By Juliet Eilperin
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WVa.) will introduce legislation Thursday to impose a two-year moratorium on the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants and other stationary emitters, a move that could undermine the Obama administration's plan to pursue a cap on carbon emissions in the face of congressional opposition.
Rockefeller's bill, one of several recent congressional efforts to curb the EPA's authority to address climate change under the Clean Air Act, highlights the resistance the administration will face if it attempts to limit carbon dioxide through regulation. Obama and his top deputies have repeatedly said they would prefer for Congress to set mandatory, nationwide limits on greenhouse gas emissions, but the EPA is moving ahead with plans to do so if legislation fails to pass this year.
"Today, we took important action to safeguard jobs, the coal industry, and the entire economy as we move toward clean coal technology," Rockefeller said. "This legislation will issue a two-year suspension on EPA regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources--giving 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."
Republicans, too, have repeatedly tried to rein in the EPA's climate authority--Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has introduced a resolution of disapproval that would overturn the agency's scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, and House Republicans introduced their own version of the resolution this week. But Rockefeller's effort is especially significant because it points to growing unease among Democrats over the prospect of the administration tackling climate change without explicit congressional approval.
Three Senate Democrats--Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.)--are co-sponsoring Murkowksi's resolution. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) and Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) have introduced a similar measure, and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WVa), along with Democratic Reps. Alan Mollohan (WVa) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), will introduce a companion bill to Rockefeller's. In addition, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) has introduced a measure that would strip the EPA of its authority to regulate pollution linked to global warming.
A 2007 Supreme Court ruling gave the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and by the end of this month the agency is slated to impose the first-ever greenhouse gas limits on emissions from cars and light-trucks. While that set of rules--the product of a deal between the auto industry, the federal government and more than a dozen states--is not controversial, EPA's plan to then target power plants and other industrial facilities has sparked serious opposition.
Environmentalists have opposed any attempts to undermine the EPA's Clean Air Act authority, seeing it as both a dangerous precedent and a serious blow to the administration's ability to cope with climate change if Congress fails to pass a bill. While the House passed climate legislation in June, the Senate is still divided on whether to adopt a bill setting limits on greenhouse gases.
Tim Wirth, president of the U.N. Foundation, said the House-passed bill already provided several concessions to the coal industry, and urged President Obama to stop Rockefeller's legislation.
"The president ought to veto it, period," Wirth said. "This is a huge affront to his authority, and it's exactly what the coal industry wants. The coal industry has everything it wants in legislation, and now it wants more."
Two weeks ago a group of coal-state Democrats--led by Rockefeller--wrote EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson, asking her to outline her timeline for regulating greenhouse gas emitters under the Clean Air Act. Jackson replied that she would not target major emitters of carbon dioxide until 2011, and many smaller facilities would not face regulation until 2016.
But this move did not satisfy Rockefeller, who usually serves as one of the administration's close allies.
"This is a positive change and good progress, but I am concerned it may not be enough time," he said. "We must set this delay in stone and give Congress enough time to consider a comprehensive energy bill to develop the clean coal technologies we need. At a time when so many people are hurting, we need to put decisions about clean coal and our energy future into the hands of the people and their elected representatives, not a federal environmental agency."