “air pollutant”.

Most significantly, the bill specifies that EPA’s “endangerment finding” of December 2009 is repealed “and shall have no legal effect”.  It was this EPA finding that established the agency’s claim to authority for regulating greenhouse gases.

The EPA’s rules to limit emissions of greenhouse gases by power plants, refineries, chemical producers and other manufacturing or industrial facilities are widely opposed by business. Those rules came into force last month.

The Upton-Inhofe effort to shut down EPA’s greenhouse gases regulations is only the latest in a string of measures introduced since the beginning of the year.

Also on the House side, Representative Marsha Blackburn (Republican-Tennessee) has introduced her “Free Industry Act” (HR-97) to amend the Clean Air Act so that the statute’s definition of “air pollutant” may not include carbon dioxide, water vapour and other greenhouse substances. 

Blackburn’s bill also would amend the Clean Air Act to the effect that the law may not authorise or require the regulation of climate change or global warming.

Introduced on 5 January, her bill already has 113 co-sponsors in the House.

Senator John Barrasso (Republican-Wyoming) has introduced a bill (S-228) that would bar the EPA or any other federal agency from regulating greenhouse gases for the purpose of addressing climate change.

Barrasso’s bill, called the "Defending America’s Affordable Energy and Jobs Act", would bar federal regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources under any statute, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, among others.

His bill also would bar lawsuits against sources of greenhouse gases if such litigation was based on the climate impact of those emissions.

Barrasso, who sits on both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources panel, charged that the Obama administration was trying, through EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, to impose a cap-and-trade mandate even though Congress rejected it.

Washington agencies are now trying a back-door approach to regulate our climate by abusing existing laws,” Barrasso said.  “I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Washington doesn’t impose cap-and-trade policies in any form.”

His bill has 10 co-sponsors.

Senator David Vitter (Republican-Louisiana) wants to bar federal regulation of US industrial emissions of greenhouse gases unless and until other major industrialised or developing nations - namely Russia, China and India - have initiated such restrictions of their own.

Vitter’s bill (S-15) would only allow federal regulation of greenhouse gases when the Secretary of Commerce certifies that those nations have implemented emissions limits that are substantially similar to those proposed for US industry.

Concern in the Senate about the economic and industrial impact of EPA’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases is bipartisan.  Senator Jay Rockefeller (Democrat-West Virginia) and six of his Democrat Senate colleagues this week introduced a bill that would suspend for two years the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Rockefeller’s objective is to put off EPA’s action on greenhouse gases long enough to allow Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation that would, among other things, address emissions.

“Many of us agree,” said Rockefeller, “that Congress, not the EPA, must be the decision-maker on such a challenging issue.”

Republicans in the Senate and House are not keen on Rockefeller’s suspension approach, arguing that EPA’s role in climate change policy should be shut down for good.

But Rockefeller’s bill and its support among his Democrat colleagues is an indication that even the Democrat-majority Senate could well pass a bill that, one way or another, takes EPA out of the climate change game.

Underlying Rockefeller’s concerns about the EPA action is the fact that his home state’s principal economic engine is coal mining.

It is a vein of concern that is shared by many other senators.

Coal is the nation’s most common fuel for electric power generation and accounts for almost half of all electricity produced in the US. It also sees significant use in the broad US manufacturing sector.

Among the 50 US states, 31 rely on coal for 50% or more of their electric power generation, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). 

That figure alone means that 62 US senators would be put on the hot spot with their constituents if they were to allow EPA to press on with rules that would in time shut down coal-fired power generation.

Within those 31 coal-dependent states, nine of them get 80% of their in-state electric power from coal. And of those, seven states - New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Wyoming, Indiana and Kentucky - source more than 90% of their electric power from coal.

Among the 19 states that use coal for less than half of their in-state power generation, many rely on coal for 33% to 40% or more of their electricity. Alabama, for example, falls below the 50% coal-fired power measure, but the state still relies on coal for 48% of its electricity.

Even some states that have low percentage use of coal for power generation within their borders still are dependent on coal-fired electricity because they import juice from neighbouring states that are coal-dependent, according to the EIA.

President Barack Obama last year threatened to veto any congressional bill that would block EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases.

But if the Upton-Inhofe measure - or some combination of the various anti-EPA bills - should get approved by both the House and Senate, the president may be hard pressed to veto the legislation.

As he is already moving to the centre in anticipation of his re-election bid in 2012, Obama may welcome the chance to back away from what could be a costly burden on the US economy - and his shot at a second term.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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