In an anti-climactic markup that featured little new debate and no amendments by opposing Democrats, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee approved Republican legislation to block Obama administration action on climate change by stripping the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its Clean Air Act authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The March 10 markup lasted barely 50 minutes, with subcommittee members trading familiar talking points—and barbs—and the panel approved the controversial measure without any changes and by voice vote.
Sources said that Democrats likely decided not to insist on a recorded vote because they wanted to signal their contempt for the bill, in part because it appears to have little chance of clearing the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority and seem unwilling to support such a sweeping rollback of EPA authority.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Democrats think this whole exercise is silly," an energy lobbyist said shortly after the vote. "They are saying ‘we’re not going to offer amendments or ask for a vote because this bill isn’t going anywhere.’"
However, as with their repeal of Obama’s health care program, House Republican leaders view the bill as an urgent legislative priority, even though its prospects in the Senate appear dim at best.
Barely three hours after the markup ended, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) announced that his committee would begin marking up the bill the next week. GOP leaders are likely to move the bill to the House floor soon thereafter.
Introduced March 3 by Upton, the bill does have some Democratic support. Notably, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 is co-sponsored by Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall (W. Va.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.).
And significantly, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who has warned that using the Clean Air Act to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would result in "a glorious mess" of tangled regulations, signaled he is in discussions with Upton that could lead to Dingell’s support for the bill.
After gently chiding Upton that the Energy Tax Prevention Act in fact contains no provisions addressing the U.S. tax code, Dingell effusively praised his fellow Michigander and said "we’re pretty close to getting together but we still have some way to go."
The legislation would overturn EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, thereby nullifying a Clean Air Act mandate—upheld by a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2007—that the statute compels EPA to regulate the gases if the agency made such an endangerment finding. Former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson made a similar finding in the final years of the Bush administration, but White House officials blocked further action on the issue.
The legislation also would repeal an EPA regulation requiring large emission sources to report their emissions and a rule that took effect in January requiring large sources to account for greenhouse gases in their state or federal air permits. It would also void the agency’s plans, announced in January, to issue final rules within two years to impose greenhouse gas "new source performance standards" on power plants and oil refineries.
Significantly, given recent Middle East unrest that has spooked oil markets and driven up crude oil prices above $100 per barrel, the bill also would prevent EPA from establishing new greenhouse gas emission standards for post-2016 model-year motor vehicles.
Democrats said this provision would prevent EPA from mandating improvements in vehicle air conditioning systems and other vehicle equipment that—in combination with new fuel economy standards for those vehicles—could sharply reduce U.S. oil imports over the next three decades.
Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the full committee’s senior Democrat and the principal author of greenhouse gas cap-and-trade legislation that cleared the House in 2009 but died in the Senate, blasted the legislation as an "anti-science" measure that threatens the health of millions of Americans.
"In short, [the legislation] is anti-science: a know-nothing, do-nothing approach to the most challenging environmental problem of our time," Waxman said. "We can’t cure cancer by passing legislation that says smoking is harmless. And we can’t stop climate change by declaring that carbon emissions are safe."
But Upton countered that the EPA regulations would stifle the plodding economic recovery by raising energy prices and destroying jobs.
"EPA’s regulations are a backdoor attempt by unelected Democrats to implement the highly unpopular cap-and-trade legislation that was rejected last year," he said. "They are about as out of touch with what the American people want as anything moving in Washington—with the possible exception of health care. This is especially so, given what the rules would do to already soaring gasoline prices."
—Chris Holly is a reporter for The Energy Daily, where this article first appeared.