Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Humble exuded confidence last week that his amendment to the House-passed 2011 budget bill, co-authored by fellow Texas Republican Reps. Joe Barton of Arlington and John Carter of Round Rock, would become law and end the Obama administration’s three-month-old regulations of major industries’ greenhouse gas emissions.
“The era of the [Environmental Protection Agency] overstepping its authority by imposing over-burdensome and unnecessary regulations at the expense of American businesses is over,” Poe declared in a statement that echoed a by-now familiar refrain from key GOP leaders in Washington and Austin who oppose the climate-protection rules.
Poe’s predicted overturning of the regulations, however, was not to be. The greenhouse gas rider to the bill to keep funding the federal government was dropped by the Republican House Speaker John Boehner in a last-minute compromise with President Barack Obama and the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the weekend.
And while the GOP-controlled House passed a stand-alone bill last Thursday to block the regulations, that was largely a symbolic gesture (for the time being, at least), because the Democrat-controlled Senate had already rejected, on a 50-50 vote, a similar measure. Obama had promised to veto such a bill, meaning it would need 67 Senate votes to become law.
Despite losing those battles, however, Texas Republicans and other opponents of the federal climate regulations may still continue to wage their war against the rules in Congress.
TCN Journal sought comment on that possibility from spokesmen for the three Texas authors of the regulation-blocking rider – Poe, Barton and Carter – but none had responded by the time of this article’s posting, two days later.
On Tuesday afternoon, however, the Washington-based environmental news service E&E PM reported [subscription required] that one key Republican in the House believed some sort of legislation aimed at the climate rules still stands a good chance to win Senate approval. He focused on the sort of budget rider that the three Texans had championed.
Aside from the fiscal 2011 CR [Continuing Resolution – the appropriations bill produced by the weekend compromise], Congress will have at least two more “must pass” bills this year to fund the federal government – a bill to increase the federal debt ceiling and a bill to fund the government in fiscal 2012.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who sponsored the [separate bill to overturn the climate rules] in the House, said he had not begun discussing next steps yet but was confident a version of the bill would pass the Senate.
“We’re not done. This issue’s not going away,” he said. Upton called House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “masterful” for negotiating the deal he got on the CR and predicted that future spending legislation would include a discussion of EPA climate rules.
“No question about it,” Upton said. “No debt limit is going to pass by itself. You’ll have to have some significant pieces with it.”
Upton’s personal shift on the climate issue reflects the national GOP’s increasing embrace in the last few years of climate-science skepticism and opposition to the regulations prompted by that science.
He had previously favored “reduc[ing] carbon emissions” to limit manmade climate change that the vast majority of scientists agree is resulting, but by last December he was declaring himself “not convinced” that such pollution was “a problem in need of regulation.”
Earlier Tuesday, before the E&E PM report quoting Upton, a Washington-based environmental group leader and longtime observer of congressional maneuvering on the Clean Air Act told TCN Journal that he expects a continuing legislative effort, which some Democrats also support, to blunt the EPA rules through the budget process.
“The opponents of federal action on climate change have tasted blood. It’s like my dog going after a rabbit. They want to taste it again,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
“There is little doubt that the mainly Republican enemies of limits on greenhouse gas emissions will renew their efforts in this Congress,” O’Donnell said. “We still have major fights ahead over raising the debt ceiling and the federal budget for the year beginning Oct 1.”
In the fiscal 2011 spending bill that emerged from the compromise negotiations, opponents of the EPA regulations “demonstrated they could leverage anti-EPA riders into spending cuts,” he added, noting that the “EPA took a 16 percent reduction in the new budget deal – much bigger than many agencies and departments, while spending on climate activities [by all agencies] was cut across the board.”
One example of the bill’s climate-related impact beyond the EPA was in legislative language to prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from creating a new National Climate Service, which the Obama administration had wanted to do by reorganizing existing operations.
NOAA, which runs the National Weather Service, said the new Climate Service would “more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities.”
Texas Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall, a Republican who was once a Democrat and chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, had sponsored the successful amendment to block the establishment of the Climate Service.
Hall had said creating the new program would have involved “gutting fundamental research at NOAA and shifting the main focus of the agency to climate,” harming important agency activities such as Gulf of Mexico restoration, Weather Service operations, and data-gathering from satellites.
Republicans aren’t the only members of Texas’ congressional delegation who have been looking at ways to halt implementation of the climate rules that the EPA is currently phasing in.
One Democrat – Rep. Gene Green, who represents a Houston district including much of the metropolitan area’s petrochemical industry – said last month that he doubted a measure to erase the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases could prevail and he was looking at possibly trying to delay the agency’s rules.
Hearst Newspapers’ Washington bureau reported on March 16, when Upton’s bill to eliminate the regulations won committee approval, that Green voted against it but disclosed that “he was talking with other lawmakers about drafting separate legislation that would impose at least a three-year pause on the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulation, giving the agency time to study what available technology can even be used to control carbon dioxide emissions while not permanently stripping its power.”
Regulation-delaying proposals failed to get more than a dozen votes in the Senate last week, far fewer than the 50 that were cast in that chamber to block the EPA rules outright.
The Hearst article last month noted that Green “generally opposed[d] the EPA’s plans.” The Houston congressman voted in 2010 in favor of the cap-and-trade bill to reduce climate-warming gases, which achieved a narrow House victory before dying in the Senate and being abandoned by Obama.
Last week, Green also joined most House Democrats in voting for an amendment to affirm the EPA’s finding, drawn from the basic conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences and others, “that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” The proposal was defeated, 240-184.
– Bill Dawson