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Democrats Block Proposal to Delay EPA Regulations

Senate Democrats last Thursday blocked a Republican amendment that would have forestalled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources for one year to give Congress additional time to work on climate change legislation.

The amendment, which was immediately rejected on the Senate floor, would have prohibited the EPA from spending money to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) from stationary sources under the the Clean Air Act (CAA) for a period of one year, thus giving the Senate more time to act on climate change legislation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sought to attach the proposal to the $32.1 billion fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which cleared the Senate by 77-21.

"If this amendment comes back in any other form, we're going to have to open up the debate pretty wide," vowed Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Workers Committee, which is expected to come out with a Senate climate change bill this week. "I'm glad this amendment was disallowed. It's a repeal of the Clean Air Act," she said.

"Many of us...view her amendment with substantial alarm," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), adding that it would have exempted some of the nation's largest emitters from CO2 regulations. She argued that Murkowski's amendment would have effectively overturned the April 2007 Supreme Court decision, which determined that CO2 is a pollutant that can be regulated under the CAA (see NGI, April 9, 2007).

The court held that the EPA must regulate emissions from mobile sources if it finds that CO2 poses a threat to public health, Murkowski said. "I am not putting the brakes" on the EPA's draft rule to regulate mobile sources. She noted that her amendment only calls for a "temporary timeout" on EPA regulation of stationary source emissions under the CAA.

In April, the EPA issued a proposed endangerment finding declaring CO2 a pollutant. The finding was a " monumental first step towards regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Unless Congress enacts legislation and crosses the finish line first -- which is our strong hope -- we fully expect that EPA eventually will issue rules to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants" and other stationary sources, said an industry source at the time (see NGI, Sept. 7; April 20). A formal endangerment finding by the EPA is expected in the months ahead, according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The CAA is "one of the worst options" for regulating CO2 emissions, Murkowski said. "There's a legitimate policy debate that needs to be had on this issue. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues across the aisle are not interested in discussing the merits of my amendment."

She contends that the regulation of CO2 under the CAA is being used as a "thinly veiled threat" against the Senate to force action on climate legislation "regardless of where we are in what remains an ongoing incredibly important debate." It's "supposed to compel us to move faster. We're expected to push through a climate bill, perhaps regardless of its content, in order to stave off this [EPA] regulation. If the House debate is any indication of how our own will proceed, we'll be asked to rush to judgment," Murkowski said. Her amendment would "simply remove the gun from the Senate's head and allow time for a full and robust debate," she said.

Absent her amendment, Murkowski said the Senate is left with two "bad choices" -- the House climate change legislation and the EPA's finding that GHG emissions endanger public health and should be regulated under the CAA -- "neither of which will end well for the American people."

"Anyone who reads my amendment will see that I went to great lengths to ensure it does not lead to any unintended or adverse consequences. It has been drafted and redrafted to limit one action by the EPA for one year and nothing else.

"My amendment will not, in any way, impact EPA's authority relating to the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, its ability to develop a carbon offset program, issue permits for energy infrastructure on or near federal land, or move forward with the important work of both exploring for and producing the vast reserves of domestic energy on our Outer Continental Shelf [OCS]," she said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said Murkowski's amendment "would have tied the hands of the EPA." Moreover he noted it "would have hurt our legislative efforts" and sent the wrong message to polluters, who he said "feel the hot breath of the future on their necks."

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) sent a letter to senators urging them to support Murkowski's amendment. "The EPA is trying to use the Clean Air Act as a blunt instrument...Putting regulations in place for thousands of stationary sources will result in serious risks to our nation's economic recovery with loss of jobs and high costs to manufacturers while impeding their ability to have any long-term international competitiveness," said NAM Executive Vice President Jay Timmons.

In related action, Senate Democrats also blocked a Republican amendment that would have prohibited funds in the Interior spending bill from being used to delay the implementation of the draft proposed five-year (2010-2015) leasing plan for the OCS.

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