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Global warming: Congress set to decide if EPA can regulate greenhouse gases

The House and Senate both vote Wednesday on whether to curtail or delay EPA power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The agency plans to issue emissions standards in 2012.

By Staff writer / April 6, 2011

Water vapor streams away from a coal fire electric plant over the ice-covered St. Croix River seen from the interstate bridge separating Wisconsin and Minnesota at Hudson, Wisconsin, on Jan. 9, 2010. The House and Senate are expected to vote Wednesday on measures to limit, or block altogether, the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Newscom/File

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After months of political gyrations and jawboning, both houses of Congress are expected to vote Wednesday on measures to limit, or block altogether, the ability of the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

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Driving the issue is the real likelihood that the EPA will next year, for the first time, issue emission standards to curb greenhouse gases from large industrial smokestacks.

Last year the Senate declined to vote on comprehensive climate-energy legislation, despite the threat that not doing so would prompt the EPA to proceed, via regulation, to curb carbon dioxide and certain other emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities, such as cement plants, factories, and refineries. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has proceeded to do exactly that. [Editor's note: The original version has been changed to correct Ms. Jackson's name.]

Arguments for stripping EPA of such power are that the new rules would hammer the economy and would lead to requirements that even places such as churches and office buildings must obtain EPA emissions permits – something the EPA has denied.

The EPA, through its "tailoring rule," has exempted from forthcoming rules smaller sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, focusing instead on large emitters. Under current agency plans, the greenhouse-gas reporting requirement applies to about 10,000 facilities responsible for an estimated 85 to 90 percent of total US emissions. Most small businesses fall below the 25,000-metric-ton annual threshold and will not be required to report such emissions.

Senators on Wednesday will vote on four measures – one Republican-sponsored and three sponsored by Democrats – that differ from one another in how much EPA regulatory authority each would remove. The order of the votes is important, because it could determine – some say weaken – support for each bill.

Republicans and some Democrats, especially from coal-producing states, don't much like the forthcoming EPA emissions restrictions and have called the measures job killers that are bad for the economy.

• The first amendment up for a vote, by Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, would make permanent an EPA exemption for greenhouse-gas emissions from agricultural sources. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph incorrectly included limits on EPA action.]

• The second vote, on an amendment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan, would include Senator Baucus's agricultural exemptions, a tax credit for renewable energy manufacturers, and a two-year delay on implementing EPA greenhouse-gas regulations.

• The third vote will be on an amendment by Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D) of West Virginia, which would delay EPA regulations of greenhouse emissions for two years.

• The final vote will be on an amendment offered by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky. Borrowing language from a bill by Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, it would permanently bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

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