Efforts to block endangerment finding likely to face hurdles

Republicans in both the Senate and House are working to block U.S. EPA climate rules, but critics of agency climate regulations will likely face a tough slog as they work to secure the support of both chambers and the president.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Texas Rep. Joe Barton are each spearheading efforts to circumvent normal committee procedures in order to effectively veto EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. The determination, released earlier this month, opens the door for rules aimed at slashing emissions from a broad range of sources.

The resolutions are the latest in a series of congressional efforts this year aimed at tying EPA's hands as the agency works to finalize several major climate regulations due out by March.

Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, say they hope to win support from fellow lawmakers who oppose EPA's efforts, but even Murkowski acknowledged that she faces an "uphill battle" finalizing the measure.

Overall, "the odds of this becoming law are very slim," said Daniel Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "It would have to pass the Senate, the House, President Obama would likely veto it, and they'd have to override the veto with two-thirds majority of each house," he said.


But while even proponents of the resolution acknowledge that it will be difficult to clear both Democrat-led chambers and the Obama administration, some expect that the threat of EPA regulations will spur many lawmakers to act to stave off EPA rules.

Andrew Wheeler, former Republican staff director for the Environment and Public Works Committee who now works for B&D Consulting, said there is a chance that Murkowski's measure could clear the Senate.

"I question whether or not enough of the senators fully understand what the EPA endangerment finding will mean," Wheeler said. "I'm not positive that the momentum is there yet for all the members to fully understand what the endangerment finding means."

However, the resolution is less likely to clear the House, Wheeler said, where the Democratic majority is so large.


Murkowski plans to introduce her resolution as soon as the Senate returns from the holiday recess, according to spokesman Robert Dillon.

In the Senate, the disapproval resolution would be referred to the Environment and Public Works Committee. If the committee does not favorably report the resolution within 20 calendar days, it can be discharged once 30 senators sign on. The resolution would then be placed on the Senate calendar, where it would be subject to expedited consideration on the floor and not subject to a filibuster.

Key Senate Democrats say they expect the effort to fail.

"It's very difficult to use that procedure to undo any initiative from any regulatory agency," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the leading author of the Senate energy and climate bill, last week said Murkowski "won't get the requisite votes" to clear the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who plans to co-sponsor Murkowski's resolution, was more optimistic.

"I think it'll pass the Senate," Graham said. "I just think too many senators understand that the regulatory approach is the worst of all worlds. It adds a bunch of burdens without providing benefits," he said.

Still, "I hope we'll do more than just disapprove of that action," added Graham, one of the leading architects of a Senate energy and climate bill.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) also said he intends to co-sponsor Murkowski's effort. He said some moderate Democrats may be willing to sign on to the measure but acknowledged that getting the measure through the Senate would only be the first step.

"To get the votes here is one thing," Thune said. "To get the president to sign it and when he vetoes it to be able to override it -- which takes 67 votes -- that's a pretty heavy lift, obviously."


Barton and his co-sponsors on the House side are also expected to face challenges finalizing the resolution.

The House cannot use the same expedited procedure as the Senate, but House lawmakers can use a discharge motion to bypass the committee of jurisdiction and bring the resolution to the floor.

Under House rules, co-sponsors need 218 signatures to send the discharge motion to the "discharge calendar." Once it has been added to the calendar, the motion can be adopted with a simple majority and the House can immediately consider the disapproval resolution, which would come to the floor in the form introduced with no amendments and no written report.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio praised Barton and Republican co-sponsors Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Darrell Issa of California, and Lamar Smith and Ralph Hall of Texas for their plans to introduce the measure.

"This EPA rule amounts to a backdoor national energy tax on every American who drives a car, flips on a light switch, or buys a product manufactured in the United States," Boehner said in a statement last week.

Seamus Kraft, a spokesman for Issa, said it is too soon to know how the effort will fare in the House.

"We do think that there is a broad feeling of distrust and resentment in the administration's approach, which appears to undermine and usurp congressional responsibilities," Kraft said. "We also have a strong sense that members of Congress who support cap and trade would back our resolution -- because it is just the wrong thing to do in these tough economic times."

Ongoing effort

If the congressional efforts fail, GOP lawmakers have vowed to look to other vehicles to limit EPA's authority.

"The other scenario, of course, is we're going to continue to try to offer amendments to appropriations bills to prevent EPA from moving forward with the endangerment finding until Congress acts," said Thune, who worked with Murkowski earlier this year on a failed appropriations rider to limit EPA regulatory authority.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he does not think Murkowski's resolution will become law, but added, "I don't think it makes too much difference."

Inhofe said he expects that imminent lawsuits will "effectively kill the endangerment finding." Legal challenges over the science upon which the finding is based and other lawsuits over pending EPA regulations will stop anything from happening, he said.

"So I've never been concerned about the endangerment finding," Inhofe added. "It's never going to happen."

Like what you see?

We thought you might.

Start a free trial now.

Get access to our comprehensive, daily coverage of energy and environmental politics and policy.