GOP sees looming 2012 elections as key to blocking climate rules

Republicans are banking on the looming 2012 election to provide a political boost for their efforts to undercut the Environmental Protection Agency's pending climate change rules this year.

While a bill blocking EPA’s climate authority is likely to pass the House, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate, as well as a potential veto from President Obama.

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Still, Republicans are planning to push forward with the legislation, hoping the threat of the 2012 elections will yield support from vulnerable Democrats in states that will be most affected by EPA rules. Even if the bill ultimately fails to become law, Republicans will attempt to force a vote on the issue in order to get Democrats on the record in anticipation of next year’s election.

“This is going to be a year to shape legislation in terms of the presidential race in 2012,” a Senate Republican aide involved with efforts to block EPA climate rules said, arguing that fears of repercussions back home might convince fence-sitting lawmakers to support the bill.

Republican plans to block efforts by the Obama EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions are quickly coming into focus. House Republicans, with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) at the helm, will outline a plan to permanently block the agency’s upcoming climate rules in the coming weeks, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) will introduce similar legislation Monday.

"We're going to try to pass what we think is right out of the House. We're going to make every effort that we can do to get it through the Senate," Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), who chairs a key House Energy subcommittee and is playing a major role in efforts to block EPA climate rules, told The Hill recently. "And if the president vetoes it, then one thing that's going to do is elevate these issues for the 2012 presidential election."

In order to improve the chances the Senate passes the legislation, staff for key Republicans lawmakers in both the House and Senate are working together closely on strategy.

The Republican Senate aide said House lawmakers will work to pass their legislation first, with an eye toward finding some support among Democrats.

“An Upton-led bill supported by members in the Senate could gain some real momentum,” the aide said. “Having strong bipartisan support in the House would help in the Senate.”

The aide said Republicans are working behind-the-scenes to identify Democrats who could support the bill to preempt EPA’s climate authority.

“We know we have Democrats in the Senate that want to do something, and there will be even more of a desire to get something done early, as opposed to debating it near the election,” the aide said.

But so far, there is little indication Democrats like Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who support a two-year delay in EPA climate rules, would vote in favor of legislation to permanently block the agency’s authority. Rockefeller told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol that he does not support such legislation.

Rockefeller will soon reintroduce his legislation delaying EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions for two years.

“We will likely move on it shortly,” Rockefeller spokesman Vincent Morris said.

But another looming question is whether Republicans will support his bill or Barrasso’s. So far, it’s unclear where Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) support will fall. Murkowski tried and failed to pass similar legislation last year. Murkowski’s spokesman, Robert Dillon, told The Hill on Friday it’s “too early to say” whether the senator will support Barrasso’s bill.

Barrasso will introduce his legislation Monday and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will co-sponsor the bill. Emily Lawrimore, a Barrasso spokeswoman, said there will be other co-sponsors, but she declined to name them.

Lawrimore said Barrasso hopes to move the legislation through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“If it doesn’t progress in the committee, there are other legislative options,” she said.

Republicans are also mulling ways to overcome a veto from Obama. Another Republican aide closely involved in efforts to block EPA's climate authority said attaching such a proposal to must-pass legislation like a spending bill is one way of circumventing a veto threat.

Republicans will also continue to cast bills to block EPA's climate rules as essential for preventing further damage to the economy.

"If the president wants to go against a majority of Congress and veto legislation to protect the economy, that’s his option," the aide said.