Democrats Plan to Neuter EPA's Climate Regs

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 4:48 PM EST

West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Tuesday re-introduced his legislation that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act for the next two years. Rockefeller offered the same bill last year, though it never went to a vote. This time he's joined by six other Democrats who are calling for a temporary time-out on the EPA regulations that began phasing in on Jan. 2.

Democrats Jim Webb (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Tim Johnson (SD), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Kent Conrad (ND) have signed on as co-sponsors to Rockefeller's bill. Their statement calls for granting Congress "enough time" to pass a climate bill, rather than regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. (Not mentioning, of course, that it's now been four years since the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could and should start this process, in the absence of a new climate-specific law.)

"We must give Congress enough time to consider a comprehensive energy bill to develop the clean coal technologies we need and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, protect West Virginia and improve our environment," said Rockefeller in a statement. "We can address emissions and secure a future for the U.S. coal industry, but we need the time to get it right and to move clean coal technology forward."

"I do not believe that Congress should cede its authority over an issue as important as climate change to unelected officials of the Executive Branch," said Webb, also in a statement. "It is critical to our environment and our national security that we move towards more responsible energy policy, but Congress—not the EPA—should enact any changes, and be accountable to the American people for them."

Manchin, who fired a rifle at a replica of the climate bill in a campaign ad last fall, accused the EPA of being an "adversary" on energy and "undermining our fragile economy."

When a similar effort to handcuff the EPA on climate was put to a vote last year, two other current Democratic senators also voted for it—Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.). That measure failed last June, but the conversation has shifted much farther to the right in the past seven months. Republicans in the Senate, led by John Barrasso of Wyoming, yesterday introduced their own bill that would permanently bar the EPA from acting on climate, under any and all environmental laws. Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) are also reportedly collaborating on a bicameral bill that would be similarly aggressive. Meanwhile, the Republican takeover of the House has made it almost inevitable that they'll pass some sort of legislation blocking the EPA rules with ease. And then you've got Newt Gingrich, a would-be GOP presidential contender, out campaigning to abolish the agency entirely.

The real threat now is that the litany of bills from Republicans will serve to make Rockefeller's time-out look like the modest proposal, far less threatening than what the GOP wants to do.