CLIMATE:

EPA, Interior budget vote delayed amid rumors of riders

The Senate Appropriations Committee today canceled a Thursday vote on the budgets for U.S. EPA and the Interior Department, heading off potential amendments to delay or block EPA's climate rules.

The news that the vote would be delayed came one day after the announcement of the markup. The committee will move ahead with planned votes on the defense and legislative branch appropriations bills.

Rumors swirled on Capitol Hill this week about potential riders related to both greenhouse gas regulations and offshore drilling (E&E Daily, Sept. 14).

Thursday's scheduled markup could have allowed a member of the Appropriations Committee to offer a proposal by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to delay EPA's climate rules for two years. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was considered a potential sponsor of an appropriations rider, having earlier this year introduced a resolution to reject EPA's conclusion that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.

Before the markup was canceled, Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said that no decision had been made on a potential budget amendment. He later said he assumed the cancellation was due to controversy surrounding a possible EPA rider.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had said it was possible an EPA rider would clear the panel. "It'll be a close vote in the committee, but Senator [Dianne] Feinstein is working it hard on the floor," he said. "I think she's doing well, she felt encouraged."

But Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Interior and EPA budgets, said the potential climate rider was not the reason the markup was canceled.

Feinstein today said she was prompted to delay the markup by President Obama's request yesterday to increase the budget for offshore drilling regulation by $100 million. The funds would be used to reorganize Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which was formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, and implement other reforms (E&E Daily, Sept. 14).

"In light of the fact that the administration transmitted to Congress last night a $100 million budget amendment affecting the reorganization of [BOEMRE]," Feinstein said in a statement, "I have respectfully asked Chairman Inouye for a delay in marking up the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill while we evaluate the administration's proposal."

Rockefeller backers wary of approps rider

Rockefeller today said several of his Democratic colleagues told him they would not support his measure as an appropriations rider.

"One of the appropriations people who strongly supports the amendment said he'd have to vote against it in [the Appropriations] committee," Rockefeller said, although he said he did not know why.

Three of Rockefeller's co-sponsors -- Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) -- are on the committee.

Johnson and Dorgan both said today that they would rather see the Rockefeller bill move outside of the appropriations process.

"I'd like to see the leadership come up with an amendment like a Rockefeller amendment that does the same thing," Johnson said. "But I don't want to see the appropriations process all gummed up."

And Dorgan said he expects to have a stand-alone floor vote on Rockefeller's bill, "which is the way to do it."

Rockefeller today said Reid reiterated his promise to hold a vote on the measure this year. "I spoke with Harry again today and he again said, 'You're going to get your vote,'" Rockefeller said.

Senate leadership first promised the vote to Rockefeller and his co-sponsors in June in order to siphon support from a more sweeping measure from Murkowski that would have upended EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

The vote on Rockefeller's measure "will probably be in the lame-duck session, which is OK," Rockefeller said today. "I think it's better than appropriations," he said, adding that he does not expect the appropriations bill to pass the Senate this year.

White House officials have insisted that Obama would veto the Rockefeller bill if it reached his desk. Many see an appropriations rider as having a better shot because it would be more difficult for the president to veto.

"You have that to consider versus an appropriations bill not passing at all, which is in a sense the same thing as a veto," Rockefeller said. "And I'd rather take my chances, because I think we have a really good shot at 60 votes."

"It isn't really all that difficult for the EPA; I mean, there's a lot of things they could do; we would allow them to do that the Murkowski amendment wouldn't allow them to do, and so he might veto it, he might not," he added.

Reporters Katherine Ling and Katie Howell contributed.