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House panel advances bill to limit greenhouse gas restrictions

The legislation is approved in a largely party-line vote. It's unlikely to win much support in the Democratic-ruled Senate.

March 16, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — A House committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, boosting a top Republican priority and taking aim at the Obama administration and states like California that favor tougher regulations.

The bill was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a largely party-line vote. Republicans argued that action by the EPA, coming after Congress failed to pass a global warming bill, would impose burdensome and unnecessary rules on industry.

Democrats cast the measure as a skirmish in an ongoing GOP war on the science of global warming. The bill is unlikely to win significant support in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.

Introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the bill is a reaction to a 2007 Supreme Court decision holding that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases if they were found to endanger health. In 2009, the EPA made such a finding and began preparing rules to restrict carbon emissions, as it does with other pollutants.

Amending the Clean Air Act to thwart that effort has become a leading goal for the oil, gas and power industries and their allies in Congress. The issue also has been embraced by small-government conservatives of the "tea party" movement, who characterize the EPA's move as government overreach.

But as gas prices began to rise in response to unrest in the Middle East, Republicans shifted their focus to the potential effect on energy costs.

EPA regulations would probably have a significant effect on oil refineries — one of the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Those refineries would pass additional costs on to consumers, Republicans said.

"Make no mistake — if we allow the EPA to move forward unchecked, its actions will only drive gasoline and other energy prices higher," Upton said.

Democrats on the committee noted that energy costs were already rising even though the regulations were not in place. They said the bill would only bolster U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and hamstring efforts to take action on global warming.

By overturning the EPA finding on the danger of greenhouse gases, Republicans in the House were overriding the consensus of the scientific community "in the same way the Vatican was able to repeal the finding of Galileo," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

California officials are watching the bill closely. A section of the legislation prevents the EPA from issuing a waiver that allows the state to enact vehicle emissions standards that are tougher than federal rules. Without such a waiver, the state would be forced to accept the lower standards on vehicles with model years 2017 or later, according to a Democratic analysis of the bill.

Upton's legislation is expected to pass easily when it reaches the House floor, probably later this spring. An amendment with similar wording was already attached to a spending bill and approved by the House.

But the bill's outlook in the Senate is much dimmer. As the House committee voted Tuesday, Democrats in the Senate criticized a similar amendment introduced by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, vowed to fight "these reckless attacks on the Clean Air Act that jeopardize public health." 

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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