Legislation to block EPA regulations make significant gains in Congress

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Republicans in the House and Senate made major gains Tuesday in efforts to block Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation authored by Republican Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the full committee, and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, chair of the Energy and Power Subcommittee. The bill passed on a 34-19 vote, with three Democrats – Reps. Mike Ross of Arkansas, Jim Matheson of Utah, and John Barrow of Georgia – voting yes

All Republicans voted yes. In doing so, however, members voted against amendments that sought to establish climate change as real, man-made, and a threat to public health.

One of the amendments, offered by Ranking Member Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, specifically called on Congress to affirm climate change is occurring. The amendment said, “Congress accepts the scientific finding of the [EPA] that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”

The amendment failed on a 31-20 vote. All Republicans voted against it.

Another amendment was offered by Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado that called on Congress to accept that climate change is man-made. The Congresswoman called on colleagues to “reject any kind of fuzzy science.” Again, no Republicans voted for the amendment.

The third amendment, saying climate change is a threat to public health, was offered by Democratic  Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington. It met he same result.

Energy and Commerce lawmakers did approve one amendment, offered by Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah that establishes “scientific concern over the warming of the climate system.” The amendment, which basically says Congress as a whole is concerned about the threat of global warming, passed on a voice vote.

But Waxman viewed it as a weak concession from Republicans. “Alright, at least we have that,” said Waxman. “If that’s the best you can do, I find it somewhat lame. But better lame than nothing.”

The Democratic attempts to make the Republicans go on the record denying climate change is in direct opposition to how the GOP is trying to frame the debate over the EPA regulations. As far as Republican lawmakers are concerned, the move to block the EPA is about stopping job-killing regulation, not denying global warming.

“For us to be sitting around talking about the science, I think it’s a strong argument to be made on the other side, but the issue here is that the Clean Air Act is not the appropriate vehicle to regulate something like this,” Whitfield said Tuesday.

The Republican argument was backed up in recent months when House Republicans scheduled hearings focused almost exclusively on the economic impact of regulating carbon dioxide emissions. Whitfield, however, did recently agree to a hearing on the science of climate change per the Democrats’ request.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky entered the fray by offering an amendment to a small business bill that also permanently blocks the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources. McConnell’s move forces a Senate vote on legislation to block EPA regulations.

The amendment is the same bill Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma introduced last month. It has 43 co-sponsors, including one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

In response, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada slammed the attempts to restrict the EPA, but said he would allow a floor vote on the small business bill with the attached amendment.

“We will debate it, we will have a vote on it in due time. It is something that I don’t favor, I think his amendment is very, very misguided,” Reid said Tuesday.

One question still left unanswered is whether House and Senate votes will matter if an EPA-blocking bill reaches President Obama’s desk.

So far, EPA proponents maintain that the president is still on their side. In January, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California – one of the Senate’s leading champions on climate change – commented on Republican effort saying “I don’t this it would pass eventually because I don’t think the president would sign it.”

Last month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters that the president would not sign any legislation that rolled back her agency’s authority. “What has been said from the White House is that the president’s advisers would advise him to veto any legislation that passed that would take away EPA’s greenhouse gas authority,” said Jackson. “Nothing has changed.”

The House legislation is expected to go before the whole chamber sometime in April.