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Coal State Democrats Rebel Against EPA Regulation

Key Democrats Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV and Rep. Nick Rahall, who are both from the coal-mining state of West Virginia, introduced legislation last Thursday to suspend for two years potential Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources, such as coal-fired power plants.

The legislation would give "Congress the time it needs to address an issue as complicated and expansive as our energy future. Congress, not the EPA, must be the ideal decision-maker on such a challenging issue" as energy and climate change legislation, Rockefeller said.

Rahall comments were more blatant. "I am dead-set against the EPA's plowing ahead on its own with new regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants," Rahall said.

The "EPA must be stopped from moving further down this very dangerous road -- one that would throw West Virginians out of work and increase energy prices for all Americans," he continued. The House bill was cosponsored by Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) and Rick Boucher (D-VA). The agency declined to comment last week, saying that it was reviewing the bills.

Under the companion measures, no stationary source would be required to obtain a permit or meet a new source performance standard under the CAA for two years after enactment of legislation. The legislation, however, would not block the EPA from moving forward on regulating carbon emissions from vehicles.

The legislation comes two weeks after Rockefeller and seven other moderate Senate Democrats from coal-producing states sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson challenging the agency's December endangerment finding, which held that carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions pose a danger to the public health and welfare (see NGI, March 1, Dec. 14, 2009). The finding provides the trigger for EPA to regulate GHG emissions under its CAA authority.

"Administrator Jackson responded quickly and showed some willingness to move the agency's time table for regulation to [2011]. This is a positive change and good progress, but I am concerned it may not be enough. We must set this delay in stone and give Congress enough time to consider a comprehensive energy bill," Rockefeller said.

In reply to the Democrats' letter on Feb. 19, the EPA chief said that while the agency will adopt CAA regulations for GHG emissions this spring, it will delay the start of implementation with respect to stationary sources until next January.

"Rockefeller's legislation is further evidence of the growing bipartisan and bicameral resistance to EPA's backdoor climate regulations. Given the overwhelming opposition to these actions I'm hopeful that this bill will draw additional support and advance quickly," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who in January introduced a disapproval resolution that, if ratified by both houses, could negate EPA regulation of GHG emissions from stationary sources (see NGI, Jan. 25).

"If it [Rockefeller's bill] had a clear path forward in the Senate, Murkowski would consider holding off" with her disapproval resolution, said spokesman Robert Dillon. But this doesn't appear to be the case, as Senate leaders have indicated that they do not plan to hold a hearing on Rockefeller's legislation, he said. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), a coal state colleague of Rockefeller, has said he will not support the bill.

Murkowski's resolution can be voted out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee without a hearing; it simply requires the signature of 30 senators to bring it to the floor, according to Dillon. Murkowski is expected to bring up the disapproval resolution, which has 41 sponsors, for a vote on the Senate floor by the middle of the month, he said. The resolution would only require 51 votes to pass the Senate, but getting it through the House will be more challenging.

"The disapproval resolution is guaranteed consideration in the Senate. It's imperative that senators have an opportunity to vote on whether or not they support EPA's costly unilateral and unprecedented attempt to impose these command-and-control regulations," Murkowski said.

A similar disapproval resolution to negate the endangerment finding was introduced in the House last month by Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN), chairman of the Agriculture Committee; Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the Armed Services Committee; and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), ranking member of the Appropriation's Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

Rockefeller's bill "is just a Band-Aid on a broken bone," said Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO). "We need a permanent bar to EPA circumventing Congress with job-killing and energy tax-raising backdoor cap-and-trade regulations."

He said the Rockefeller bill would only delay by two years what will be inevitable job losses and energy price increases. "The only fix capable of protecting our families and workers is a legislative fix that takes this abuse away from EPA and keeps such decisions in the hands of the people's representatives," Bond noted.

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