White House slams Senate GOP measure to block climate rules

The White House is bashing a proposed Senate GOP amendment to small business legislation that would nullify the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.

“This amendment rolls back the Clean Air Act and harms Americans' health by taking away our ability to decrease air pollution,” Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday night.

He adds:

“Instead of holding big polluters accountable, this amendment overrules public health experts and scientists. Finally, at a time when America's families are struggling with the cost of gasoline, the amendment would undercut fuel efficiency standards that will save Americans money at the pump while also decreasing our reliance on foreign oil.”

The White House decision to weigh in directly on the amendment signifies the stakes of the escalating Republican-led effort to crush a major part of the Obama administration’s environmental agenda.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is seeking to attach Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) bill that would kill EPA climate rules to pending legislation that would reauthorize key small business programs.

The same block-EPA bill cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee Tuesday afternoon.

McConnell’s amendment – which needs 60 votes to pass – may come up for a vote as soon as Wednesday, although the plans remained fluid and unclear Tuesday night. Check out our Tuesday posts about the amendment here, here and here.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he would allow a vote on the measure, paving the way for a faster-than-anticipated climate showdown in the Senate.

The amendment faces major hurdles to passage, but it would be a tough vote for politically vulnerable centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans. Inhofe’s bill has 43 co-sponsors, including one Democrat thus far: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

A majority vote for the amendment would be a political setback for advocates of EPA’s efforts to curb emissions, even if it fell short of the 60 needed for adoption.

McConnell said in the Capitol Tuesday afternoon that he is “optimistic that there will be bipartisan support” for the measure.

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) entered the fray Tuesday night by offering his less-aggressive plan to block EPA as an amendment to the small business bill as well.

His plan would delay EPA’s regulations for stationary sources like power plants and refineries for two years, while preserving the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

His plan could sap some Democratic support for the GOP-led amendment.

Republicans announced their plan to amend the small business bill Tuesday, pouncing on the recent rise in gasoline prices and alleging that killing climate rules EPA has begun phasing in would help stem increases.

“Gas prices are soaring again. And every time this happens, we're reminded that there are a lot of policies that we've been following, which exacerbate the problem,” McConnell said in the Capitol, calling Inhofe’s bill “the best solution that I've seen.”

But opponents of plans to block EPA rules are increasingly pushing back against claims that thwarting the regulations would help stop rising gasoline prices.

For instance, they have been circulating an analysis by the independent fact-checking group PolitiFact that labeled the gas price claim “false.”