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Legislative Watch February 4, 2011

Legislative Watch

Posted February 4, 2011 in U.S. Law and Policy

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The 112th Congress convened on 1/5. Although the Senate was out of session most of the month, members in both chambers introduced a number of bills to block environmental regulations. In February, attention will shift to the budget, with the House taking up spending measures for the current fiscal year, and the president issuing his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012.

Clean Air

House members have introduced five bills to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act authority. The most serious threat is a bill Rep. Upton (R-MI), the chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, released on 2/2. The bill would eliminate the EPA’s authority to issue regulations for the purpose of limiting climate change, and repeal previous EPA actions, including its finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public's health and welfare. Rep. Upton released the legislation as a discussion draft jointly with Sen. Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The House Energy and Power Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on the draft legislation for 2/9.

Three of the other bills also deal with carbon dioxide. On 1/5, Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) offered a bill to permanently eliminate the EPA’s authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions (H.R. 97). The bill, which had 113 co-sponsors as of 2/1, would nullify the Supreme Court ruling that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide. Also on the first day of the 112th Congress, Rep. Poe (R-TX) introduced a related bill, H.R. 153, which would prohibit the EPA from carrying out any market-based trading program under the Clean Air Act for greenhouse gases. Taking aim at a different EPA action, on 1/6, Rep. Carter (R-TX) introduced a bill, H.J. Res. 9, that would permanently block the EPA from reducing the soot, mercury and toxic pollution that cement plants release into the air.

In the Senate, on 1/31 Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) re-introduced his bill from last year to impose a two-year ban on the EPA’s taking any regulatory action regarding carbon dioxide and methane pollution under the Clean Air Act (S. 231). The legislation would retroactively block the first steps that took effect in January to assure that the biggest new power plants and factories are built with available and affordable controls to reduce their carbon pollution. Rep. Capito (R-WV) has introduced a similar bill (H.R. 199) in the House.

On 1/31, Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the most far-reaching legislation yet to block action against carbon dioxide pollution (S. 228). His bill would block the president, the EPA and every other arm of the federal government from taking any action that has the primary purpose of controlling global warming. The bill would even repeal the modest requirement (imposed by Congress itself in 2008) that big polluters measure and report their carbon emissions each year. Additionally, the bill would preempt many state actions to curb carbon pollution. It would take away California’s and other states’ historic authority to clean up carbon pollution from cars, and would interfere with joint efforts by the 10 northeastern states to reduce carbon pollution through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Energy

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced his energy agenda, including a call for a "Clean Energy Standard." His plan calls for producing 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean sources by 2035, doubling the number of the Department of Energy’s energy innovation hubs to six, and adding more than $8 billion for new clean energy funding in the fiscal year 2012 budget, roughly a third more than in the president’s 2010 budget request. The president’s proposal includes nuclear energy, natural gas and “clean coal” in the 80 percent figure, along with renewables.

On 1/5, Rep. Barton (R –TX) re-introduced his Better Use of Light Bulb (BULB) Act (H.R. 91), which would repeal the light bulb efficiency provisions Congress passed in 2007. Those provisions call for the gradual improvement or replacement of current incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescents, halogens and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Current incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient; 90 percent of their energy is wasted as heat. Beginning in 2012, the standards will require new bulbs to use 25 to 30 percent less energy. The light bulb standards have become a major target of conservative commentators.  

Environmental Regulations

On 1/20, Rep. Davis (R-KY) and a number of high-ranking Republicans introduced the “REINS Act” (H.R. 10, the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act), which is designed to make it more difficult to put into effect any new regulations in any policy area. The bill would require all major regulations (i.e., those with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more) to be approved by both houses of Congress and be signed into law by the president to take effect. This would reverse the century-long trend of Congress delegating regulatory authority to agencies that have technical expertise. The bill, which would pose a significant additional hurdle for environmental regulations, is co-sponsored by powerful committee chairs, including Rep. Upton (R-MI), whose Energy and Commerce Committee would be required to review many rules under the act.

Gulf Oil Disaster

On 1/11, the President’s Commission on the Deepwater Horizon disaster (on which NRDC President Frances Beinecke served) released its 380-page report, which calls for fundamental reforms in the regulation of offshore oil and gas drilling. Commission co-chairs William Reilly, former administrator of the EPA, and Bob Graham, former senator and governor from Florida, testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee on 1/26. That same day, Rep. Markey (D-MA), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced legislation (H.R. 501) that would codify the commission’s recommendations. The legislation would re-organize the Interior Department to heighten safety and environmental oversight of drilling; remove the $75 million liability cap for oil companies that are involved in a spill; dedicate 80 percent of the fines collected from the companies involved in last year's spill to Gulf of Mexico restoration efforts; and create a dedicated funding stream for oil spill clean-up research and development.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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