EPA to Regulate Greenhouse Gases; Draws Republican Ire

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The Obama administration announced today it will use the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory power to set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from factories, power plants and refineries, a decision which likely sets the stage for another partisan battle.

The EPA's mandate will be effective in January, 2011 and comes on the heels of its finding late last year on the dangers of greenhouse gases.

The move gives EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, and Wyoming, and it will disapprove part of Texas' Clean Air Act permit program.

With today's action, power plants and oil refineries will have to obtain federal permits that cap their greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans charge these new greenhouse gas rules will stifle businesses and kill jobs.

The administration is trying to "regulate what they have been unable to legislate," said Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the Republican set to take over the House Energy and Commerce Committee in January. "This Christmas surprise is nothing short of a backdoor attempt to implement their failed job-killing cap-and-trade scheme."

Democrats hailed the move as one that would promote a clean energy future for the United States.

"I applaud the EPA for taking this measured and reasonable step toward addressing the pollution that threatens the health and welfare of our families and children," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee said in a statement. These pollution control standards would apply to some of the largest emitters of dangerous pollution across the country, while also encouraging investment in the nation's clean energy technologies."

Today's ruling promises to be the template for many future fights between Congress and the White House as the administration, having lost leverage to pass new laws, uses the EPA's authority to write new rules.

Power plants and oil refineries are the country's largest sources of carbon dioxide, responsible for about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But efforts to impose caps on their emissions have been met with great resistance from Republicans and even some Democrats, like incoming Sen. Joe Manchin of coal-producing West Virginia.

Environmental groups today hailed the EPA's efforts as a critical step forward in what has been a tough political fight.

"By setting timetables for issuing standards to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and oil refineries, EPA is doing precisely what is needed to protect our health and welfare and provide businesses certainty at a time when some would prefer to roll back the clock," said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Clear pollution control standards also will help these industries plan future investments, fuel the economic recovery, and create jobs."

EPA to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

The debate over energy and climate change is expected to boil over next year as the new Congress is seated.

Several attempts at passing comprehensive energy legislation failed in the Senate earlier this year amid partisan bickering and intra-party fighting.

Proponents were hoping an energy and environment bill would gain steam after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the prospects look increasingly dim, and climate change legislation remains in limbo in the Senate.

The most comprehensive climate change legislation, proposed earlier this year by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., included some incentives for offshore oil drilling to attract Republican support. But the environmental crisis on the Gulf coast nixed that deal. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., backed away from supporting the legislation even though he was one of the original sponsors of the bill.

Republicans, meanwhile, attempted to block Democrats' attempts at implementing any sort of "cap and trade" bill, which they say will stifle businesses.

Senate Republicans failed in their attempt in June to pass a bill that would have stripped the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from oil-rich Alaska, argued that letting the EPA control emissions would create a new energy tax and kill jobs, and that it's Congress' job, not regulators', to set the levels.

Supporters of greenhouse gas emission caps argue just the opposite: that the EPA's actions will actually help create jobs.