Republicans ramp up push to block EPA climate regulations

Republicans unveiled legislation that strips the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, a move that escalates the GOP’s attack on the White House environmental and energy agenda.

It was only part of a boarder assault on energy that took place on Capitol Hill Thursday.

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in an appearance at the House Natural Resources Committee, faced tough questions from a parade of Republicans who lambasted restrictions on offshore drilling.

And EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson came face to face with House Republicans for the first time since they voted to slash her budget, testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

She was questioned on a variety of topics, ranging from the effects of the agency’s proposed climate rules to whether the EPA would regulate spilled milk.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) made the spilled-milk allegation, asking: “How can the EPA promulgate new rules like this? What’s next — sippy-cups in the House cafeteria?”

Jackson said the agency moved to exempt milk storage from proposed regulations on inland oil containment facilities. “We made it clear in our rules that we were not going to apply the rules to spilled milk,” she said.

Meanwhile, the EPA-related bill, introduced Thursday in both the House and Senate, picked up the backing of one Democratic senator and two senior House Democrats after a weeks-long lobbying effort by Republicans to win some bipartisan support. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who made a campaign ad last cycle where he shot climate change legislation, signed on as a Senate co-sponsor.

Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have signed on as original co-sponsors. Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) also signed on to the legislation.

The new bill prevents the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, which are blamed for global warming, from stationary sources, including power plants and refineries.

“I believe EPA is headed in the wrong direction with an aggressive and overzealous regulatory agenda that far exceeds the authority it’s been granted,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said at a hearing on the agency’s budget earlier Thursday.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy panel, introduced the House version, while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced the Senate version.

“The Energy Tax Prevention Act also imposes accountability,” Inhofe said in a statement on the new bill. “It takes power away from unelected bureaucrats and puts it where it belongs: in Congress, where the people can and should decide the nation’s climate change policy.”

Republicans on Thursday released a series of letters from industry groups that praise the bill, including from the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

The lawmakers floated a draft version in February, and have been working behind the scenes for weeks to get Democrats to sign on.

Forty-three Senate Republicans are initially sponsoring the bill. They include very conservative members of the GOP conference like Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), but also Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, signed on as well. Murkowski is also the ranking Republican on the panel of the Appropriations Committee that controls EPA’s budget.

The bill could clear the House but would be unlikely to advance in the Senate. But it could provide political running room for less aggressive proposals that would delay regulation without stripping EPA’s authority outright.

EPA has begun phasing in initial greenhouse-gas permitting requirements for large new and modified pollution sources, and is planning to craft other regulations, including specific emissions standards for power plants and refineries.

It’s not the first effort by Republicans to limit EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The seven-month GOP spending package that the House approved last month would prevent EPA from using fiscal 2011 funding for implementing climate rules, while Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has attracted backing from several centrist Democrats on a plan to delay regulation of stationary industrial plants for two years.

But it’s unclear if these efforts will take hold. The House is negotiating a compromise with Senate Democrats on a federal spending package, which would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, and it remains to be seen if those provisions will make the final legislation.

One former Capitol Hill aide who is active on energy policy predicted that the more important aspect of the climate fight remains the fate of riders on spending bills to block EPA.

“It is going to come to brinksmanship” on the spending bill, the source said. “It is going to be a showdown in environmental riders on the [continuing resolution].”

This story was updated at 9:17 p.m.