Rockefeller May Not Offer Bill on Regulation Of Greenhouse Gases, Cites Attacks on EPA

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Nov. 17 that he will drop his quest for a two-year delay of Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas rules for power plants next year if he cannot get the bill to the floor this year, saying he fears a 2011 vote would only aid expected Republican attacks on EPA.

Rockefeller, who met Nov. 16 with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in hopes of getting floor time set aside for the measure, told BNA Reid did not offer any specific assurances.

Asked if he will continue his quest to get a vote on the bill (S. 3072) during the remaining weeks of the lame-duck session, however, Rockefeller said: “Yes. If I wait until next year the House could ruin it. They could completely eliminate the whole agency, and I don't want that.”

Republican gains in the Nov. 2 midterm elections gave them control of the House in 2011, but Democrats retained control of the Senate, despite the six additional seats gained by Republicans (41 ER 2449, 11/05/10).

Reid told reporters Nov. 16 before meeting with Rockefeller that it is unclear whether he could bring the measure to the floor in the next few weeks given that floor time for the lame-duck session is at a premium.

Rockefeller told BNA that he and Reid “had a terrific conversation about various opportunities” in the meeting, but that he got no specific assurance for when the bill, known as the Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act, could be brought to the floor.

Rockefeller's bid to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other stationary sources for two years was viewed as a compromise that undercut Republican attempts to strip the agency of that authority. Democrats defeated a Senate resolution (S.J. Res. 26) brought to the floor in June by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (I-Alaska), but only after Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and other coal state Democrats were assured by Reid of a vote on Rockefeller's alternative (41 ER 1291, 6/11/10).

The EPA rules are scheduled to go into effect in January.

Webb told colleagues on the Senate floor just before voting against the resolution June 10 that the majority leader “has assured me of his willingness to bring the Rockefeller bill to a vote this year.”

Democrats Discuss Piecemeal Climate Efforts.

Democrats who led the ill-fated campaign for Senate cap-and-trade legislation regrouped Nov. 16 to explore piecemeal approaches that they believe could get Republican support in the next Congress, including incentives for more low-carbon energy and energy efficiency.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.) led the effort to get cap-and-trade legislation to the floor in the summer, told BNA the meeting “wasn't about cap-and-trade--it was on energy and climate generally, what we think is possible, and where we're going--a broad array of menu items.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, also attended. She told BNA a top climate priority in 2011 will be ensuring that any energy or climate bill does not preclude EPA or states like California that are working to address greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of congressional action.

“Protecting the states is critical from my point of view, but it's not only California but Western states that have moved to address this problem, as well as the Northeast,” Boxer said. Ten New England and Mid-Atlantic states have set limits on power plant carbon dioxide emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Other senators attending the Nov. 16 meeting included Lieberman, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Lieberman Urges Outreach to Republicans.

After a Senate Democratic caucus meeting Nov. 17, Lieberman told reporters Democrats “should sit down with a group of Republicans that are all interested in energy independence legislation and say, 'OK, last year we battled each other. So what can we agree on?’ ”

That group, Lieberman said, would include Murkowski as well as Tennessee Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander.

“The approach we had [to energy and climate] last year--though most of us around the table still think it's the best approach, namely cap and trade--is off the table,” Lieberman said. “I don't have to tell you it's a different Congress with probably less support for doing anything about climate change,” he said.

Corker told BNA Nov. 17 that he was encouraged by recent comments from President Obama suggesting Congress could pass smaller bills in lieu of a comprehensive package and still make progress in addressing climate change and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

“But I think whatever is done this Congress, this senator for sure is going to want it to be very simple and transparent,” Corker said. He said he could support energy legislation that encourages carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants, includes increased incentives for nuclear power, and supports more production of natural gas.

By Dean Scott