Two new bills take aim at EPA authority

Two senators are introducing dueling pieces of legislation Monday that will lay down the markers for how aggressively the upper chamber will seek to hamstring the Obama administration's carbon regulations.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is reintroducing a measure he sponsored last Congress that would delay for two years the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse gas rules. Meanwhile, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is introducing a measure that would strip EPA of its authority over carbon emissions and limit states' ability to implement laws controlling greenhouse gases.

The introduction of these two measures was expected, so it should be telling to see which senators line up with what legislation. Barrasso's office will not release its co-sponsors until later Monday, though a spokesman for Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe said the Oklahoma Republican is on board. Four Democrats have signed on to Rockefeller's bill: Jim Webb of Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All of these senators except Johnson are up for reelection in 2012 and will likely face intense pressure to support an approach more like Barrasso's.

Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has not taken a position on Barrasso's bill and has not signed on to Rockefeller's delay measure. "Let's see what moves forward," spokesman Robert Dillon said Monday. Murkowski was the first senator out of the gate on this issue last year when she sponsored a disapproval resolution, which failed in a floor vote (53-47) in June. The resolution -- essentiall a congressional veto -- would have stripped EPA of its regulatory power over carbon emissions, which is what Barrasso's bill does. Murkowski signed on to Rockefeller's bill last Congress. Dillon said last week they were waiting to hear back from Rockefeller on some concerns she had over the permitting process and how that would be affected by a delay.

Notably, Barrasso's bill does not preempt EPA's authority over other traditional air pollutants like ozone and mercury, which are also regulated under the Clean Air Act. Then-Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, introduced a bill that did that last year, and there were reports that Barrasso's bill would be similar to Voinovich's measure. Barrasso's bill does, however, hamstring EPA's power to regulate carbon emissions under any of other laws it has authority over, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Inhofe will introduce companion bills in the coming week or so that are similar to Barrasso's bill but will focus more on the Clean Air Act, according to Inhofe's office.

It's telling that Republicans, including climate skeptics like Inhofe, are not going after EPA's power over traditional pollutants, as environmentalists and media reports have been speculating. By narrowly focusing on the carbon regulations, they will make it harder for Democrats and President Obama to not negotiate.

Republicans' bills also are careful not to affect the light-duty vehicle fuel-economy standards put forth by EPA and the Transportation Department already, but Barrasso's bill does prohibit EPA from issuing new fuel-efficiency rules, leaving that up to DOT. By leaving the existing standards alone, it takes away (to an extent) an argument put forth by EPA chief Lisa Jackson that legislation preempting EPA's power over carbon regulations would necessarily upend what have been deemed largely successful and consensus regulations for the auto industry.

Aides to Obama continue to say officially that he would veto any bill that hampers EPA's power over carbon regulations, although recently he has been more silent (namely in his State of the Union address last week) on his defense of the regulations. Experts say Obama could compromise with a delay, but supporting a measure that preempts EPA entirely seems much more unlikely.

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