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Reid to allow floor vote on resolution to strip EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases


Back in January, Sen. Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  Senate Majority Leader Reid agreed to allow a floor vote on the amendment on June 10.

The resolution was filed under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to vote to overturn regulations if both chambers of Congress pass the resolution and it is signed by the president.  The CRA has been used successfully only once to overturn a regulation.  Since a president is unlikely to overturn an action of his own administration, it is widely believed that the CRA is useful in changing policy only in a presidential transition.

But a floor vote on Murkowski’s resolution will play an important role in understanding the politics around expected climate legislation. The bill introduced last week by Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Lieberman (I-Conn.) would substantially reduce EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Preserving EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases is a key topic of debate on climate legislation. There is a significant group of members of Congress who believe that if Congress develops a new climate program that EPA’s existing authority to regulate greenhouse gases should be voided. Murkowski’s resolution has 41 co-sponsors in the Senate, and among them are three Democrats: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Public Citizen strongly supports preservation of EPA’s Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gases.  The Murkowski amendment is unlikely to have an impact on whether EPA can regulate greenhouse gases or not. But debate around the resolution and support of a large number of Senators could create a political assumption that stripping EPA of its Clean Air Act authority is a given in the debate around climate legislation.

Giving up Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gases removes the best tool to make a climate program honest.  If climate regulation under a new program were to fall short, EPA could step in and call for reductions in greenhouse gas pollution that can put us back on track to meet long-term emissions reductions. Without this ability, we might have to rely on Congress to call on EPA to set new targets. Considering the amount of effort, debate, and negotiation it has taken to get even the modest proposals on climate that have been seriously considered to date, this process might not be flexible enough to provide timely action to bring emissions reductions back into line.

Lena Pons is a policy analyst at Public Citizen.

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