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EPA Chief Takes the Hot Seat As Fight to Block Climate Rules Intensifies

Legislators intent on blocking the EPA from controlling CO2 emissions are fishing around for a coalition-building bill that can gain traction

Feb 9, 2011
(Page 3 of 3 )

All 50 states are now expected to comply with the tailoring rule that stemmed from that ruling and kicked in Jan. 2. That first phase is geared for new or modified coal-fired electricity plants, factories and cement production facilities that emit at least 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases annually. It requires states to determine if these stationary emitters can qualify for federal permits.

Last December, agency authorities announced that this year they will issue proposed scientifically based performance standards for two sectors responsible for about two-thirds of greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources. The timeline calls for final standards for new and modified utilities to be issued by May 2012 and for oil refineries by November 2012.

Rockefeller Seems Tame in Comparison

When compared to the other two bills, Rockefeller's "EPA Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act" seems quite tame. He reintroduced it Jan. 31 after it faded away in last year's lame-duck session.

In a nutshell, the Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia wants the EPA to delay deploying the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from electric utilities, oil refiners and other large-scale stationary emitters for two years.

The newest conservative Democratic co-sponsor of Rockefeller's measure is fellow West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. The former governor was elected to fill the vacancy left when Sen. Robert Byrd died in late June at age 92. Other Democrats on board are Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jim Webb of Virginia.

"Now is the time to encourage companies to invest in new technologies and create jobs, and we need a system that gives major employers the framework to do so and to succeed," Rockefeller, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said via news release.

"We must give Congress enough time to consider a comprehensive energy bill to develop the clean coal technologies we need and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, protect West Virginia and improve our environment."

Environmentalists Question Rockefeller’s Motive

Rockefeller echoed those comments but put a harsher spin on them Feb. 4 when he told the West Virginia Coal Association that energy reform policy won't disappear after the demise of a cap-and-trade climate change bill.

According to news accounts of his address, Rockefeller stressed that the industry needs to step it up on the cleaner coal front.

"I’m fighting hard to suspend EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions for two years, not for the sake of EPA-bashing," he's quoted as saying in Greenwire, "but specifically because we need time to move forward with a major new program on carbon capture and sequestration and we need a serious seat at the table for any other proposals on climate change."

However, green groups point out that the American Clean Energy and Security Act that the House passed in 2009 included generous allotments for carbon capture and storage technology. And, the Senate didn't even vote on the bill — partly because of objections from Rockefeller.

Environmentalists emphasize that tactics such as two-year delays or one-year funding riders are dangerous because they can be robotically extended as the opportunity for energy policy peters out.

"These short-term delays are like getting roaches in your house," Doniger said. "Once they get into legislation, it’s very hard to get them out."

Image: Salim Virji

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