Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Republicans are trying to block the Obama administration for a year from issuing regulations restricting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, oil refineries and factories.
The threat of the Environmental Protection Agency regulating so-called greenhouse gases is being used as a “hammer” to pressure Congress to pass a national “cap- and- trade” program to restrict emissions, Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in an interview.
The Supreme Court said in 2007 that the agency doesn’t have to wait for Congress to pass greenhouse gas laws and has the authority to regulate the emissions under the Clean Air Act. The agency has proposed rules for new cars and trucks and is considering regulations for industrial, or “stationary,” sources. EPA should let Congress settle the issue, Murkowski said.
“The default to the EPA is one that I have great concerns about and would like to avoid,” Murkowski said.
The Alaska lawmaker filed an amendment today to the legislation governing the EPA’s budget, which is being debated in the Senate this week.
Murkowski’s amendment would block the agency from issuing greenhouse gas rules for industrial sources during the next fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2010. The amendment would allow the EPA to proceed with rules for new cars and trucks that cut emissions through higher fuel economy standards, Murkowski said.
“Very clearly, stationary sources must reduce emissions in order to bring our nation to its climate goal,” Murkowski said in an e-mailed statement. “But forcing them to do so through the Clean Air Act would be one of the least efficient and most damaging ways to pursue that goal.”
Murkowski’s amendment would be a “death knell” to the higher fuel economy standards President Barack Obama negotiated with U.S. automakers in May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in an e-mailed statement.
The EPA under President George W. Bush declined to regulate greenhouse gases, and blocking the agency from imposing limits now “would put America on the sidelines and extend the eight years of inaction that have us playing catch-up in the global race for clean energy,” Jackson said.
‘Not Fourth Branch’
To pass, the Murkowski amendment would need the support of some of the Senate’s 57 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them. Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who opposes cap-and-trade, said the EPA shouldn’t decide to regulate greenhouse gases when “this is not resolved in the Senate.”
“The alphabet agencies are not the fourth branch of government and they ought to take judicial notice of what’s happening and not happening here in the Senate,” Nelson said in an interview before Murkowski released the details of her amendment.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said she hasn’t decided whether to support the amendment. There are “strong arguments” on both sides and lawmakers would find it hard not to intervene “if EPA went too far, too fast,” McCaskill said in an interview.
“Ultimately, EPA’s power is controlled by Congress and if they abuse that power, Congress would control it.”
The 2007 Supreme Court case was brought by a group of states that petitioned the EPA to issue an “endangerment finding,” or a conclusion that greenhouse gases pose a threat to the public health, and set standards for new cars and trucks.
Even if the EPA wants to regulate only large polluters, the Clean Air Act is a “blunt instrument” and the agency may be forced to target smaller greenhouse gas sources, Murkowski said in a speech in Washington today.
“I’m concerned whether or not that withstands legal challenge,” she said. “It’s a tough way to go.”
The Clean Air Act requires the regulation of sources that emit more than 250 tons a year of an air pollutant, which would subject 1.2 million buildings, including one quarter of the nation’s office buildings, to EPA regulation, William Kovacs, vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview.
Even if the EPA doesn’t enforce regulations on the smaller sources, “the radical environmental groups are going to start suing immediately to take everything down to 250 tons,” Kovacs said. The result would be “a huge regulatory cascade where all of our projects need CO2 permits in the middle of a recession,” he said.
The Murkowski amendment must be defeated because a one-year delay on regulating power plants, oil refineries and factories “can be repeated year after year after year,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of environmental group Clean Air Watch.
Industry groups are “trying to scare people” with predictions of the EPA being forced to regulate malls, hotels and offices, he said. If one of the smaller environmental groups tried to sue the EPA, the larger green groups would “tell them to stand down.”
“You’re not going to see anybody file litigation to apply that to smaller sources,” O’Donnell said.
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