This story was updated at 1:05 p.m. EST.
Four influential coal-state Democrats introduced companion bills in the House and Senate today that would block U.S. EPA from implementing any climate-related stationary source rules for two years, a timeout of sorts that they think gives Congress time to pass legislation dealing with the issue.
Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia unveiled the Senate bill, while the House measure was introduced by West Virginia's Nick Rahall, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, and Alan Mollohan, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who played a pivotal role in negotiations last year on the House-passed climate bill, also signed up an original co-sponsor.
Rockefeller said in a press release that his bill would give "Congress the time it needs to address an issue as complicated and expansive as our energy future. Congress, not the EPA, must be the ideal decision-maker on such a challenging issue," he said.
"EPA regulation of greenhouse gases would be the worst outcome for the coal industry and coal-related jobs," Boucher said. "Our bill is a responsible, achievable approach which prevents the EPA from enacting regulations that would harm coal and gives Congress time to establish a balanced program."
The Democrats' bills add to a growing chorus of congressional complaints about EPA's plan to regulate for greenhouse gases.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) may push for a vote later this month on a resolution that would overturn EPA's "endangerment" finding, a determination that opens the door to rules covering everything from cars and light trucks to power plants and other major industrial sources.
Murkowski said in a statement that Rockefeller's bill demonstrates "further evidence of the growing, bipartisan, and bicameral resistance to EPA's back-door climate regulations."
"Given the overwhelming opposition to these actions, I'm hopeful that this bill will draw additional support and advance quickly," she added. If it doesn't, Murkowski said she would push for a floor vote on her resolution that is guaranteed consideration under Senate rules.
Murkowksi to date has 41 Senate co-sponsors, including three moderate Democrats. She would need 51 votes for the measure to clear the chamber.
Obama administration officials have shown little interest in the Hill efforts to suspend EPA's efforts.
Responding yesterday to a question from Murkowski about whether she would support a temporary timeout from Rockefeller, Jackson replied, "I support the need for new legislation to address carbon pollution."
"I do not think we're at a fork in the road," Jackson said, adding, "the law says that EPA has to move forward on these issues."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also said last month that Obama would not support Murkowski's resolution.
Efforts to undercut EPA's regulations have drawn support from industry and labor groups. United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts sent a letter of support to Rockefeller today questioning whether the Clean Air Act is best suited to provide the technological incentives needed to reduce greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.
"The Clean Air Act has been successful in reducing harmful air pollution in our cities, but it is not designed to address the broader global challenges of climate change," Roberts wrote.
Responding to congressional complaints about climate rules on small polluters, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in recent days has offered more details about the agency's plans for tackling climate change. She said EPA will soon issue a final "tailoring" rule that precludes permitting requirements over the next two years for industrial sources that emit less than 75,000 tons a year. After 2012, EPA would consider moving the threshold to about 50,000 tons per year (E&ENews PM, March 3).
Frank O'Donnell, director of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, criticized the coal-state Democrats who he said are pushing to suspend Jackson's authorities even more. "The EPA seems to be backpedaling faster than an NFL cornerback, but that doesn't seem to have satisfied the appetite of special-interest opponents of climate action," he said.
Boucher helped negotiate key pieces of the House-passed climate bill to benefit his district's industrial interests, and he often explained that his primary motivation was the threat of EPA rules. In the Senate, Rockefeller stands out as a key swing vote in efforts to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are aiming to release a bill before the spring recess that starts at the end of this month while targeting a floor debate in the late spring.
Aides to Rockefeller, Rahall and Boucher said they didn't know what the specific plans were for their two pieces of legislation. Rockefeller's bill likely will be referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee. Rahall's bill goes to the Energy and Commerce Committee, where Boucher is a senior member.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), declined comment today when asked about any floor plans on the Rockefeller legislation.
An EPA spokesperson did not immediately return calls for comment.
Click here (pdf) for Sen. Rockefeller's bill, S. 3072.
Click here (pdf) for H.R. 4753 from Reps. Rahall, Boucher and Mollohan.
Click here (pdf) for the United Mine Workers of America's letter of support.