Sheila McNulty EPA regulation delays leave a bigger question unresolved

Several Congressmen moved on Thursday to delay the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions from stationary sources, such as power plants. Senator John D Rockefeller IV issued legislation to suspend such action for two years to give Congress a chance to pass its own regulations. Representatives Alan Mollohan, Nick Rahall II and Rick Boucher – all three Democracts – introduced a similiar measure in the House. All of the lawmakers represent coal-producing states.

Here is how Representative Boucher explained his move:

Following the decision by the US Supreme Court that greenhouse gases are a pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency is now legally compelled to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act. That law is not well suited for such action since it disables EPA from taking into account the unique needs of the coal industry and electric utilities that burn coal. EPA regulation of greenhouse gases would be the worst outcome for the col industry and coal related jobs.

These are not the first attempts by Congress to delay or stop carbon regulation by the Obama Administration. There are bills in both the Senate and the House aimed at blocking the EPA from regulating  greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Boucher says that by structuring the measure in this manner, lawmakers are seeking to find a responsible middle ground that can be enacted.

The flurry of bills is in response to a letter written by Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, last week to several Congressmen setting out her timetable for regulating carbon emissions. She said no facility will be required to address greenhouse gas emissions in Clean Air Act permitting of new construction or modifications before 2011. And, for the first half of 2011, only facilities that already must apply for Clean Air Act permits as a result of their non-greenhouse gas emissions, will need to address their greenhouse gas emissions in their permit applications.

Here is how Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, aimed at supporting the work of the United Nations, reacted to the efforts by Congress to block those plans:

Pre-empting the EPA has been the number one objective of the coal industry ever since Congress started to address climate and energy legislation. Taking away or suspending their authority would set a dangerous precedent for environmental protection in the United States. President Obama has spoken out clearly in support of legislation to combat climate change and make the clean energy economy a reality. He should make it clear that he will veto any legislation that preempts the EPA’s authority.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting public health and the environment, said if the bills passed, they would effectively block global warming pollution limits for four years, not two. That is because it would bar the EPA from doing any homework needed to set limits – no research on available technologies or their costs and no outreach and consultation with industry, state or environmental stakeholders. So, even after the two-year period ran out, it would take EPA another two years to get things done. In the words of David Doniger, policy director of the NRDC’s Climate Center:

It is not constructive to block the only working law on the books to curb global warming pollution and replace it with nothing. Blocking the Clean Air Act will do nothing to bring Congress closer to passing comprehensive climate and energy legislation. Rather than fighting global warming solutions, we need to focus on cutting carbon pollution in a way that will spur clean energy investment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

That really is the key. If Congress is so intent upon usurping the EPA’s authority, then it should move quickly to pass its own carbon legislation. The public and investors have signalled their support of efforts to curb carbon emissions. Blocking others without a better gameplan simply to appease coal producers should not be an option.

Related links:

EPA makes a start on regulating carbon emissions (FT Energy Source)