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.
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"This amendment ... would prevent unelected bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing a new national energy tax on American job creators," Senator McConnell said in a statement Wednesday before the vote. “Everyone knows that this attempt to handcuff American businesses with new costs and regulations is the last thing these job-creators need right now."Skip to next paragraph
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But Senator Rockefeller characterizes his bill as more realistic.
"They want the total elimination of the EPA's role, with no other structure in place," Rockefeller said in a speech from the Senate floor last week. "Having nothing in place is irresponsible, unrealistic, and immature."
If passed, any of the amendments would be attached to an unrelated bill dealing with small businesses – and then be amended in conference to concur with the House legislation.
Meanwhile, the House is slated to vote Wednesday on a stand-alone bill – dubbed the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, sponsored by Reps. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan and Edward Whitfield (R) of Kentucky. It would permanently remove EPA authority to curb greenhouse gases and is expected to pass handily.
But many political observers doubt whether any of the Senate measures will pass. Even if one does and goes to conference committee to work out differences with the House legislation, it is likely to be vetoed by President Obama, they say. If passed, that bill apparently will be the first to propose repealing a federal agency’s scientific finding of a threat to human health and welfare.
The White House has already threatened to veto the Upton-Whitfield bill.
"The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 910, which would halt the Environmental Protection Agency's common-sense steps under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from harmful air pollution," the White House said in its veto warning on Tuesday. The bill, it said, would "increase the Nation's dependence on oil and other fossil fuels as well as contradict the scientific consensus on climate change."
Does that mean these votes are merely political grandstanding to show constituents at home and on K Street how lawmakers voted on a key issue?
Almost certainly there is some of that, observers say. Yet the votes matter for what they signal for the future.
The House and Senate amendments to be voted on Wednesday are all separate from – but run parallel to – similar measures near the heart of the continued wrangling over a budget measure to avert a government shutdown. In that fight, Mr. Obama and Democrats say Republicans are only trying to score political points via a dozen or so "policy rider" amendments that target environmental issues – including prohibiting the EPA from acting on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Then there's the upcoming 2012 budget bill, and the House Republican version targets the EPA for large funding cuts. If an amendment prevails in the Senate, or garners significant bipartisan support, the EPA could be in store for other budget-cutting measures in the future that may be far harder to veto, these observers say.
"These kinds of bills [those that delay or delete EPA authority on greenhouse emissions] are a lot like getting like cockroaches in your house: It can be very hard to get them out," says David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center. "In the 1990s, one of these types of bills on mileage standards for cars kept getting extended. We ended up losing five or six years – and more than a decade of momentum on improving mileage."