- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill announced separate plans this week to try to block the Obama administration from unilaterally imposing limits on greenhouse gas emissions, ratcheting up pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to hold a vote.

Republicans in both chambers are writing proposals to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, while a group of Democratic senators this week reintroduced legislation forcing a two-year delay on EPA’s regulations, saying that would give Congress time to write its own rules.

Taken together, they signal a full-court press in Congress to try to prevent the Obama administration from imposing rules on its own.

“We can address emissions and secure a future for the U.S. coal industry, but we need the time to get it right and to move clean-coal technology forward,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who, along with six fellow Democrats from conservative-leaning states, introduced the two-year pause.

Republicans want to go further and take away the EPA authority that was granted by a 2007 court ruling.

“The last thing Americans need is a national energy tax that would kill more jobs. The Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate greenhouse gases, and the EPA must be stopped from making decisions that circumvent Congress,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, who introduced legislation to restrict the EPA.

The top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Environment and Public Works committees released draft legislation Wednesday to accomplish the same goals.

The Republicans, in a statement, said a two-year pause would leave industries in an uncertain position and could put decisions in the hands of bureaucrats. The legislation they are proposing would overturn the 2007 court ruling.

The bill in the GOP-led House is likely to pass with the support of leaders including Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, whose spokesman called the EPA regulations “a job-destroying de facto national energy tax.”

House passage would put pressure on Mr. Reid. The Nevada Democrat must decide whether to allow a vote on a measure that could embarrass Mr. Obama and put members of his own party on the spot.

A spokesman for Mr. Reid, Jon Summers, was noncommittal, saying that the top Democrat “is talking with his caucus about our legislative priorities and the timing of specific bills we will bring to the floor.”

Mr. Reid promised Mr. Rockefeller a vote on his proposal last year, but that never materialized.

Rockefeller spokeswoman Linsey Godbey the senator has “a great relationship with the leader’s office and they know that we really want to see a vote on this.”

The fight over the EPA’s regulatory reach has raged for years but intensified in 2009 after the agency announced that six gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to the environment and the health of Americans and that it would draft regulations to reduce those emissions.

The EPA released its “endangerment finding” as a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that carbon dioxide and other gases should be considered pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama adopted an aggressive approach, calling on Congress to pass a carbon emissions “cap-and-trade” program, while warning that the EPA would be required to act if lawmakers didn’t.

The House enacted emissions limits in 2009, but the Senate never held a vote.

Still, a Senate effort to overturn the EPA’s regulations was defeated last year by a 51-47 vote, leaving the agency free to proceed.

The Obama administration repeatedly has said it would veto any legislation that would stop the EPA from acting.

Republicans argue that the regulations would hurt industry, but the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental organization in Washington, released a telephone survey that found Americans want the EPA to take action. In one finding, three out of four respondents said they opposed legislative efforts to block “Clean Air Act updates for carbon, smog and other pollution.”

David Doniger, the policy director of the council’s climate center, said Mr. Rockefeller’s bill to impose a two-year pause would be “bad news not only for public health, but even for the future of coal.”

“While EPA is blocked from doing its job year after year, nothing will be done to reduce the pollution that is contributing to death, illness and injury through more killer heat waves, more smog, the spread of infectious diseases, and stronger storms, floods and hurricanes,” Mr. Doniger said.