WASHINGTON – In a sharp challenge to the Obama administration, House Republicans intend to unveil legislation Wednesday to ban the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and expect to advance the bill quickly, officials disclosed Tuesday night.
The officials said the bill would nullify all of the steps the EPA has taken to date on the issue, including a threshold finding that greenhouse gases constitute a danger to the public health and welfare.
In addition, it seeks to strip the agency of its authority to use the law in any future attempts to crack down on the emissions from factories, utilities and other stationary sources.
Many scientists say that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollution contribute to global warming, and attempts at regulating them is a major priority for President Barack Obama as well as environmentalists. Critics argue the evidence is thin and that new rules will drive up the cost of business and cause the loss of jobs.
The officials who described the GOP plans did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to pre-empt the release of a draft measure prepared by the Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan.
The legislation marks yet another arena in which newly empowered House Republicans are moving quickly to challenge the administration.
Sworn into office less than a month ago, the House has already voted to repeal last year's health care law and is advancing toward a series of expected confrontations with Obama over Republican demands for deep spending cuts. In addition, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, recently announced support for legislation to restrict abortions.
A vote on the greenhouse gases bill would occur first in the Energy and Commerce Committee, and is expected later this winter. The measure would then go to the House floor, where Republicans express confidence they have a strong enough majority to overcome objections by Democrats, many of whom are expected to oppose it on environmental grounds.
Republicans are attempting similar restrictions in the Senate, where the Democrats are in a majority and the political situation is more complicated. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming has introduced a more sweeping measure than the one House Republicans are drafting. At the same time, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has proposed a two-year moratorium on EPA attempts to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, a plan that already has attracted a handful of Democratic supporters.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, but it wasn't until the Obama administration took office that the effort began.
Initially, the administration's principal focus in the area was on passage of legislation to impose restrictions, but that attempt failed when the Senate balked at a bill Democrats pushed through the House in 2009.
Since the Republican election gains of last fall, Obama has made several moves to accommodate the concerns of business, including an executive order to weed out proposed new regulations that would hurt job growth. Despite the order, there has been no indication to date that the White House intends to stop plans to regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act.
In a statement posted on its website late last year, the EPA announced it is moving unilaterally to clamp down on power plant and oil refinery greenhouse emissions, announcing plans for developing new standards over the next year.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said the aim was to better cope with pollution contributing to climate change.
"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans," Jackson said in a statement. She said emissions from power plants and oil refineries constitute about 40 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution in this country.