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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Dueling Senate Bills to Block EPA CO2 Regs

Air Date: Week of

Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia says putting EPA's climate plans on hold will give Congress more opportunity to legislate a solution to climate change. ( NASA/Paul E. Alers)

Senate Republicans want to kill the EPA's authority to curb greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but a Democrat's proposal to put it on hold might have a better chance of passing. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports on West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller's plan to delay climate change regulations for two years, and how the White House might respond.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. President Obama has pledged to cut climate changing gas emissions. The Supreme Court says the EPA has the authority to do just that, but Congress has other ideas. And there are competing proposals on Capitol Hill that could stop the EPA in its tracks. Living on Earth's Mitra Taj reports from Washington.

TAJ: When it comes to fighting global warming, EPA’s worst enemy might not be the Republicans who are trying to kill its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but a West Virginia Democrat who has been telling coal country to ‘get real’ on climate change.

ROCKEFELLER: I have been saying to the West Virginia Coal Association, which for the most part doesn't believe in the climate science, that that's wrong, the science is unequivocally true, and that there is a price to carbon in their future.

TAJ: In their future - but not right now. Senator Jay Rockefeller wants to stop the EPA from regulating global warming emissions for two years. He opposes a similar, Republican proposal to permanently cancel the EPA’s climate change authority under the Clean Air Act - and stands a better chance of finding support for his bill in the Democratic-majority Senate. Rockefeller has been telling his colleagues that a two-year delay will give Congress time to legislate a solution to climate change.

ROCKEFELLER: That's what my amendment, the two-year amendment, and then only two years - that’s what it’s meant to give us the time to do, and sensibly that's what we ought to be doing, if people cared about an energy policy.

Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia says putting EPA's climate plans on hold will give Congress more opportunity to legislate a solution to climate change. (NASA/Paul E. Alers)

PICAH: Those are strong words but they're not backed up by his actions.

TAJ: Eric Picah is president of the environmental group Friends of the Earth. He says Rockefeller's amendment isn't any more constructive than the Republican plan to halt EPA’s power.

PICAH: Our government has a right to protect our citizens from abusive corporations, and essentially what all these bills do is they grant corporate polluters the right to abuse our kids’ lungs, to pollute our air, and to degrade our environment.

TAJ: But Republicans do see a big difference between delaying the EPA's climate authority and taking it away forever. Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is selling the permanent ban he’s co-sponsoring in the Senate, and downplaying the impact of Rockefeller’s bill.

INHOFE: The reason that would not work, this just kicks the can down the road for two more years. We've got to address this thing. Right now we have an administration that's doing all they can to do away with fossil fuels.

TAJ: Inhofe, a global warming denier, has partnered up with Republican Fred Upton on the House side, where a Republican majority makes passage of their legislation likely. But in the Senate, their effort competes with Rockefeller’s proposal, and could take Republican support away from the two-year delay.

Paul Bledsoe, a senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Center, says even if Rockefeller’s two-year delay passes, Congress probably won’t tackle climate change in the next two years. Even Rockefeller’s more limited approach to climate change—funding research to clean up coal—would be a stretch.

BLEDSOE: Any bill that sought to invest in technologies to reduce coal emissions is going to be expensive, and in the current budgetary environment that money just isn't available. The irony here is that climate legislation from the last Congress raised the revenue to pay for new technologies.

TAJ: Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has agreed to allow both proposals to be voted on as amendments to a small business jobs bill. White House officials in the past have said the President Obama would veto efforts to check the EPA’s power, but they’ve stayed quiet on what he would do if it comes with jobs legislation. Bledsoe used to work on climate change in the Clinton White House.

BLEDSOE: Vetoes, on some issues you are certain on what you're going to do, no matter what, on other issues context matters a lot—what’s the underlying statute, is it a must-pass defense appropriations bill, then it that becomes more difficult to veto. So it strikes me this I think is one where context matters.

TAJ: Job creation is a top priority for voters, and much of the debate over the EPA's global warming regulations has been framed as economic, with Republicans blaming EPA climate oversight for high gas prices and continued unemployment. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has been pushing back against those attacks, citing agency data that says for every $1 spent on environmental regulation, there's a $40 benefit for the country.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson says climate regulations will encourage clean tech innovations. (EPA)

At an event last year celebrating the anniversary of the Clean Air Act, she said the 40-year-old law has always drawn doomsayers, and with climate change it’s no different.

JACKSON: Of course there have been claims about job-killing regulations. Despite the fact that it creates a virtuous cycle, in which clean air standards spark new technology, serving our fundamental belief that we can create jobs and opportunity without burdening our citizens with the effects of pollution.

TAJ: But while the whole country, and whole planet, might benefit from lower emissions, regions with industries heavily dependent on fossil fuels will face a more difficult transition, as the EPA gets tough on global warming polluters. And votes on whether and how much to weaken the EPA's climate authority will likely fall not just on ideological lines, but regional ones. For Living on Earth, I’m Mitra Taj in Washington.



Click here for more on the continuing "debate" over climate science in the House.

Congressman Henry Waxman has attacked Republican plans to curb EPA's authority.


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