APPROPRIATIONS:

Lawmakers reject attempt to handcuff EPA greenhouse gas rules

House and Senate conferees last night rejected an attempt to block U.S. EPA's work on regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The vote came as part of the conference on a $446.8 billion omnibus spending bill that also sets the largest-ever budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Appropriators rejected, 5-9, the amendment from Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) to block any funding in the omnibus bill for Clean Air Act regulations based on the endangerment finding.

Tiahrt's proposal followed swiftly on the heels of EPA's release earlier this week of its "endangerment finding," a declaration that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare. The finding, which came in response to a Supreme Court order, does not entail any immediate regulations, but it sets the stage for broad nationwide rules to curb the heat-trapping emissions.

The Kansas Senate hopeful's effort indicates that EPA may face a battle from Republicans if it pursues the regulations.

"The Supreme Court did not set a deadline," Tiahrt said. "The administration has decided to circumvent the legislative process even as greenhouse gas legislation is being debated in this Congress. Administrative rulemaking is no longer a substitute for government."

Tiahrt questioned global warming and said that Congress and the White House should proceed cautiously, given recent questions over e-mails from climate scientists. Fuel for his debate are thousands of e-mails hacked from computers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Britain that were posted to a Russian file-sharing site last month. Climate skeptics argue that those e-mails demonstrate ethical lapses on the part of prominent climate scientists and demonstrate that they manipulated data to substantiate their claims on climate change.

Environmentalists contend that the e-mails do nothing to undermine the extensive body of science -- from many researchers -- behind climate change and say the controversy has been largely ginned up by a handful of climate bill opponents.

Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) dismissed Tiahrt's concerns last night, even while admitting the action from the scientists may have been "questionable and probably idiotic."

"If we followed that logic to its conclusion, we would say that no member of Congress should legislate on any subject because a couple members of Congress make damn fools of themselves," Obey said. "I don't think that's a very good way to proceed."

The omnibus spending package is expected to go to a vote in the House as early as tomorrow. Lawmakers are on deadline to move the bills to final passage before Dec. 18, when the continuing resolution that currently funds those agencies of the federal government expires.

NOAA spending

Part of the omnibus measure is the $64.4 billion Commerce-Justice-Science bill, including the largest-ever budget for NOAA.

The CJS portion of the bill oversees fiscal 2010 funding for NOAA and the rest of the Commerce Department, as well as the National Science Foundation, the Justice Department and NASA.

Altogether, the measure has $2 billion for various programs that focus on global climate change research, a $75 million increase over 2009 levels, according to the Appropriations Committee.

More than half of that money would go to NASA and the National Academy of Sciences for space-based climate measurements.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would get $5 million to develop greenhouse gas emissions standards. NOAA would get $375 million for climate change research and regional assessments. And the Economic Development Administration would get $25 million for green building initiatives.

The total bill allots more than $4.7 billion for NOAA. The nearly 9 percent increase is a greater spending boost than either the House bill or the Obama administration's request and would be largest budget ever for the agency.

Within NOAA's accounts, the biggest funding increase would go to major new acquisitions for its weather and climate monitoring satellites, which are entering a critical procurement phase.

The NOAA total is near the Senate's proposed totals for the agency, which slightly exceeded the House bill. Oceans advocates have applauded the spending increase but say much more money is needed to help the agency meet increasing demands to monitor overfishing, respond to climate change and oversee a new national policy for the ocean.

The bill also includes $6.9 billion for the National Science Foundation, in line with the Senate numbers, and $857 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a nearly $30 million cut from the Senate proposal.

Reporter Josh Voorhees contributed.