House Democrats from rural and fossil fuels-producing districts are divided about whether to support a Republican bill to strip U.S. EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or whether to offer an alternative to the GOP measure.
Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.) have all signed on to the bill, which was introduced this afternoon by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). The measure would bar the agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources such as power plants and factories, and from setting tailpipe emissions limits for cars and trucks after model year 2016.
"The EPA has gone unchecked for far too long," Boren said in an e-mail. "[EPA] Administrator [Lisa] Jackson has tried to legislate rather than take direction from Congress that is elected by the people. I am proud to join my fellow colleagues from Oklahoma in signing on to legislation that will allow the people to have a voice in their government."
The bill is expected to meet little resistance in the Republican-controlled House but will be a harder sell in the Senate. Rahall, who serves as top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the measure faces an uphill climb to become law.
"Assuming it passes the House, it will face a tougher road obviously in the other body," Rahall said. "I mean, even if they were to pass it, the president I'm sure would veto it. But I think nevertheless a signal is what we're sending, what I'm sending here."
Rahall said that even if something like Upton-Inhofe does not become law, the attention Congress will pay to the issue should prompt EPA to take a "serious and hard look" at the effect its greenhouse gas regulatory plans will have on industries like his state's coal producers.
While the Senate may not pass an all-out repeal of EPA authority, Rahall said, it might pass a more limited bill like the one sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), which would place a two-year stay on the agency's stationary source rules.
"If the Senate ends up passing something that's less than a two-year then maybe when it gets to conference we get something that's reasonable," Rahall said.
But not all Democrats from fossil fuels-producing districts support repealing EPA authority.
"There's some of us who come from oil and gas areas who don't feel comfortable with that bill because it reopens the Clean Air Act," said Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who represents a district with many oil refineries. "But we still would like the EPA to stand down, and philosophically, I think a lot of us would like Congress to make this decision."
Green said he and some other "oil patch" Democrats were considering introducing a bill that would require EPA to delay its regulations for some years while it conducts a study on the feasibility of regulating carbon in a business-friendly manner.
"We're talking about a counter bill, because we've had a number of hearings over the last months in Energy and Commerce about [the Upton] bill. I know I can't vote for just taking away EPA's authority on carbon."
Meanwhile, most Senate Republicans appear poised to support the bill, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who last year worked with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a comprehensive climate change bill that never received a vote on the Senate floor.
Graham said today that by co-sponsoring Inhofe's bill, he would not be abandoning his commitment to clean air.
"It's the worst way in the world to regulate carbon," he said of the Clean Air Act. "It adds burdens to the economy that the Congress could lessen. We could come up with business-friendly plans when it comes to pollution. The EPA can't. We could create time schedules. We could help the economy transition. Clean energy standards. We can do all things in legislation they can't do by regulation, but the Congress wants to go with the EPA pre-emption. I'm for it. "
Inhofe's bill was co-sponsored by 42 Senate Republicans, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who Rockefeller once hoped would be lead co-sponsor of his more limited bill.
"I will not let it interfere with my friendship with my dear friend from West Virginia," Murkowski said earlier today.
Inhofe said the two-year delay favored by some of his Democratic colleagues would not be enough to give U.S. industry certainty.
"The Energy Tax Prevention Act stops cap-and-trade regulations from taking effect once and for all," Inhofe continued. "A two-year delay won't help our economy grow or help those searching for work. It does nothing to alleviate the uncertainty plaguing businesses all across America. Simply put, EPA's cap-and-trade regime is bad policy that must be stopped."
Reporter Katie Howell contributed.