Udall: Rockefeller air pollution bill a Supreme Court end-around

Democrats differ widely on whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should be able to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a form of air pollution under the Clean Air Act, and the rift seems to be mostly geographical and based on how much coal a state contains.

Sen. Mark Udall (DenverJeffrey)
Sen. Mark Udall (DenverJeffrey)

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., for instance, is more of a natural gas guy. He views an ongoing push by Republicans and coal-state Democrats to block EPA regulation of big, stationary polluters like coal-fired power plants with some degree of suspicion, although he agrees it’s a matter for Congress to deal with in a comprehensive climate change bill.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that regulating greenhouse gas pollution is a responsibility of the EPA,” Udall told the Colorado Independent in a prepared statement Thursday. “And I think that the ongoing efforts to get around the decision illustrate the real need for legislation that limits carbon pollution, which is contributing to climate change.

“The best solution is to pass legislation that would provide certainty to the energy industry – and I’m working as part of a bipartisan group to do that.”

The U.S. House passed climate change legislation last summer, but the bill has been stalled in the Senate. In December, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced plans to regulate large, stationary polluters, a policy many observers view as an Obama administration insurance policy if the climate bill and its cap and trade provisions die in the Senate.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., Thursday introduced a bill that would block the EPA from regulating big polluters for two years while Congress works on climate change legislation. This despite a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave the EPA the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act – something the agency will do by the end of the month as it relates to the auto industry.

“The Supreme Court ruling gives the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” Rockefeller said in a press release Thursday. “If Congress wants to change or alter that authority – or suspend it long enough to pass comprehensive legislation – Congress must be able to pass a bill that addresses the real life economic impacts that EPA is not equipped to consider.”

Former Democratic Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth, president of the U.N. Foundation, told the Washington Post that the House bill already gives plenty of concessions to the coal industry and that Obama should torpedo the Rockefeller bill.

“The president ought to veto it, period,” Wirth told the Post. “This is a huge affront to his authority, and it’s exactly what the coal industry wants. The coal industry has everything it wants in legislation, and now it wants more.”

Udall, a big proponent of Colorado’s burgeoning renewable industry sector, as well as its established cleaner-burning natural gas industry as a bridge fuel, said it’s far too soon to give up on the Senate climate bill just yet.

“Climate change legislation, combined with the energy policy bill we already passed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would spur growth in the clean energy sector – including natural gas – and clean up the air for our children and grandchildren,” Udall told the Independent.

Rockefeller, meanwhile, whose state has far more coal reserves than Colorado, is banking on still-unproven clean-coal technology.

“Today, we took important action to safeguard jobs, the coal industry, and the entire economy as we move toward clean coal technology,” Rockefeller said in his statement Thursday. “This legislation will issue a two year suspension on EPA regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources – giving Congress the time it needs to address an issue as complicated and expansive as our energy future. Congress, not the EPA, must be the ideal decision-maker on such a challenging issue.”

Numerous Colorado clean-energy businesses, outdoor recreation and tourism officials and health-care professionals mounted a campaign last month to take on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who in January introduced a resolution to force Senate debate on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

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