Senate Votes On Blocking EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations

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In an important test on global warming, the Senate neared a vote Thursday on whether to stop the Obama administration from cracking down on greenhouse gases from power plants and other polluters.

The outcome could signal how Congress will deal with broader White House clean energy legislation to come.

Thursday's Republican-led resolution would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from moving ahead with rules under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other major sources. Support from several moderate and coal-state Democrats should make vote close.

It's one of the first this year to put lawmakers on the record in the climate change debate.

Those trying to block the EPA rules argue that Congress, not bureaucrats, should be crafting climate change policy. But there's little prospect that the Senate will act soon on the broader energy bill, and the administration and most Democrats contend steps must be taken in the meantime to hold down greenhouse gas pollutants.

"We can't let big oil have a free pass to pollute," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

The EPA crafted standards on greenhouse gas emissions by big polluters after the Supreme Court ruled that those emissions could be regulated under the Clean Air Act if it could be shown that such gases were a danger to human health. The rules are to go into effect next January.

The White House has issued a veto threat against the resolution to stop the rules, saying it would "increase the nation's dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and block efforts to cut pollution." The measure also would undercut efforts to reduce the risks associated with environmental disasters such as the Gulf oil spill, the administration says.

With a veto looming, the measure is unlikely to ever become law. That did not deter debate on the most important climate change vote to come before the Senate this year.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the new rules a "blatant power grab by the administration and the EPA." With an energy bill unlikely to pass this year, "the administration has shifted course and is now trying to get done through the back door what they haven't been able to get done through the front door."

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the measure, "a great big gift to big oil" that would "increase pollution, increase our dependence on foreign oil and stall our efforts to create jobs" in the clean energy sector.

The sponsor of the resolution, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of oil-rich Alaska, said her intent was to protect the authority of Congress, not the interests of the oil industry. "It should be up to us to set the policy of this country, not unelected bureaucrats within an agency."

Her Democratic allies used similar arguments. "The regulatory approach is the wrong way to promote renewable energy and clean energy jobs in Arkansas and the rest of the country," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

Murkowski, too, said Congress should be working harder to come up with an energy bill. The question was whether a consensus on the issue was possible this year.

"Here's the real rub," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has worked with Democrats on energy legislation. "If we stop them (the rules), are we going to do anything?"

There were other disputes about the consequences of the Murkowski resolution. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the White House said the resolution would force the EPA to rescind standards for emissions from future-model cars and light trucks that it came up with earlier this year with the Transportation Department. The result, she said, would be a need for the country to consume an extra 455 million barrels of oil.

Murkowski and others countered that the Transportation Department has long been able to set fuel efficiency standards without the help of the EPA.

Jackson also denied the argument of critics that the EPA rules would impose devastating costs on small businesses and farmers, resulting in major job losses. The EPA came up with what it calls a tailoring rule that would exempt small sources of pollution from the regulations for six years.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.



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