The new chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee today said his panel will be at the center of congressional efforts to battle U.S. EPA's plans to regulate greenhouse gases, at least until Congress passes a bill providing the agency "direction" on how to craft emissions rules.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said the Republican takeover of Congress will ensure a debate over whether EPA has exceeded its legal authority under the Clean Air Act by moving to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to climate change. "There is a great deal of concern that the EPA is overreaching in trying to control greenhouse gases," he said.
"And if they are, the way you bring them back is through the appropriations process, most likely. That's the quickest way to do it," he added.
The House approves spending bills before the Senate, and Simpson heads the House panel responsible for funding EPA each year, which puts its members in a unique position to place constraints on the agency. The Interior Appropriations Subcommittee has not yet decided how it will approach delaying EPA's greenhouse gas rules, Simpson said, but he favors attaching language to the spending bill that would put a two-year stay on the stationary source programs.
The subcommittee voted last year on a similar appropriations "rider" but defeated it by a single vote.
"I suspect that would have a better chance of being adopted in this Congress," he said.
While Simpson said the EPA language could be attached to a continuing resolution or omnibus appropriations bill Congress must pass in March to fund the federal government for the final six months of fiscal 2011, he added that the fiscal 2012 bill is a more likely vehicle.
He acknowledged that the rider could be a tough sell in the Senate, which is still under Democratic control. Still, he said it could be effective even if it never reaches the president's desk.
"Sometimes bringing it up and debating it is enough to make the agency say, 'Wait a minute, maybe we ought to re-examine this,'" he said. Simpson said EPA has the options of slowing implementation of its programs or of weighing their benefits with their costs to determine whether mandates will put an undue burden on communities.
"I would hope that they would slow down on this and that Congress would take it up and give them some direction on what to do," he said.
The Obama administration and environmentalists have consistently taken the same position -- that carbon reduction would be most effective and least burdensome if Congress provides guidance in the form of a new emissions reduction bill. But few people see any likelihood that a Republican House and closely divided Senate can approve such a bill in the next two years, and EPA has therefore taken steps to implement its so-called tailoring rule for large emitters.
"EPA is already showing sensitivity," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. He pointed to EPA's decision today to defer greenhouse gas permitting requirements for industries that use biomass.
"A total timeout would not only remove any lingering impetus for action in Congress but would be a terrible precedent," O'Donnell said.
The first permitting requirements for large emitters, such as power plants and manufacturing facilities, took effect last week. More are planned over the coming two years.
Reduced funding for EPA
Whether Simpson's proposed rider becomes law or not, it is likely EPA will receive far less funding in the coming years than it did when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.
House Republicans have pledged to cut federal spending overall by $100 billion, and Simpson said that all agencies will feel the pinch. But EPA -- and especially its regulatory functions -- will probably see some of the deepest cuts, he said.
"Obviously, there is going to be a reduction in EPA funding," he said. "I think a lot of people would like to see it in the administrative area of EPA, and their ability to go out and write new rules and regulations and things that are of a great deal of concern."
But Simpson said programs that have received generous allocations in recent years also may see reductions.
"We also looked at agencies that received a lot of [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] funding," he said, referring to the 2009 economic stimulus bill that provided EPA with $7.2 billion. "They can probably absorb more of a hit than others," he added.
Most of EPA's stimulus funding was allotted for water infrastructure, cleanup and other activities, rather than rulemaking.