Can Congress thwart EPA’s emission standards proposal?

Late last month, the day after the U.S.’s 111th Congress officially adjourned, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced that, despite the fact lawmakers failed to pass President Barack Obama’s ambitious energy bill, the organization would tackle climate change within its own means by regulating greenhouse gas emissions for power plants and refineries.

In the wake of that announcement, a group of irked Republicans have vowed to bar the EPA from clamping down on emissions from some of America’s biggest polluters. A bill tabled on the opening day of the new Republican-dominated Congress and sponsored by Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) would prevent the EPA from regulating power plants and refineries by amending the Clean Air Act to state greenhouse gases are not subject to the law. The EPA derives its authority to regulate greenhouse gases from the decades-old Act, which calls for emissions controls.

Nearly 50 Republican representatives (and one Democrat) have co-sponsored the two-page bill, which would attempt to repeal the Clean Air Act’s endangerment finding, a facet of the legislation which states greenhouse gases endanger human health.

Though there might be enough support to pass the legislation, it is unlikely opponents would be able to thwart the EPA entirely. At best the challengers might be successful in delaying the EPA’s move by a couple of years, but the roadblocks preventing a sweeping amendment to the Clean Air Act are substantial.

Attempting to repeal the endangerment finding would result in significant legal challenges, since the EPA is adhering to a 2007 Supreme Court decision that stated the EPA had violated the Clean Air Act by not regulating greenhouse gas emissions. In this sense, the EPA under President Barack Obama is technically adhering to the law by proposing to regulate emissions by plants and refineries, which represent 40 per cent of nationwide emissions.

Even if Congress is successful in passing legislation to thwart the EPA’s move, there’s also the significant fact President Obama – a staunch advocate of aggressive climate policies – would have to sign the bill into law, which he could refuse to do unless sponsors were able to garner the 67 Senate votes required to overcome a veto.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of the strongest upper chamber advocates of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, has vowed to use “every single tool” at her disposal to prevent House Republicans from blocking the EPA’s efforts.

In the meantime, it is safe to assume the EPA will proceed in the rulemaking process throughout 2011, which will eventually result in emissions standards for plants and refineries – which should start tracking and reporting on air emissions – in 2012.

One thought on “Can Congress thwart EPA’s emission standards proposal?

  1. Paul…Can you guide me to a source that I can obtain annual penalties paid to state and federal entities by U.S. oil refineries for emissions?

    Thank you.

    Tom Walker

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