Congress Pushes to Strip EPA Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

Congressional leaders are acting on several proposals to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). A House committee has passed one piece of legislation, and the Senate is expected to vote on a similar measure when it reconvenes in late March.

On March 15, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), committee chair. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote (as yet unscheduled).

Upton's bill strips EPA of authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to "promulgate any regulation concerning, take action relating to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change." The bill also repeals several rules and actions, including EPA's endangerment finding (a scientific assessment required under the CAA that identifies GHGs as pollutants), an October 2009 rule requiring GHG reporting by polluters, and permitting requirements applied to states. The bill leaves states free to regulate or deregulate GHGs but severs those actions from federal law, overturning the long-standing framework of federal-state relations used to implement the CAA.

The agency is legally required to promulgate rules as a result of the U. S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which held that greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act if EPA found them to be a danger to public health or welfare. EPA made the endangerment finding in December 2009 after the Bush administration failed to act on the Court's decision.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced a companion bill to H.R. 910. Inhofe's bill, S. 482, has been referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a strong supporter of EPA and a proponent of addressing climate change. No committee action on Inhofe's bill is scheduled.

Perhaps recognizing that S. 482 is likely to die in committee, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to force a vote on the issue by means of an amendment to legislation reauthorizing parts of a small business bill that was recently debated on the Senate floor. McConnell's amendment, SA 183, is a repackaging of Inhofe's proposal. The Senate has not voted on the amendment, but votes are expected before the spring recess in April.

According to a March 15 article on (subscription required), McConnell blamed EPA's rules and actions targeted in the Upton and Inhofe proposals as part of the reason for higher gas prices. This is a claim Upton has also made in an effort to generate support for his bill, according to the article. Those claims, however, were debunked in the article, which reports that experts claim Mideast instability is a key factor in rising crude oil prices.

The Inhofe/McConnell proposal has some Democratic support in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a cosponsor of Inhofe's bill, for example, and the proposal may gain the votes of other Democratic senators. Even so, it is unlikely that the amendment will garner the 60 votes necessary to pass. Even Manchin's colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), opposes the bill. Rockefeller was quoted by CQ as saying the Inhofe proposal represents a "complete emasculation" of EPA.

Rockefeller put forward his own proposal, S. 231, that would delay for two additional years any EPA regulation of stationary sources like power plants and oil refineries. He introduced the same bill in the last congressional session, but it was never acted on. S. 231 has also been referred to Boxer's committee.

These attacks on EPA are only some of the anti-regulatory broadsides that have been launched thus far in 2011. These assaults on public protections threaten workplace safety, public health and safety, and the environment. EPA has been the most frequent target of these attacks. Ironically, Congress has failed to enact climate change legislation in any form, leaving the agency no choice but to seek controls of emissions through regulations as required by the CAA and the Supreme Court.

Voters oppose legislation that would limit the EPA’s authority to set greenhouse gas emissions standards, polling indicates. According to a poll released by the American Lung Association, "64 percent oppose [c]ongressional efforts to stop the EPA from updating standards on carbon dioxide" and 69 percent believe that EPA scientists, not Congress, should make decisions regarding clean air standards. 60 percent of voters support the EPA's efforts to limit GHGs, the poll found.

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