Lawmakers should try this year to delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing greenhouse gas regulations instead of repealing them, Senator Jay Rockefeller said today.
“We cannot wait any longer to send the message that relying on EPA is the wrong way to go,” Rockefeller said in an e-mail. Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has proposed a two-year suspension of EPA rules for power plants and factories, a delay that he says will give Congress time to pass laws dealing with carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases scientists have linked to climate change.
A two-year suspension “has a better chance of becoming law” than a plan from Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, to overturn the agency’s Dec. 7 finding that greenhouse gases are a danger to the public and should be regulated, Rockefeller said.
A vote on Murkowski’s motion to overturn the EPA finding is scheduled for June 10.
The EPA issued regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by setting higher fuel economy standards for cars and requiring newly built and modified industrial plants to use the “best available” technologies to minimize pollution.
President Barack Obama has been urging Congress to pass legislation that would replace these regulations with a cap-and-trade program in which companies buy and sell pollution allowances.
Murkowski has said the EPA regulations are being used to pressure lawmakers into backing the cap-and-trade plan, which narrowly passed the House last year and then stalled in the Senate. Senators John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, released a revamped cap-and-trade bill May 12 hoping it can pass Congress this year.
Rockefeller said he and Murkowski agree that limits on greenhouse gases should be set by Congress, “not an unelected federal agency.”
“The fate of our West Virginia economy, our manufacturing industries and our workers should not be in the hands of EPA,” Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller and Murkowski are “scare-mongering” by portraying the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations as a threat to the economy, Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington-based environmental group Clean Air Watch, said in a telephone interview.
Dependent on Oil
Murkowski’s motion would make the U.S. economy more dependent on oil, Brendan Gilfillan, an EPA spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We hope the Senate will reject the resolution,” he said. The agency “has not taken a position” on Rockefeller’s proposed two-year suspension of some greenhouse gas regulations, Gilfillan said.
The EPA will phase-in regulations for industrial polluters and is “trying to move forward in a measured way,” O’Donnell said. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and it would be “irresponsible” if the EPA didn’t use that authority, he said.
While lawmakers are worried about the impact of new EPA carbon regulations on the economy, they are also “nervous” about limiting the agency’s authority to take action on climate change, Rockefeller told reporters in Washington yesterday.
Rockefeller said his legislation would allow the EPA to enforce higher fuel economy standards while delaying regulations for industrial polluters. Murkowski’s resolution would overturn all the agency’s carbon regulations, he said.
Under the Congressional Review Act, Murkowski can demand a Senate vote on her motion to disapprove the EPA’s endangerment finding. Unlike other legislation that often requires 60 out of 100 votes to clear the Senate, it only needs 51 votes to pass.
The disapproval motion isn’t guaranteed to get a vote in the House, and if the measure does pass both chambers of Congress, Obama might veto it.
Since it became law in 1996, the Congressional Review Act has only been used once to successfully overturn the regulations of a federal agency, Richard Williams, managing director of the regulatory studies program at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, said in a telephone interview from Arlington, Virginia.
Obama, who supports federal limits on greenhouse gases, would “almost certainly” veto the disapproval motion, Williams said. With large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Murkowski and her supporters wouldn’t be able to get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, he said.
“They must understand how difficult and how unlikely it is that you’re actually going to sustain one of these things,” Williams said. A more effective way of blocking the EPA would be amending legislation that sets the agency’s budget to prohibit the enforcement of greenhouse gas regulations, he said.
“The budget is the one thing that will make agencies take notice, so it’s a much easier way to do it,” Williams said.
Murkowski tried unsuccessfully to amend the EPA’s budget last year to limit its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. That measure would have delayed EPA regulation for one year and allowed the agency to move ahead with higher fuel economy standards, Robert Dillon, Murkowski’s spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
Murkowski chose to pursue a disapproval motion because “it’s the only way to guarantee a vote,” Dillon said.
“It’s a legitimate attempt to stop the EPA from harming the economy,” he said. If it fails, “it is still beneficial to the American public that members are on the record on whether they support EPA climate regulation.”