EPA denies request to regulate coal mine methane emissions

“[T]he threat of climate change is so large and the window for action is so narrow that we do not have the luxury of ignoring any significant source of emissions,” Waxman and Whitehouse wrote.

The EPA said budgetary constraints and a need for the agency to “prioritize its actions" led to its ruling.

Waxman and Whitehouse have consistently pushed Obama to pull administrative levers on climate issues while Capitol Hill appears immovable on the issue.

EarthJustice and other green groups have pushed the Obama administration to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, as the White House did when it proposed emissions rules for new coal-fired power plants.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate pollutants that endanger the public health. A 2007 Supreme Court ruling added greenhouse gas emissions into that category.

Republicans and industry have pushed back against the EPA’s use of the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions from stationary sources. They say the agency used a legally questionable method to “tailor” the rule to only large emitters, such as power plants.

Conservatives and business groups have waged political, legal and lobbying battles on the topic, arguing the White House has overstepped its authority and that the rules stunt the economy.

With a gridlocked Congress unlikely to act on climate legislation, environmentalists and liberal Democrats see executive action as the best near-term option for managing emissions.

Waxman and Whitehouse alluded to that in their letter. They quoted President Obama’s February State of the Union address in which the president said he would take executive action if Congress fails to act on climate change.

“Since the President said those words over two months ago, Congress unfortunately has shown no signs of acting. Now the federal agencies must start to act,” Waxman and Whitehouse wrote, adding, “Regrettably, your decision on coal mines is not a promising start. It does not meet the President’s standard, and we hope you will reconsider.”

— This story was updated at 2:53 p.m.