Top Republican eyes Congressional Review Act challenge to EPA rules

The incoming chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee indicated Sunday that Republicans will seek to employ a rarely-used statute to block Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas rules.

“We are not going let this administration regulate what they have been unable to legislate,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Upton said the Congressional Review Act — a mid-1990s law that was part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) “Contract with America” — provides an opening to kill emissions regulations.

The Act allows Congress to overturn federal rules but has been used successfully just once; an attempt to kill EPA rules with it sputtered in the Senate last year. But ascendant Republicans plan to dust it off in the new Congress.

Resolutions under the Act have an easy path to the Senate floor and cannot be filibustered.

An attempt to outright kill EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would face a near-certain veto. But Upton noted that some Democrats oppose EPA rules as well.

“It can be vetoed by the President, but already we have seen a number of powerful Democrats indicate that they have real, real qualms what the EPA is intending to do,” Upton said.

EPA’s rules for new or overhauled industrial plants with large greenhouse gas emissions begin taking effect Sunday on a case-by-case basis, and the agency last month laid out plans to set national emissions standards for power plants and refineries specifically in 2012.

Upton and other Republicans say the rules will harm the economy. They allege the White House is doing an end-run around Congress by regulating emissions even though climate legislation collapsed on Capitol Hill.

But Obama administration officials say they taking a common-sense approach to following a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision that shoved EPA toward controlling heat-trapping emissions under the Clean Air Act after years of inaction.

Upton said Sunday that he plans to hold hearings soon to probe EPA’s analyses of the rules’ effects on jobs and the economy.

Asked whether he believes greenhouse gases are a problem in need of addressing at all, Upton replied, “we want to do this in a reasonable way,” and cited the need to boost development of energy sources like low-emissions coal, nuclear power and natural gas to meet growing demand.

“I don’t think that we have to regulate carbon to the degree that we have a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system,” Upton said, adding that “this regulation process is not the way to proceed” either.

Republicans and some Democrats are eyeing other avenues to stymie EPA as well, such as riders on spending bills that would block implementation.

And Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is seeking action on his plan to delay the rules for two years.