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Targeting EPA

Bitter debate over greenhouse gas controls and the role of the EPA continues and could become more volatile as the takes up a proposal limit the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the most unpopular agencies in Washington these days in some quarters is the Environmental Protection Agency – often seen as competing neck and neck with Internal Revenue Service for that honor. Indeed, the Obama administration has not shied away from cultivating that image by using the threat of the agency’s greenhouse gas regulations to define a nightmare scenario that can be expected unless climate change legislation passes.

The administration’s threat is based on a 2007 Supreme Court decision that directed EPA to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions threaten human health – and, to regulate them if they do. Last December, EPA found that GHGs were dangerous and announced that it is required to regulate them.



In response, a number of congressional critics called for EPA to hold off on emissions rules, arguing they are the responsibility of the Congress – in spite of the fact that Congress is nowhere near agreement on how to do that. To add muscle to that view, a move is under way in the Senate to pass a joint resolution that would roll back EPA’s “endangerment” finding and strip away authority to regulate GHGs.

Now, a deal has been made by the author of the proposed resolution, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and the Senate leadership to allow a vote on her bill soon after senators return from their Memorial Day recess in June. Senator Murkowski is ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.



Murkowski’s resolution can be passed with a simple majority and the leadership says it is uncertain now whether her proposal can be defeated. Republicans are billing their proposal as opposition to “big government” and believe that votes against it will be unpopular and may attract Democratic support.

“You’ve got an economy in terrible shape, and an agency that decides to make onerous new rules by fiat that are going to harm the economy further,” Murkowski’s spokesman Robert Dillon told the press. “If Democrats think this is the right move for the economy, they should be proud to openly vote in favor of EPA regulation.”

Three Democrats have co-sponsored Murkowski’s resolution, and Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, has introduced separate legislation that would delay EPA regulation for two years. A spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, told the press this week there’s no guarantee that moderates like Rockefeller will not end up supporting Murkowski’s effort.

As prospects for Senate action on a broad climate bill have grown dimmer, Reid has said he will not take it to the floor until sponsors can show that they have the 60 votes they would need to overcome a filibuster. This has heightened prospects that EPA regulations to limit GHG emissions would be implemented – along with interest in preventing that outcome.

Still, prospects for the Murkowski resolution are murky. Even if her proposal were adopted by the Senate, it would face a tougher time in the House and a certain presidential veto – leaving EPA obligated to proceed with its regulation.

And, while the administration has been willing to use threats to motivate lawmakers, it also considers such an approach highly unappealing amid the current political hostility to government intervention.

In a sense, no matter what happens to the draft resolution, both sides stand to grain relatively little except with their core groups. The administration appears to be blocked in its effort to move climate change legislation, and likely to be stuck with no alternative but to begin to implement GHG regulations – efforts that will be opposed as actively in the courts as they have been in Congress. The opposition faces the prospect of being stuck with regulations it may not be able to defeat politically or through litigation, and which are more rigid than the regulations in the now-stalled draft bills. In such a situation, specific delays in implementing the regulations might seem more attractive.

Right now, the prospect appears to be for continued stalemate for some time – possibly until some event occurs that changes either the political outlook or the electorate’s sense of urgency about the issue. If EPA escapes being reined in by the Murkowski proposal, it can be expected to continue to promulgate rules which increase political pushback, as could a shift of congressional control this fall.

Until something of this nature happens, this bitter debate likely will continue and should be watched carefully as it unfolds, Washington Insider believes.


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