Senate snubs limits on greenhouse gas regulation

GOP setback buoys climate and energy bill

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The US Senate defeated a bid yesterday to limit federal regulation of greenhouse gases, instead siding with the White House and environmentalists who said regulators must have sufficient tools to fight climate change.

The GOP-backed resolution would have denied the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to implement carbon dioxide emissions rules crafted under the federal Clean Air Act. By rejecting the measure, 53 to 47, senators buoyed a more comprehensive climate and energy bill championed by Senator John F. Kerry.

Opponents of the resolution, referring frequently to the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, said it made no sense to undermine efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.

“Why is it that the United States of America is more dependent today on foreign oil than we were before Sept. 11?’’ Kerry said during a fiery floor speech. “Because we haven’t done anything — nothing — to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We have an opportunity to do it now. This is about that.’’

If the measure had passed, it would have undercut a major argument for his climate change legislation. The Massachusetts Democrat has been using the threat of EPA regulations, which he said could be far-reaching, as a pitch for business leaders and Republicans to join his more comprehensive legislation. His bill would prohibit the EPA from developing its own rules, while instead putting a price on carbon emissions.

The EPA has ruled that greenhouse gases threaten public health, and the agency added regulations that would require some plants to get a permit.

The White House earlier this week had issued a veto threat against the GOP resolution.

Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts joined his GOP colleagues in backing the resolution, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowsky, an Alaska Republican. He said that the EPA would create unwarranted regulations that hurt businesses and that Congress, not a federal regulator, should determine the policy.

“This action would give an unelected and unaccountable government agency the power to impose restrictive and damaging carbon dioxide regulations that will drive up energy prices and hurt job-creating small businesses in our country,’’ Brown wrote in an op-ed article yesterday in The Cape Cod Times. “The bottom line is that we cannot have every restaurant owner or small farmer worried about the costs of complying with new carbon dioxide emissions restrictions.’’

Murkowski’s resolution had 40 cosponsors, including Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

“Bay State businesses don’t need the federal government arbitrarily passing down restrictions that would dramatically restrict their potential for growth by saddling them with higher costs,’’ Brown wrote.

The EPA crafted standards on greenhouse gas emissions by big polluters after the Supreme Court ruled that those emissions could be considered a danger to human health and thus could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The rules are scheduled to go into effect next January.

The poor chances of the anti-EPA measure overcoming a veto and becoming law did not deter fierce debate.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called the new regulations a “blatant power grab by the administration and the EPA.’’

“The administration has shifted course and is now trying to get done through the back door what they haven’t been able to get done through the front door,’’ he said, referring to Kerry’s stalled legislation.

But Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, called the blocking measure, “a great big gift to big oil’’ that would “increase pollution, increase our dependence on foreign oil and stall our efforts to create jobs’’ in clean energy.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he anticipated the Senate taking up the broader energy bill in the next several weeks “and hopefully we can get something done before Congress adjourns this year.’’

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Viser can be reached at