Climate change debate ready to heat up

Policies surrounding climate change are poised to heat up in 2014 as major aspects of President Obama's climate plan come to fruition.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce historic final standards aimed at curbing carbon emissions from the nation's power plants in June, but not before lawmakers and industry groups give their two cents on the issue.

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Next year, Republicans are expected to continue the crusade against the administration's climate regulations, which they have dubbed the "war on coal."

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, blasted the administration and EPA consistently throughout 2013 on the "faulty" science behind the new climate regulations and a "lack of transparency."

Vitter said in his year-end review of Obama's Climate Action Plan that Republicans on EPW will continue to push for oversight hearings on the administration's climate agenda in 2014.

Vitter touts on his website that his specific focus on energy issues includes "shedding light on EPA overregulation that is crushing jobs and preventing a strong economic recovery."

He will get his chance to assail federal officials when the environment committee holds climate change hearings. According to a congressional source, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), EPW chairwoman, will announce the first hearing, on the president's climate agenda, for Jan. 16.

Also, expect noise from oil groups and environmentalists in 2014 as the State Department's final environmental impact statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is due to be released in the coming weeks.

The debate surrounding Keystone XL can hurt Obama's climate agenda if he goes against his promise to reject the pipeline, and it is found to significantly contribute to carbon emissions.

As the U.S. attempts to lead other nations toward strong climate standards, the expansion of oil explorations in the Arctic will be a prime subject of debate in 2014.

As for the rest of the Senate's agenda in early 2014, EPW plans to tackle chemical safety, oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and oversight of the renewable fuel mandate, among other issues.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's top three priorities include a markup on the nuclear waste bill introduced by a bipartisan group of senators in April, and bringing back the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, an aide to committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.