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Coal State Senators Battle EPA to Control Greenhouse Gases

WASHINGTON, DC, February 23, 2010 (ENS) – Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, led a group of coal state senators in sending a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Friday challenging the agency’s potential regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act.

In December, Jackson declared that greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to Americans’ public health and welfare. She was responding to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2007 ruling that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The endangerment finding opens the way for the EPA to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases from both mobile and stationary sources.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (Photo credit unknown)

The senators’ letter requests that Jackson clarify the EPA timetable and suspend EPA regulations for industrial facilities so Congress can consider comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

“At a time when so many people are hurting, we need to put the decisions about our energy future in to the hands of the people and their elected representatives – especially on issues impacting clean coal,” said Senator Rockefeller. “EPA actions in this area would have enormous implications and these issues need to be handled carefully and appropriately dealt with by the Congress, not in isolation by a federal environmental agency.”

Senator Rockefeller is drafting legislation to suspend EPA’s regulatory authority to allow sufficient time for Congressional consideration of the nation’s larger energy policy and economic needs.

The House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey bill last June, which establishes a cap and trade market system for limitation of greenhouse gases, but climate legislation has been stalled in the Senate.

The coal-fired Harrison power plant in West Virginia emits greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy Allegheny Energy)

Senator Rockefeller was joined by Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Max Baucus of Montana in sending the letter demanding a response to their concerns for the workers and industries affected in their states.

The letter states, “We remain concerned about the possible impacts on American workers and businesses in a number of industrial sectors, along with the farmers, miners, and small business owners who could be affected as your agency moves beyond automobile emissions standards to implement regulations to curtail GHG pollution from stationary sources.”

“We have a responsibility to the workers and industries in our states to address both your agency’s timetable for the implementation of these stationary source regulations, and what you intend the exact requirements for businesses to be.”

“The President and you have been explicit in calling on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation that would enhance our nation’s energy and climate security. We strongly believe this is ultimately Congress’ responsibility, and if done properly, will create jobs, spur new clean energy industries, and greatly advance the goal of U.S. energy independence. If done improperly, these opportunities could be lost.”

Administrator Jackson replied to the senators in a letter Monday that outlines several of the decisions she has made for 2010-2011.

“No facility will be required to address greenhouse gas emissions in Clean Air Act permitting of new construction or modifications before 2011,” Jackson wrote.

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, she wrote.

EPA is also considering a modification to the rule announced in September requiring large facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year to obtain permits demonstrating they are using the best practices and technologies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, wrote Jackson.

EPA is considering “raising that threshold substantially to reflect input provided during the public comment process,” wrote Jackson.

Jackson wrote that the EPA does not intend to subject smaller facilities to Clean Air Act permitting for greenhouse gas emissions any sooner than 2016.

Senator Rockefeller responded that Jackson’s letter indicates “good progress” but does not go far enough.

“I believe we need to set in stone through legislation enough time for Congress to consider a comprehensive energy bill,” Rockefeller said. “As I evaluate the EPA’s letter, I remain committed to presenting legislation that would provide Congress the space it needs to craft a workable policy that will protect jobs and stimulate the economy.”

Responding to Jackson’s letter, Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who has been opposed to the endangerment finding and EPA regulation of greenhouse gases for months, said, “While the delay in implementation is a small forced step in the right direction, the Clean Air Act continues to be the wrong tool for the job, and EPA’s timeline continues to create significant and ongoing uncertainty for a business community.”

“Congress is the appropriate body to address climate policy.” Murkowski said. “Until the specter of command-and-control regulations goes away, it will remain a counterproductive threat hanging over the work that must be done to find common ground.

Murkowski welcomed the letter from the coal state Democrats, saying it shows “they share the concerns of the 41 Democratic and Republican senators who have introduced a disapproval resolution (S.J.Res.26) to halt EPA’s actions. This bipartisan measure was made necessary by the agency’s decision to finalize the endangerment finding without addressing a number of problems related to it.”

“Fortunately, the Congressional Review Act provides a small window of opportunity for Congress to disapprove of EPA’s finding. It is a simple issue,” said Murkowski, “Senators either support EPA imposing these regulations without input from Congress, or they don’t.”

Enacting the Murkowski resolution would put the Congress in the position of denying the science of climate change. In Administrator Jackson’s words, a vote for the disapproval resolution would “move the United States to a position behind that of China on the issue of climate change, and more in line with the position of Saudi Arabia.”

Meanwhile, as of Friday, 16 lawsuits have been filed against the U.S. EPA’s endangerment finding by industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, conservative groups, lawmakers and three states.

Environmentalists are concerned that this argument allows the continued emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, further raising the planetary temperature.

Sarah Saylor, senior legislative representative with the public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice said, “This is simply an attempt to delay action to reduce pollution that threatens public health and the environment. EPA has done its homework and reported back to the American people that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. That finding is supported by decades of evidence, research by hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, major reviews by the National Research Council and U.S. Global Climate Research Program, and numerous other sources.”

“Even more shocking is that polluters have convinced their friends in Congress to help them try to thwart any action to combat global warming,” said Saylor. “A resolution to turn the clock back on EPA’s endangerment finding could come to a vote before the Senate as soon as the first week of March. Such efforts would take our nation in the wrong direction and must be opposed.”

Said David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center, “Using the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution requires nothing different than what we’ve repeatedly done over the course of four decades for other kinds of pollution – follow the science, act when pollution endangers our health and welfare, and use available and affordable technology to clean up vehicles, power plants, and other big pollution sources. It’s practical, effective, affordable, and it works.”

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