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Opposition to EPA's GHG Authority Spreads Beyond Beltway

Twenty governors and nearly 100 trade organizations, including several energy groups, last week wrote separate letters to Senate and House leaders expressing their concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) attempt to use its Clean Air Act (CAA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are contributing to global warming.

The governors, led by Mississippi's Haley Barbour, called on Congress to "stop harmful EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions that could damage...vital interests," but they did not indicate what route they wanted Congress to take to stop the agency. The industry associations, however, expressed their support for the "disapproval resolution" offered by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) in late January, as opposed to legislation that has been sponsored in both the Senate and House to temporarily suspend EPA activity (see NGI, Jan. 25).

The Murkowski-Lincoln resolution seeks to overturn the EPA's endangerment finding in December that sets the stage for the agency to stringently regulate emissions even if Congress fails to enact climate change legislation (see NGI, Dec. 14, 2009a). A similar disapproval resolution has been introduced in the House. Murkowski welcomed the letters from the governors and organizations, saying they demonstrated the "growing public opposition" to EPA imposing back-door climate regulations.

"[We] urge you to vote in favor of this resolution," wrote the industry organizations in an open letter to all members of the Senate. Among the groups were the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the Natural Gas Supply Association, Industrial Energy Consumers of America, the Gas Processors Association, petroleum councils from a number of states and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In a separate statement issued last Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, "The Murkowski-Lincoln...approach is the clearest, most sensible way to stop EPA. Unlike other bills that could become bogged down by parliamentary procedures, the Murkowski-Lincoln resolution is guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor."

While the industry organizations said they respected companion legislative proposals offered earlier this month by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) to suspend for two years potential EPA regulation of GHG emissions from stationary sources, such as coal-fired power plants, "and are prepared to work with members on both sides of the aisle on a permanent solution that may build upon those legislative initiatives, the undersigned organizations, all of whom face regulation by EPA, cannot wait [see NGI, March 8]."

The companion Rockefeller and Rahall bills seeking the two-year suspension were introduced after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that the agency would adopt CAA regulations for GHG emissions this spring, but it would delay implementation with respect to stationary sources until next January.

The disapproval resolution (S.J. Res. 26) is the "clearest and most sensible approach and has already gained the bipartisan support of 41 senators. Most importantly, it directly addresses several fundamental problems with allowing EPA to pursue its regulatory course," the trade organizations said. Murkowski initially was expected to bring up the resolution for a vote in the Senate this month, but it's now been pushed back until after the Senate returns from Easter recess in April, said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon.

A "simple delay of EPA action," as proposed by Rockefeller and Rahall, "will do nothing to provide relief to Americans looking for jobs or businesses looking to make new investments in our states," the governors wrote Congress last Wednesday. The agency's efforts should be halted altogether, they noted.

"We believe that EPA should offer input regarding complex energy and environmental policy initiatives, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but feel that the policies are best developed by elected representatives at the state and national level, not by [a] single federal agency," the governors said.

"As governors, we have the responsibility to protect jobs, promote economic growth and mitigate any threats to financial stability in our states. We oppose EPA regulation of greenhouse gases that fails to account for these responsibility." The governors called on Congress to work to pass broad legislation that "balances the role of conservation and climate security with the production of abundant and affordable American energy."

The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) last week took action to join state Gov. Rick Perry (one of the 20 governors) and Attorney General Greg Abbott in contesting the EPA's December endangerment finding on regulation of GHG emissions. "Texas is making tremendous progress compared to most states in expanding renewable energy options and reducing greenohouse gases, as we are the nation's leader in wind power. However EPA's actions stand to penalize our state for its production of traditional energy sources like natural gas that enable the U.S. to avoid importing more petroleum from other countries," RRC Chairman Victory Carrillo said.

In related action, Murkowski has pressed EPA's Jackson for more details about the agency's plans to regulate GHG emissions under its CAA authority. .

In a letter last month responding to the concerns of Rockefeller and seven other coal state Democrats, Jackson said that "fewer than 400" stationary source emitters would face regulation under CAA for their GHG emissions in the first half of 2011 (see NGI, March 1). Based on that time line, Murkowski put a series of questions to Jackson in a March 5 letter, including:

In her letter that followed a recent hearing by the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Murkowski also pressed Jackson to provide the "economic and employment impacts" of agency regulation of GHG emissions under the CAA. "Despite requests from members of the House and Senate, your agency still has not released a full analysis of the impacts that stationary source regulations -- when fully phased in -- will have on the economy, or the potential job losses that could result from them," she said.

Murkowski further said the Obama administration appeared confused about its strategy to reduce GHG emissions. "It appears the administration is trying to have it both ways. On one hand, the [fiscal year 2011] budget request assumes that a cap-and-trade bill will pass [Congress], and on the other hand, it seeks tens of millions of dollars to impose climate regulations without any input from Congress," Murkowski said.

"I remain hopeful that the administration will become more specific about the energy and environment policies it supports, and work with all members of Congress to pass a balanced bill. It is clear that the threat of EPA climate regulations has not and will not coerce legislative action on climate change. Whatever bill may pass, it should advance because it is a good idea and not because it is merely less problematic than the alternative."

President Obama "is trying to use the threat of EPA action to strong arm Congress into passing a bad energy bill," agreed H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington, DC. "Congress should resist, halt the administration's efforts, and then if a climate policy does, in fact, prove necessary, they should take the time to get the policy right," he said.

Murkowski and other senators have been trying to fight off EPA regulation of GHG emissions to give the Senate more time to work on energy and climate change legislation. However not much headway seems to have been made on the legislative front so far.

Several major energy groups, including the API and Edison Electric Institute, attended a Capitol Hill briefing last Tuesday where three senators involved in crafting climate change and energy legislation presented "their thinking" on the issues, but were short on details.

"The oil and natural gas industry was pleased to participate in the senators' briefing as they develop climate proposals. We look forward to seeing details of the senators' proposal and hope to be a constructive participant as discussions move forward," said API President Jack Gerard of the briefing held by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

"There weren't any details" on climate legislation that were unveiled to the energy associations, an energy industry spokeswoman said. "There is not a proposal yet...They talked about a blueprint," she noted.

"This was a briefing on what they're [the senators] thinking" on the issues.

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have been working on a climate proposal since before the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December (see NGI, Dec. 14, 2009b). But the trio has yet to produce any tangible legislation, which has prompted criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

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