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Obama administration pumps unprecedented power into EPA

With the Environmental Protection Agency set to take on an even broader regulatory role in the years ahead, a report released Wednesday shows the agency's footprint already is at a historic high.

The study — released by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit group of state legislators — details how the EPA has grown much more aggressive under President Obama.

It specifically cites the agency's record number of "regulatory disapprovals" of state strategies to meet federal environmental standards, coupled with a never-before-seen number of "federal implementation plans," de facto takeovers of states' blueprints to comply with the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.

The study also takes aim at the EPA's close working relationship with leading environmental groups to rewrite regulations without the involvement of Congress or state leaders, and it accuses the agency of having "severely limited states' fuel choices" through stricter limits on coal-fired power plants.

"The EPA is supposed to serve as a resource for states, but in the last few years we've seen a more nationalized environmental policy," said Todd Wynn, director of the council's energy task force. He added that his organization will continue to push "policies to help state legislators push back against an intrusive federal government."

The EPA had no comment on the study, released one day after Mr. Obama outlined his plan to tackle climate change in his second term.

The plan bypasses Congress and relies on executive actions and more EPA rules.

The president's call for greenhouse gas limits on existing power plants, critics say and some of his supporters acknowledge, eventually would result in the death of coal-generated electricity in the U.S. The EPA already has proposed emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants that would all but guarantee that no such facilities could be built. Those rules have yet to be finalized.

Environmentalists support the president's goals, and some have pushed for even more aggressive action from the EPA.

But congressional Republicans, along with many state officials and the energy industry, say the agency is going too far.

"The president's unprecedented use of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact overreaching regulations and circumvent state primacy has prompted our fellow Republican attorneys general to fight back at full force, and we plan to continue," reads a joint statement released Tuesday by Republican attorneys general in Alabama, Montana, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

While a bigger EPA footprint is all but guaranteed, the American Legislative Exchange Council study shows that the agency has gone further under the Obama administration than ever before.

The EPA issued 95 regulatory disapprovals of state environmental plans during Mr. Obama's first term, compared with 54 during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration. During President Clinton's second term, the agency issued 44 such declarations, according to the study.

The report also asserts that the EPA has imposed "at least $13 billion in annual regulatory costs" through the "sue-and-settle" method. That approach involves environmental groups suing the EPA for failing to meet deadlines for actions related to the Clean Air or Clean Water act, and the agency negotiating settlements on how to address the issues.

The technique effectively removes states and other stakeholders from any involvement in federal environmental policy.

The agency continues to operate under its acting administrator, Bob Perciasepe.

The president's nominee to lead the EPA, veteran environmental regulator Gina McCarthy, has yet to be approved by the Senate.

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