EPA head blasts effort to block regs

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Wednesday that an effort in Congress to stop the agency from regulating pollution linked to climate change would be an “enormous step backward for science” if successful.

Testifying before a Senate Appropriations panel, Lisa Jackson defended EPA’s finding that carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare by contributing to global warming. 

That “endangerment” finding requires EPA to regulate emissions under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, Jackson said. 

“The science behind climate change is settled,” Jackson said during testimony Wednesday morning before the Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on EPA’s 2011 budget request.

“Multiple lines of scientific inquiry” and the consensus of climate scientists hold that climate change is happening and humans are the cause, Jackson said. 

Some members in Congress believe EPA erred in its endangerment finding, and are moving to either stall the greenhouse gas rule or stop it altogether.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, introduced a bill to delay EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations by two years, which would give Congress more time to act to limit climate change pollution on its own.

Jackson and EPA had already agreed to delay the rule’s effect on utilities and large industrial sites — so-called stationary sources — by a year after Rockefeller and seven other Democrats expressed concern about the effect EPA regulation could have on the economy.

EPA is also moving to regulate emissions from tailpipes, although that effort has broad support among the auto industry and its supporters on Capitol Hill.

Also on Tuesday, 86 Republicans signed on to a resolution to stop EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases. Two House Democratic chairmen introduced a similar measure as well.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), meanwhile, is mounting a similar campaign in the Senate. 

All the efforts rely on the Congressional Review Act to nullify the EPA’s endangerment finding. The act allows Congress to block agency regulatory efforts, but has been used successfully only once, in the 1990s when lawmakers stopped an ergonomics standard proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

The hearing on Wednesday gave Murkowski, a member of the spending panel, the chance to ask Jackson directly about the effects of the EPA rulemaking.

Murkowski said she was “quite concerned EPA actions will harm our economy at a time when we can least afford it.”

During her testimony, Jackson reiterated a point she made in her letter responding to the concerns of the eight Senate Democrats that the regulations are likely to apply to significantly larger facilities than EPA originally contemplated.

Initially, EPA said it would seek to include utilities, refineries and other industrial sites that released 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent into the air each year. 

The threshold was designed to exempt small businesses from having to comply.

But Jackson said that the bar could be raised to facilities that release 50,000 tons or more of CO2 or the equivalent annually. Comments from state and local regulators in particular suggest that EPA could meet its emissions-reduction goals by targeting larger emitters than its original proposal suggested.

Jackson said 400 facilities may have to apply for a greenhouse gas permit during the first half of 2011, and another 1,700 during the second half. 

By 2013, an additional 3,000 facilities would have to seek a permit, Jackson said. But she also cautioned that the rule was still being written and that its effects were therefore unknown.