OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Spending bill looms as venue for climate battle

State of Play: The next battle over EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations could be on the House floor.

House Republicans are expected to release a spending package Thursday to keep the government running beyond early March, and hope to bring the measure to the floor next week.

In addition to proposing deep cuts in EPA spending, the continuing resolution could include a provision to hamstring EPA’s power to regulate emissions from power plants, factories and other sources.

But sources on and off Capitol Hill say a stronger possibility would be a floor amendment next week to block EPA – either through a funding limitation or outright removal of the agency’s authority.

GOP leadership aides declined comment Wednesday. But an energy lobbyist predicts an amendment next week. “There is a political element in the Speaker’s office that wants to force a vote on it,” the lobbyist said.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a senior member (and former chairman) of the Energy and Commerce Committee, suggested Wednesday that an amendment could be in the offing.

“I do think it’s fair to put funding restrictions within the CR generically if it saves money and if we have federal agencies operating outside what we consider to be their legislative authority,” Barton told reporters, adding that he expects an “open rule” on the House floor, which means lawmakers will have a chance to offer amendments.

While plans to curb EPA’s power are also backed by some centrist Democrats, they face major hurdles in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority. But provisions attached to a must-pass spending bill nonetheless complicate things for climate advocates.

Senate Republicans have also floated bills to block EPA, while Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has legislation to suspend regulation for two years that has attracted several Democrats.

Regardless of the chances in the Senate, passage of anti-EPA amendments in the House would nonetheless be a major political rebuke of the White House green agenda.

GOP opponents of EPA rules sought to build their case Wednesday with a high-profile hearing in the Energy and Commerce Committee -- one that featured EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson facing a barrage of lawmakers’ attacks.

One former Capitol Hill aide who now works on energy issues said Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are bracing for upcoming efforts to scuttle EPA climate rules or other EPA regulations that Republicans oppose, even though the specific committee and floor plans are unclear.

“They are planning,” the former aide said, “for anything and everything.”

NEWS BITES:

Industry groups to target EPA rules at oversight hearing

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) will use a hearing Thursday to begin to build a case against the Obama administration's green agenda.

Industry groups plan to target Environmental Protection Agency regulations, among other administration regulations, at the hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs. The hearing will focus on “regulatory impediments to job creation.”

The hearing comes as Issa sent letters to a series of industry groups seeking to identify Obama administration regulations that could harm the economy. As The Hill reported this week, EPA rules were identified by industry groups as some of the most burdensome regulations.

The National Association of Manufacturers will slam EPA air rules during the hearing.

“There is no doubt that enormous benefits have been brought to our nation from efforts to improve air quality,” NAM President Jay Timmons says in written testimony he provided to the committee. “But the continued ratcheting down of emission limits produces diminishing returns at far higher marginal costs. This means that each new air rule will have a greater impact on job creation than those in the past.”

Timmons will specifically criticize EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, arguing they create uncertainty for manufacturers. “[A]lthough these regulations start with the largest facilities, the stage has been set to regulate even the smallest manufacturers,” his written comments say. “The possibility creates an overhang of uncertainty that casts a dark shadow on the future of manufacturing in this country.”

Timmons will also target the agency's air pollution control standards for industrial boilers.

Another witness, Tom Nassif, President of the Western Governors Association, will focus on the Endangered Species Act. Nassif will argue that ESA protections for salmon and smelt have affected water supplies necessary for the survival of California farms. The Western Growers Association represents fruit, vegetable and tree nut growers in California and Arizona. The group will also criticize EPA’s pending GHG rules.

Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said the chairman plans to listen closely to what industry groups have to say. “This is all about listening,” Bardella said, adding that the hearing is "the beginning of a broad conversation."

“Everything that they say may not be right, but some it must be,” Bardella said.

Kerry calls on Obama not to cut LIHEAP funding

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called on President Obama Wednesday to abandon plans to cut funding for a program, known as the Low Income Home Energy Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP), that provides assistance to low-income Americans who need to heat their homes in the winter.

"We simply cannot afford to cut LIHEAP funding during one of the most brutal winters in history," Kerry said in a letter to Obama. "Families across Massachusetts, and the country, depend on these monies to heat their homes and survive the season."

A source familiar with the budget request said President Obama will propose to cut LIHEAP funding by about $2.5 billion. The program had been funded at $5.1 billion. The proposed appropriation level in the budget will be $2.57 billion, the same amount as the fiscal year 2008 appropriations for the program, the source notes. The news was first reported by the National Journal.

Chu won’t predict fate of oil tax break repeal effort

Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Wednesday touted White House plans to repeal roughly $4 billion annually in oil-and-gas industry tax breaks. “There is really no need to subsidize those companies,” he said, noting robust profits.

But he declined to handicap the chances of Capitol Hill approval of plans to repeal incentives. Similar efforts have sputtered in recent years. “My crystal ball is no better than yours. Let me just say it’s the right thing to do,” Chu said at renewable energy event at Interior Department headquarters.

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and other House Democrats will make the case for removing industry tax breaks at a press conference Thursday.

House Republican wants Jackson to testify again next week

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) invited EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Wednesday to a hearing he’s holding in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee next week. Shimkus, pressed by reporters about the topic of the hearing, said it will focus on environmental regulations broadly. But the hearing will not be climate-focused, as Shimkus’ subcommittee does not have jurisdiction over greenhouse gas emissions.

An EPA spokesman told The Hill Wednesday that Jackson hasn’t received a formal invitation yet. “We haven't even received a formal invite with details, etc - once we do we'll check to see if the Administrator's around,” EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said.

Public health officials call on lawmakers to preserve EPA climate rules


A coalition of public health groups called on lawmakers Wednesday not to block efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

“As health and medical professionals, we are keenly aware of the health impacts of air pollution.  Air pollution is linked to a wide range of health consequences including cancer, asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes,” the officials said in a letter to lawmakers. “The Clean Air Act guarantees all Americans, especially the most vulnerable, air that is safe and healthy to breathe.”

ON TAP THURSDAY:

House panel looks at Egypt turmoil and U.S. energy markets


The Energy and Power Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled “The Effects of Middle East Events on U.S. Energy Markets.” The panel is part of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Witnesses will include Richard Newell, the head of the Energy Information Administration, which the Energy Department’s statistical analysis arm.

“Recent events in Egypt have highlighted dynamics in global energy markets and underscored our nation’s vulnerabilities to price spikes,” an advisory states.

Green group poll explores views on blocking EPA

The Natural Resources Defense Council will release a survey taken in several congressional districts of public attitudes about GOP plans to block EPA climate rules. Prediction: the poll will show the public doesn’t want to curtail EPA.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

E2 reported Wednesday that Republicans are eyeing spending legislation to block the Interior Department’s wilderness policy; we told you about efforts by liberal groups to paint Republicans as pawns of industry; we outlined GOP plans to cut Energy Department and EPA funding; and we told you about the Interior Department’s progress on getting companies to conform with their offshore drilling standards.

Later, we reported on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s hearing on EPA climate regulations. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson came face-to-face with her critics and Republicans pushed back against Democrats’ claims that they would “gut” the Clean Air Act.

Toward the end of the day, we told you about new plans to break the country’s reliance on foreign oil and a call by Louisiana lawmakers for BP to pay for restoring Gulf oyster beds.

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

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