Democratic senators pass torch to EPA on climate change

Epitavi/Shutterstock.com

After years of trying—and failing—to get climate-change legislation through Congress, top Senate Democrats are publicly ready to hand over the power to President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“A lot of people don’t recognize that EPA has huge authority to reduce carbon in the air,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said at a briefing Tuesday.

“A lot of you press me … on: ‘Where is the bill on climate change? Where is the bill’? There doesn’t have to be a bill,” Boxer told a group of reporters in her office in the Hart Senate Building. “There will be many approaches, but I’m telling you right now, EPA has the authority in the transportation sector, in the electricity sector, and the industrial sector under the Clean Air Act.”

Boxer’s public comments come a few months after another top Democrat, Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Chuck Schumer of New York, made similar comments to another group of reporters shortly after the election in November. Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Schumer noted the significance of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions and said that Congress could instead tackle smaller bits of policy, such as energy-efficiency legislation.

The statements by Boxer and Schumer that they won’t push big climate legislation and will defer to EPA on global warming are two of the clearest signals yet that the Democratic Party will not only defend the agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions but that it will also follow through on the regulations, despite Republican criticism and industry pleas to slow down the rules. Boxer’s statement also came on the heels of Obama’s Inaugural Address, where he gave a full-throttled call to action on climate change.

After spending the past two years fighting over EPA and casting messaging votes on the agency’s carbon rules, Congress is poised for even more intense partisan clashes. This year’s fights will carry more weight as the agency gets closer to rolling out the regulations that will affect coal-fired power plants across the country. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ensured during the last congressional session that no GOP-led efforts to pass legislation delaying or eliminating EPA’s climate rules can succeed. Boxer is confident Senate Democrats can beat back expected GOP efforts this Congress, too.

“We will stop it every time, let me just tell you that,” Boxer said.

A 2007 ruling from the Supreme Court is backing Boxer up. Republicans—with potential support from some moderate Democrats up for reelection in 2014—will nonetheless put up a big fight. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has been the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee during Obama’s first term, and GOP leadership in the House have vowed to keep trying to curtail EPA on a whole host of issues, especially climate change. A request for comment to the Environment panel’s new top Republican, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, was not returned.

(Image via Epitavi/Shutterstock.com)

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