Two Senate Democrats yesterday said they may support an amendment to block U.S. EPA climate rules, increasing the odds of its success when the Senate Appropriations Committee votes Thursday on EPA's budget.
The potential supporters of an appropriations rider are Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), both of whom are co-sponsors of a bill from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) that would freeze EPA's ability to regulate emissions from stationary sources for two years.
"I'd like to see what amendments are offered, and I'll make a judgment about that," Dorgan said. "I do think that it makes sense to have some time here to have Congress make the ultimate decision rather than EPA."
Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), yesterday said he expects to see amendments related to greenhouse gas regulations and offshore drilling. It remains to be seen who would propose the measures and how broad their scope would be (E&ENews PM, Sept. 13).
The chief candidate on the climate front is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who earlier this year introduced a resolution to reject EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.
A Murkowski aide said yesterday that no decision had been made on an amendment.
Nelson -- one of three Democrats who co-sponsored Murkowski's resolution -- said yesterday he would consider backing measures similar to those he has previously endorsed.
"I supported Murkowski, I'm supporting Rockefeller, so obviously I have inclinations to curtail some of the authority and the actions of the EPA," Nelson said.
For an amendment to clear the Appropriations Committee, which Democrats control 18-12, four senators from the majority would need to vote with the entire Republican bloc.
Likely candidates besides Nelson and Dorgan include Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who voted for the Murkowski resolution, and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who is co-sponsoring the Rockefeller proposal. Another possibility is Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who said it was "too complicated" to answer when asked yesterday whether he would support an appropriations bill limiting EPA's regulations.
Rockefeller shopping for sponsors
Both Nelson and Dorgan said they are not planning to propose amendments themselves, but Rockefeller said he has asked Democrats on the Appropriations Committee to sponsor his bill as an amendment. "Oh, we've done that," he told reporters yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in June said he would allow a floor vote on Rockefeller's bill this year, although Reid spokesman Jim Manley declined to comment last week on whether leadership would allow a vote on the measure.
Obama administration officials have said that the president would veto Rockefeller's bill if it reached his desk but that may be more difficult if the measure is attached to an agency spending bill.
Because of the veto threat, Rockefeller yesterday said he prefers to attach his measure to an appropriations bill than tack it on to other legislation or pursue it as a standalone bill. He said he is hopeful that the bill will get a vote prior to the November election.
"I just think generally it's a better climate than the lame duck," Rockefeller said. "But you know, at some point the bill's going to pass; it's just a question of when."
Despite the efforts expected this week, some senators remain dubious the Senate will pass legislation this year to hamstring EPA climate rules.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former sponsor of cap-and-trade legislation and a co-sponsor of the Murkowski resolution, said he does not expect the Senate to pass anything limiting EPA's greenhouse gas regulations. Before the Senate voted down the Murkowski resolution, Graham had predicted that the measure would pass the Senate.
"I just don't think there's nearly the votes for that," Graham said yesterday. "And I don't think you can pre-empt the EPA successfully without going to the environmentalists and having some sort of compromise."
That sort of compromise could be a cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the utility sector, Graham said, adding that such a bill won't pass this year.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the author of climate legislation, said he would "be surprised" if the Senate passed legislation to handcuff EPA's climate rules this year.
It also remains unclear whether the Senate will finalize a Interior-EPA appropriations bill this year, given the packed legislative calendar.
"I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen to approps bills this year," Dorgan said. "We're moving them out of the committee, but there hasn't been any of them on the floor of the Senate, so we'll see."