Big business plots to block EPA


Washington’s largest business groups are discussing joint legal action to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases. 

Executives and lobbyists for more than two dozen trade groups met last Friday at the offices of Sidley Austin to discuss the possibility of cooperating in a legal challenge, including the possibility of pooling resources to hire counsel, but no consensus or definite course of action emerged. 

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Trade group executives have met periodically to share information as the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders pursued policies to limit carbon dioxide in response to global warming and other climate changes. 

With the climate bill stalled in the Senate, the EPA has become the bigger threat in some corporate offices, as underscored by the meeting Friday. 

Sources said, however, that not all the participants in the meeting oppose EPA efforts to regulate heat-trapping gases.

One source from a group represented at the meeting described it as a sales pitch from Sidley Austin offering its legal services and making a case for cooperating on a legal challenge.

Representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Public Power Association, the Edison Electric Institute and more than a dozen other groups participated in the meeting.

Collectively, the groups represent industries with millions of employees and spend tens of millions of dollars a year to lobby Congress. They have all actively sought to influence lawmakers as they craft climate legislation. 

While they hold different opinions about the cap-and-trade bill passed by the House last June, they have stated their preference for legislation versus regulation to deal with climate change.

Roger Martella, a former general counsel at EPA who is now a partner at the Sidley Austin’s environmental law practice, opened the meeting with a presentation on some of the legal issues raised by the EPA action. Then he left, leaving trade-group reps to talk for more than an hour about the EPA effort, several sources said. 

Martella has already played a role in the effort to challenge the EPA, including his helping Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s staff craft an amendment to the debt-ceiling bill in the Senate to delay EPA from moving forward, according to The Washington Post and other news outlets. (It wasn’t clear at press time whether the Alaska Republican still planned to pursue the amendment.)

In December, the EPA announced it had determined greenhouse gases represented a threat to human health and welfare. That allows federal regulators to use the Clean Air Act to curb emissions.

In public filings prior to the endangerment finding, energy companies and trade groups argued that regulating carbon and other greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act would be a regulatory nightmare that could hurt the economy.

The EPA has yet to finalize its greenhouse gas regulations, so there is no specific legal challenge that has been developed.

But energy lobbyists for companies and trade groups said two camps have emerged.

One is likely to challenge the EPA’s conclusion that greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and welfare, a fight likely to raise broader questions about the science behind global warming. 

Others are likely to challenge the EPA on the technical aspects of the regulations. Possible points for a legal fight may come over the EPA’s efforts to effectively exempt small businesses from the new emissions standards through a so-called “tailoring rule” or the possible conflicts with state regulations, lobbyists said.

This March, the EPA is set to release emission standards for cars and trucks. Automakers have largely bought into the new standards in an agreement with the Obama administration that keeps states from acting on their own until at least 2016.

Tailpipe standards, however, will trigger regulations on stationary sources like power plants as well. This effort is far more controversial and is likely to be the focus of most of the court challenges.