Republican draws line on climate regs

House Republicans are gearing up for a fight against Obama administration plans to counter climate change through increased regulation. 

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Energy and Power subcommittee, warned Tuesday that any attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose new emission standards for existing power plants would meet fierce opposition. The agency has already put forward rules to control emissions at new power plants. 

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“The Environmental Protection Agency has been overly zealous,” Whitfield said during remarks at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) winter meeting. 

“If they start trying to do this with existing plants, they’re going to have a real battle,” he told reporters afterward. 

Whitfield said the panel would hold hearings to shed light on the economic consequences such a rule would have on the nation’s energy industry, and he did not rule out legislation that would limit EPA’s authority or block the proposal. 

Whitfield called pursuit of the new regulation a “serious misstep” and questioned the administration’s legal authority to adopt it. He also said opponents would organize against the plan, to which President Obama alluded in his inaugural address last month. 

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” 

Whitfield disputed the president, pointing to published reports indicating that wildfire and hurricane activity is actually trending downward. 

“I, for one, do not think climate change is the No. 1 issue out there,” he said. 

Rather than increase regulation, the federal government should be working to increase energy production and put the country on a path to energy independence, Whitfield said, noting that is feasible thanks to breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing and other emerging technologies. 

The congressman later said he hoped Obama would replace outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson with someone willing to pursue a balanced approach to regulation of the energy industry. 

“I hope that he’s not like Lisa Jackson,” he quipped.

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. The Department of Labor has extended protections in the Family and Medical Leave Act to people who work for airlines and serve in the military.

The 424-page final rule incorporates amendments from a 2010 defense-spending bill. The proposal expands who is able to take leave and extends the amount of time that the absences from work can last, among other provisions. 

In a statement Tuesday commemorating the 20th anniversary of the act, President Obama hailed the new rules, but said there’s “still more work to do.”

“Not all employees are covered by the law, and oftentimes workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave. So as we mark this anniversary, let us also recommit ourselves to the values that inspired the law and redouble our efforts on behalf of fairer workplaces and healthier, more secure families,” Obama said.

The changes become effective on March 8.

DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY. A proposed rule from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to regulate the disposal of controlled substances has received 29 comments, all of which have been made public. Comments will be accepted until Feb. 19.

The proposal would give individuals, pharmacies and long-term-care facilities more options for disposing of prescribed controlled substances — a long-awaited regulation ordered by the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act.

While some of the commentators expressed concerns about the DEA proposals, the majority applauded the agency’s effort, calling them long overdue.

The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which represent more than 5,000 community coalitions nationwide, wrote that it supported the proposal’s efforts to allow community groups and law enforcement agencies to work together to “hold take-back events and administer mail-back programs.”