The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday defended the agency’s endangerment finding for regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions against an onslaught of criticism from Senate Republicans who contend that it is based on faulty science and that the debate over whether global warming really exists is unsettled.

The endangerment finding, which concludes that carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHG emissions pose a danger to the public health and welfare, was for the most part the product of the Bush administration rather than the Obama administration, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said during a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (see Daily GPI, Dec. 8, 2009). The finding is the legal trigger for the EPA to regulate GHG emissions under its Clean Air Act (CAA) authority.

The endangerment finding “was in large part done when we [Obama administration] walked in the door” in early 2009, she said. The Obama EPA issued the endangerment decision in December. Jackson said the agency plans to phase in the compliance of large stationary sources with GHG regulations beginning in 2011, and delay compliance of small sources until 2016.

Republicans on the Senate environmental panel released a report Tuesday that questioned the objectivity and ethical principles of the scientists involved in the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, on which the EPA based its endangerment decision. “After an initial review, the minority staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works believes the scientists involved violated fundamental ethical principles governing taxpayer-funded research and, in some cases, may have violated federal laws,” the report said.

The scientists associated with the IPCC reports “cooked the science” on global warming, said Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the committee. He called on the EPA to scrap its endangerment finding.

Inhofe indicated that cap-and-trade legislation was dead in the Senate, which would provide even more incentive for the Obama administration to push through EPA regulations of GHG emissions.

He pressed Jackson on whether she planned to have the EPA’s inspector general investigate the IPCC’s science on global warming.

“The investigations that are ongoing mirror reviews that EPA science has used in making the endangerment finding,” Jackson responded. “It is incumbent on me as administrator to review any new information as it comes out. And if anything changes…certainly I would call for a review of the finding, but I haven’t seen that.”

Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) countered that the Republican belief that global warming is a hoax was a minority viewpoint. “The majority of this committee believes we must act” on climate change, she said.

In response to a letter from eight moderate, coal-state Democrats last Friday, the EPA chief said that while the agency will adopt CAA regulations for GHG emissions this spring, it will delay implementation with respect to stationary sources until next January (see Daily GPI, Feb. 23).

The EPA will phase in permit requirements and regulation of GHG emissions for large stationary sources beginning in 2011. “In the first half of 2011, only those facilities that already must apply for CAA permits as a result of their non-GHG emissions will need to address their GHG emissions in their permit applications,” Jackson said in her letter Monday responding to the Senate Democrats.

“I am expecting that greenhouse gas emissions from other large sources will phase in starting in the latter half of 2011. Between the latter half of 2011 and 2013, I expect that the threshold for permitting will be substantially higher than the 25,000-ton limit that EPA originally proposed. In any event, EPA does not intend to subject the smallest sources to Clean Air Act permitting for greenhouse gas emissions any sooner than 2016,” she said.

“We believe Administrator Jackson’s response to the senators’ letter is incomplete and unacceptable. It does not address the significant concerns that have been raised by members of Congress and the business community about the impact of the regulations on investment in their facilities, business expansion and job creation,” said the American Chemistry Council.

“It’s clear that Congress should step in immediately to postpone EPA’s proposed regulation of stationary sources, and take time to develop an effective solution that specifies clear and achievable objectives for greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” the group noted. “I welcome any delay” in EPA regulations of GHG emissions, said Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), a member of the Senate panel. The “only proper route [for reducing GHG emissions] is through Congress.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a vocal critic of the EPA’s effort to regulate GHG emissions under its CAA authority, welcomed the EPA’s decision to push back implementation of the regulations until 2011, but she said it wasn’t enough. “While the delay in implementation is a small forced step in the right direction, the Clean Air Act continues to be the wrong tool for the job, and EPA’s time line continues to create significant and ongoing uncertainty for a business community,” she said.

“Congress [rather than the EPA] is the appropriate body to address climate change policy,” Murkowski said. “Until the specter of command-and-control regulations goes away, it will remain a counterproductive threat handing over the work that must be done to find common ground. The EPA has restated its commitment to regulating greenhouse gases, down to the smallest emitters, regardless of the economic consequences.”

Murkowski has made the biggest noise in Congress about the EPA’s December endangerment finding. 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.

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.

Moving to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama is expected to roll out incentives for natural gas during a speech to the Business Roundtable in Washington, DC, Wednesday.

“The Obama administration looks poised to provide an answer to the question raised by natural gas’ absence in the Clean Energy Standard that was made public last week. A program of incentives to encourage conversion of coal plants to natural gas is allegedly in the offing, but details are scant. There is some speculation that this program could be modeled on a ‘cash for clunkers’ concept,” said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Robert W. Baird & Co.

“How a White House overture for natural gas power plants will be received is unclear. Renewable energy advocates may not be pleased, and environmentalists already unhappy with the Obama administration’s recent enthusiasm for nuclear power may similarly be unimpressed with this tack. More importantly, it’s not clear yet whether any proposal from the administration will convince Republicans currently opposed to the administration’s goal of moving an ‘energy + climate” bill this year to change their minds,” she said.

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