Bill to block EPA rules advances after spat on climate science

Republicans on a key House panel approved a bill Tuesday that would permanently block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a 34-19 vote. The bill won the support of every Republican and three Democrats: Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and John Barrow (Ga.).

It’s the latest step forward for the legislation, which would prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants and refineries. The bill, authored by House Energy Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is expected to come up on the House floor in the coming weeks.

"We have lost one in five manufacturing jobs in the last number of years," Upton said. "There are a good number of us that believe in fact that these new EPA regulations will increase costs for every manufacturer out there."

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has introduced companion legislation to the House bill.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved Tuesday to force a showdown on the Senate floor. He introduced an amendment to a small business bill that would block EPA climate rules. The amendment mirrors the Upton-Inhofe legislation. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agreed to hold a vote on McConnell's amendment.

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, though they likely knew the bill would pass the panel, put up a fight Tuesday at the nearly seven-hour markup. They offered a slew of amendments designed to get Republicans on the record on key issues.

For example, Democrats offered three amendments designed to get Republicans on the record on climate science.

The first, offered by committee ranking Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), called on Congress to agree that climate change is occurring; the second, offered by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) called on lawmakers to agree that climate change is caused in large part by human activity; and the third, offered by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) called on lawmakers to agree that climate change endangers human health and welfare.

All three amendments failed on party-line votes with no Republican support.

The GOP rejection of the amendments shows "what it means to be on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of science," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said.

But Republicans countered that the bill to block EPA climate rules is not about science, it’s about regulations that could harm the economy.

“For us to be sitting around talking about the science, I think it’s a strong argument to be made on the other side, but the issue here is that the Clean Air Act is not the appropriate vehicle to regulate something like this,” Whitfield said.

“I think my friend from Kentucky made a good argument about why he doesn’t want to see regulation, but it wasn’t a very convincing argument about why you would reject this amendment,” Waxman countered.

Later, Republicans and Democrats agreed to a “sense of Congress” amendment offered by Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) that says there is “scientific concern over warming of the climate system.”

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Waxman expressed frustration that Republicans agreed to the Matheson amendment, but not the other climate science amendments.

“[Climate change] exists enough to have ‘scientific concern.’ All right, at least we have that,” Waxman said. “If that’s the best you can do, I find it somewhat lame. But better lame than nothing.”

Other amendments offered by Democrats were also rejected Tuesday.

They include an amendment to allow the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act if the resulting regulations would reduce demand for oil; an amendment to prohibit implementation of the GOP bill to block EPA rules until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that climate change is not a threat to public health; and an amendment to conduct a study on the bill’s potential affects on asthma in children.