New legal petitions by states and others, combined with Democrats’ historic congressional victory Sunday night on health care reform, are further complicating the multifaceted struggle over federal climate policy.

US CapitolTexas was one of three states (Virginia and Alabama were the other two) filing legal challenges last month against possible regulation of greenhouse gases by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act. Sixteen states and New York City had previously sided with the EPA in favor of regulation.

By last week’s deadline for filing motions, 14 more states (including Texas neighbors Louisiana and Oklahoma) were also formally challenging the EPA, while two others asked court permission to side with the agency in the legal battle, the Greenwire news service reported.

Meanwhile, Greenwire reported that 22 industry and business organizations had filed motions in support of the anti-regulation petitioners. A Virginia-based wetlands protection group asked court permission to support the EPA and another environmental advocacy group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, asked to be granted advisory, friend-of-the-court status in the dispute.

The Obama administration has indicated that it will move ahead with the EPA’s proposed regulation of carbon dioxide and other atmosphere-warming pollutants under the existing Clean Air Act unless Congress passes a new law to do that.

The Senate is the current focus of attention on the congressional front in the climate-policy war, where Democratic Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have been working on an energy-climate bill.

What will the House’s fiercely contested approval of Senate-passed health insurance bill mean for the prospects of major legislation on energy policy –another highly contentious issue? Opinions in the immediate aftermath of the health care vote differed.

The Bloomberg news service’s Edwin Chen and Julianna Goldman reported that “several House members” predicted President Barack Obama “will likely be forced to scale back energy and climate-change legislation” following his all-out effort to win passage of health care reform.

The Bloomberg assessment concluded:

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the health-care debate wouldn’t cause Obama to think small, arguing that the administration’s successes are cumulative.

Some analysts disagree with that calculation.

The president, starting with the economic-stimulus bill, “pushed Democrats into casting a lot of unpopular votes,” said George Edwards, a presidential historian at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. “And now people will be saying: ‘Don’t ask me to cast more that are going to end my career.’”

Edwards said the divisions created by the health-care fight create some possibilities. Obama may “emphasize things that have more support, that are less divisive, that are more positive – jobs and the economy,” he said.

Still, the administration is reportedly planning a campaign to win public favor for the health care bill, and the Reuters news service noted that if there is growing support for the new law, it “could give [Obama] momentum on a range of other signature causes, including job creation bills, his proposed financial regulatory package, immigration reform and climate change.”

James Murray, writing for the British Web publication BusinessGreen, saw House approval of the health care measure providing “a major boost” to climate legislation’s prospects because the administration and Democratic leaders in both houses say they favor forging ahead on the issue in Congress.

Murray noted that the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham approach to climate and energy policy (which has not yet taken the form of a proposed bill) also drew positive comments from both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday and from a coalition of prominent environmental groups on Friday.

Ben German, reporter for the Washington newspaper The Hill, reported that following a meeting of the three senators and industry trade groups, the Chamber’s top lobbyist, Bruce Josten, said the lawmakers’ approach was “largely in sync” with industry wishes on climate policy:

Josten’s comments were hedged and careful, but they were far removed from the Chamber’s strong criticism of the climate bill the House approved last year.

“The fairest comment would be, directionally speaking, the way they are trying to conform and shape this bill I would suggest is largely in sync with what most people in American industry think is the direction you are going to have to go if you are going to have a successful program,” Josten said.


Josten also said: “They are being very constructive, they are trying to figure out how to make this work for the American economy, the different sectors of the economy that are going to be affected one way or another, and I think just as, if not more importantly, for the American consumer.”

The coalition of 20 influential environmental groups issued this statement on Friday following their own meeting with Kerry:

We are encouraged by the progress being made by Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman to craft comprehensive climate and energy legislation to bring to the Senate floor later this year.

Their stated goal and commitment to a 17 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 represents the leadership needed by the U.S. Senate to create jobs, increase energy security, reduce carbon pollution and protect public health. Legislative details are important, and are not settled yet, and we will be working closely with the senators, their staffs and others to make sure these details achieve the goals.

The Hill summed up some tentative elements of the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham approach:

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are scrapping the “economy-wide” cap-and-trade bill the House approved in favor of a more sector-by-sector approach. This would include a cap-and-trade plan for power plants, while greenhouse gases from motor fuels would instead be addressed through a consumer fee.

The senators are also planning to add sweeteners – such as major financial support for new nuclear power plants and “clean coal” projects, as well as wider offshore drilling – to attract support from industry and centrist Democrats and Republicans.

– Bill Dawson

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