The House is often overlooked in the battle over federal climate rules, but some members intend to rally behind efforts to stop U.S. EPA regulations until something sticks.
With an eye on the Senate as the chamber votes today on a resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to nullify EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, House lawmakers are plotting their next steps to handcuff the agency.
"This is going to continue to roll around both chambers, both parties as to whether or not EPA should regulate greenhouse gases until a statute on greenhouse gases has been enacted," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) who has introduced a bill to strip EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
Critics argue that EPA climate rules under the Clean Air Act would impose overwhelming burdens on the economy and create a bureaucratic nightmare as regulators struggle to comply with sweeping new regulations. The Obama administration and EPA, however, insist that the agency will issue reasonable regulations that slash pollution with minimal cost to industry.
House Republicans and Democrats alike have launched a variety of efforts aimed at blocking or limiting EPA's authority. One approach would mirror the measure the Senate is slated to vote on today -- a resolution to block the agency from issuing greenhouse gas regulations. Other House bills would impose a time-out for two years on EPA climate rules for industrial facilities or prohibit regulations without explicit authority from Congress.
Some observers have written off House bids to hamstring EPA, in part because the chamber has a strong Democratic majority and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is unlikely to allow floor votes for measures that would upend the Obama administration's policies.
Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has jurisdiction over EPA, said last month it is "unlikely" that his committee would mark up any bills aimed at blocking greenhouse gas regulations.
"We're certainly not going to take away the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to make a scientific finding and have Congress make the finding instead," Waxman said. "This ought to be done by the people who are versed in the science and can make that decision based on the science under on the current law, under the current clean air law."
But sponsors of House efforts to stave off Clean Air Act rules are not giving up.
"We want to wait and see what happens in the Senate, with Senator Murkowski," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member and lead sponsor of Murkowski's companion measure. If the Murkowski resolution clears the Senate today, Barton said he would talk to House GOP leadership about advancing his companion bill.
But if Murkowski's bid fails as anticipated, House lawmakers pushing separate efforts to limit EPA say their efforts could gain momentum.
If the Senate opposes the Murkowski measure, "We will then be the preferred option, I think, so we'll be working very hard to bring our measure forward at that point," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who is co-sponsoring a bill that would prevent EPA from regulating stationary sources of greenhouse gases for two years.
Supporters of the time-out for two years say their approach is preferable to the disapproval resolution because it would allow EPA to move forward with its greenhouse gas standards for automobiles, a regulation that was negotiated between the White House, states and automakers.
Barton's disapproval resolution faces much tougher sledding making it to the floor in the House than it did in the Senate.
In the Senate, disapproval resolutions can bypass committee votes, are subject to expedited consideration on the floor and are not subject to filibusters. But the House does not have the same expedited procedures for reviewing agency rules.
One avenue Barton and other sponsors could take to bypass the committee and leadership is a "discharge petition." Under House rules, co-sponsors need 218 signatures to send the 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.
Barton said he is considering that strategy. "I think if the Senate moves, it's something to be considered," he said.
To approve a discharge petition, Barton said, "We would need to get every Republican, and we're going to need 50 or so Democrats."
If all 177 House Republicans sign on, a discharge petition would still need the support of 41 Democrats. Last June, 43 Democrats voted against the House cap-and-trade bill in the 219-212 decision.
Barton said his effort could win support from Democrats supporting additional measures to block EPA, including Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who introduced an identical disapproval resolution.
"We'd have to check with them to see how many people they think would sign, too," Barton said.
Twenty-five Democrats, including Skelton and Peterson, have signed on to the Skelton resolution.
Some additional Democrats are backing separate efforts to block EPA, including a bill from Pomeroy to strip the agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions without explicit congressional authorization.
Some of those Democrats may be willing to help advance a disapproval resolution, but Barton concedes that it could be difficult to get enough Democratic support. "It's hard, though, for the Democrats to sign," he said. "It takes some backbone to sign a discharge petition when you're in the majority."
Asked what would happen if Murkowski failed, Barton said, "Let's wait and see. I don't have to answer that question yet."
The sponsors of a bill to impose a time-out on EPA climate rules for stationary sources for two years will "work very hard" to push their measure through the House after the Senate battle plays out, Boucher said last month. He introduced the bill (H.R. 4753) in March with West Virginia Democratic Reps. Nick Rahall and Alan Mollohan.
If Murkowski fails, "it is my hope at that point that we will have support for our bill from the electric utilities and from the coal industry, the natural gas industry and from members of the House and Senate who are very concerned about the effect of EPA regulation on the economies in their congressional districts," Boucher said.
That bill may also face opposition from more liberal House Democrats and the Obama administration, although the White House has not taken a position on the bill.
"I don't think we can pre-judge where the White House will be on that measure until the White House actually makes that decision," Boucher said. "I think that all parties agree that it's better for Congress to draft its own comprehensive program than it is for EPA to impose regulations on stationary sources."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is sponsoring the companion version of the bill, said in April that he suspects the Obama administration may "secretly" welcome the two-year delay (E&ENews PM, April 14). Some Senate Democrats are taking a second look at the Rockefeller bill in the run-up to the Murkowski vote (see related story).
In the absence of legislation to block EPA rules, some members say they expect the appropriations process -- a traditional setting for House fights on environmental and energy policy -- to become the next battleground.
"Probably action switches to the appropriations, where a rider on an appropriations bill would set a new principal point of attack," Pomeroy said. "It's hard to pass a statute. It's hard to pass a law." Pomeroy said he would consider offering such an amendment.
Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Moran (D-Va.) said he expects that there could be a major fight this year over EPA regulations during the appropriations process. "I'm personally sympathetic to EPA being able to exercise its legal authority," he said.
The subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), agreed that the appropriations process might offer a clearer path to blocking EPA because a bill or a disapproval resolution would need to pass the House and Senate.
But it remains uncertain whether the subcommittee will mark up an EPA spending bill this year, or whether it will be wrapped into a broader omnibus package.
"I'm hoping," Moran said when asked whether he was expecting to mark up a bill this year. "We're ready, but that's a leadership call."
Simpson, meanwhile said he was "not real optimistic" that the committee would mark up the bill this year.
Like what you see?
We thought you might.
Start a free trial now.