Engineering News

Senate Dems Block Attempt to Consider EPA CO2 Amendment
September 24, 2009

An attempt to temporarily prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other stationary sources failed in the Senate Thursday.

The Democratic majority didn't allow the amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to be considered on the Senate floor, leaving the door open for the EPA to continue with its plans to regulate greenhouse gases.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's amendment would have prevented EPA action for one year, allowing Congress time to write their own greenhouse gas legislation.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the measure would have also prevented promulgation of a new emissions rule for vehicles, which the agency hoped to finalize soon.

Murkowski's staff said the measure wouldn't be the last legislative attempt to prevent EPA action on emissions.

Environmentalists applauded the majority's decision. Auto manufacturers, preferring a national standard to a patchwork of state regulations that could be mandated if the EPA halted its new vehicle rule, also supported blocking the amendment.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, warn that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act could harm the economy.

Many lawmakers and analysts on Capitol Hill see the EPA's move toward greenhouse gas regulation as political leverage to prompt Congressional action.

"The regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act is being used as a thinly veiled threat to force the Senate to act on (greenhouse gas) legislation," Murkowski said in a floor speech.

Even the Obama administration has said that it would rather Congress write a more finely honed set of rules governing greenhouse gas emissions than a more blunt regulator tool crafted under the Clean Air Act. While the House has passed a climate bill earlier this year, the Senate is increasingly unlikely to vote on the bill with health care reform blocking action and many in the majority divided on how to forge a climate bill.

The EPA earlier this month issued proposed new emission standards for automobiles. Before that rule can be finalized, the agency will have to officially declare that greenhouse gases are a danger to the public. Such an endangerment finding is the precursor for a raft of new emission regulations on other mobile and stationary sources such as refineries, power plants, ships, cement kilns, metal smelters and chemical plants.

In a letter sent to Senators Wednesday, NAM Executive Vice President Jay Timmons urged legislators to support the amendment offered by Murkowski, the ranking member of the energy committee.

If the EPA is allowed to move forward on emissions regulation, NAM said, it "will establish disincentives for the long-term investments that would be necessary to grow jobs and expedite economic recovery."

Murkowski said Clean Air Act regulation "would be absolutely unworkable and at the same time economically devastating."

The EPA says it's tailoring of the Clean Air Act rules to a 25,000 ton emission threshold for regulation will limit burdensome rules, and yet still cover 85% of the nation's man-made greenhouse gases.

But some legal analysts - including one of the agency's top political appointments - say the EPA is leaving itself open legal challenges. The Clean Air Act states a 250 ton a year threshold for regulated pollutants.

At least one environmental group - the Center for Biological Diversity - has said it's prepared to sue the EPA to enforce lower emission thresholds.

Source: Dow Jones Newswires

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