A coalition of eight Senate Democrats Friday sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson challenging the agency's potential regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called on the Senate Democrats to sign on as cosponsors to her "disapproval resolution" to halt the EPA's effort.

The letter requests that Jackson clarify the EPA timetable and suspend EPA's effort to regulate GHG emissions from industrial facilities so Congress can consider comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

EPA regulation of GHG emissions from stationary sources has far-reaching implications for the economy as a whole and the energy sector in particular, wrote Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; and Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Begich of Alaska, Carl Levin of Michigan, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Max Baucus of Montana.

Affected industrial facilities are significant job generators in coal states, particularly in West Virginia, the Senate coalition said.

"At a time when so many people are hurting, we need to put the decisions about our energy future into the hands of the people and their elected representatives -- especially on issues impacting clean coal. EPA actions in this area would have enormous implications and these issues need to be handled carefully and appropriately dealt with by the Congress, not in isolation by a federal environmental agency," said Rockefeller.

Rockefeller currently is drafting legislation that would suspend the EPA's regulatory authority in this area to allow sufficient time for congressional consideration of the nation's larger energy policy and economic needs.

The Senate coalition posed a number of questions to the EPA. "There is genuine concern from the domestic oil and gas industries, from entities operating at the wellhead to pipeline operators, processing plants and refiners, that they will be severely disadvantaged in the world marketplace by stationary source regulations. Can you characterize how these regulations will translate into costs for these industries?" it asked.

Moreover, "large electric generators using domestically produced coal and natural gas are uncertain about potential 'Best Available Control Technology' or 'BACT' standards for [regulating] carbon dioxide (CO2). What does EPA expect coal and natural gas plant operators to do if there is no standard?"

Murkowski has made the biggest noise in Congress about the EPA's December endangerment finding, which held that CO2 and other GHG emissions pose a danger to the public health and welfare (see Daily GPI, Dec. 8, 2009). This provides a legal trigger for the EPA to regulate GHG emissions under the CAA in much the same way that it regulates the pollutants that cause smog.

Last month Murkowski, along with a number of Republicans and a few Democrats, introduced a bipartisan "disapproval resolution" to block the EPA's effort to regulate GHG emissions under the CAA (see Daily GPI, Jan. 22). EPA regulation of GHG emissions could effectively be negated if Murkowski's disapproval resolution is ratified.

"I welcome my colleagues' attention to this issue, and am encouraged that they share the concerns of the 41 Democratic and Republican senators who have introduced [the] disapproval resolution to halt EPA's actions," Murkowski said of the coalition's letter to the EPA. "I commend my colleagues for becoming more engaged in this important issue and hope they will show their commitment by signing on as cosponsors of the disapproval resolution. It's time to take the threat of EPA's command-and-control regulations off the table."

Murkowski said the "disapproval resolution remains the best opportunity for senators to weigh in, prior to EPA regulating, on whether or not they are comfortable with EPA instituting massive new regulations in the midst of the worst economic downturn in modern times. It is a simple issue: senators either support EPA imposing these regulations without input from Congress, or they don't."

She is expected to bring up the resolution for a vote on the Senate floor in either early or mid-March, said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon. The resolution would only require 51 votes to pass the Senate, but it is much less likely to receive a favorable vote in the House where leaders are strong supporters of GHG regulations.

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