House Passes Bill to Scrap EPA Authority; Measure Gets Support From 19 Democrats

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On a 255-172 vote, the House approved a bill April 7 that would scrap the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but its passage was undercut by the defeat of an identical Senate proposal one day earlier.

Nineteen Democrats joined 236 Republicans in voting for the measure (H.R. 910), which was introduced by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in March and swiftly moved to the House floor. Revoking EPA's climate authority has been a top priority for House Republicans, who have labeled the regulations job-killers.

The House approval came a day after efforts to delay or otherwise limit EPA's authority were easily defeated in the Senate, with none of the proposals gathering more than 50 votes on the floor--10 short of the 60 needed for approval. (See related article in this issue.)

Although the Upton bill is not likely to be passed by the Senate, industry groups say its passage in the House indicates growing support for limiting EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

EPA also faces a separate threat to its authority as House and Senate leaders continued talks toward a compromise on a spending bill to avert a government shutdown the weekend of April 9. House Republicans want any deal to include a prohibition against EPA regulations they included in an earlier funding bill (H.R. 1), but Senate Democratic leaders and the White House have vowed to defend EPA's authority. (See related article in this issue.)

Upton's House bill would block EPA rules that took effect Jan. 2 to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other stationary sources under the Clean Air Act's prevention of significant deterioration program. There were no Republican votes against the bill, and 19 Democrats voted for it: Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), John Barrow (Ga.), Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Tim Holden (Pa.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Ben Chandler (Ky.), Jim Costa (Calif.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Mark Critz (Pa.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Mike Ross (Ark.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), and Terri Sewell (Ala.).

The Upton measure also would repeal EPA's greenhouse gas reporting requirements and nullify a 2009 scientific finding in which the agency said such emissions endanger public health. Reversing the endangerment finding also would ensure that EPA is barred from regulating such emissions in the future.

Only One Amendment Accepted.

The House bill was approved with only a single Democratic amendment from Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) that would essentially exempt voluntary climate change programs from the prohibitions of EPA's authority. The House defeated 11 others, including one from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) designed to put the chamber on record as accepting that global warming is occurring and is largely caused by human actions.

Industry groups generally welcomed House passage of the EPA prohibitions, while environmental groups said the action weakened public health protections.

National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said that while the nation's unemployment rate “has edged down slightly, Americans still desperately need jobs” and that EPA’s rules “would prevent job creation and economic growth.”

“The EPA is pursuing an aggressive regulatory agenda that creates uncertainty for manufacturers and will ultimately allow the agency to regulate everything from manufacturing facilities to hospitals and schools,” Timmons said in a news statement.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski issued a statement criticizing the House for voting to “protect polluter profits and weaken public health protections.”

“With identical legislation having failed in the Senate yesterday, it's clear that this vote was purely to show corporate campaign contributors that their allies in Congress are fighting for them,” Karpinski said. “It's a travesty that when given the opportunity to defend vital clean air safeguards, these members chose instead to block the EPA from doing its job to protect the health of American families.”

Tenuous EPA Support in Senate.

The Senate voted down four proposals to limit EPA's authority April 6, all of them offered to small business legislation (S. 493) still pending on the Senate floor.

The most damaging to EPA's authority--offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and identical to the House-passed bill--got 50 votes. Four Democrats voted for the Republican proposal: Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.). One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), voted against the Republican amendment.

But Republicans noted that 17 Democrats voted for either McConnell's measure or one of the Democratic alternatives to at least delay or otherwise limit EPA's greenhouse gas authority. Republicans touted those votes as a bellwether that signals increasing congressional support for reining in EPA's rules.

In addition to the four Democrats voting for McConnell's measure, the following Democrats voted for at least one of the Democratic alternatives limiting or delaying the greenhouse gas rules: Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jim Webb (Va.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.), and Carl Levin (Mich.).

By Dean Scott