Risk of EPA move smoothes way for U.S carbon law: Rep

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - The threat of tougher regulation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should ease industrial opposition to a cap-and-trade market on greenhouse gases, a U.S. lawmaker said on Monday.

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U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, co-sponsor of a bill that would cut the nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases associated with global climate change, said the EPA’s authority to act should convince industrial lobbyists that it is in their best interest to work with Congress on the issue.

“Now you have a choice ... Do you want the EPA to make the decision or would you like your congressman or senator to be in the room and drafting legislation? So we think this is a very helpful development that focuses the mind,” Markey said at a meeting on clean energy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, just outside Boston.

Markey, who serves as chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and Rep. Henry Waxman, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in March introduced a bill that would cut U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change, by 20 percent through 2020.

The Waxman-Markey bill would achieve that end through a “cap-and-trade” system, which would limit the amount of carbon dioxide any given power plant or industrial user could emit. Those who cut their emissions below their allotment could sell their unused credits.

In 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA would have the authority to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases -- which include the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when oil or coal is burned -- if it found that human health could be endangered by global warming pollution.

Last month the EPA found that greenhouse gases do pose a threat to human health.

Still, the Obama administration would prefer for Congress to tackle the issue, said Carol Browner, an advisor to the president on energy and climate change.

“It is the strong preference of the administration that we secure legislation,” Browner said at the forum. “There are things that can be done with legislation that won’t quite work within the existing law.”

Congress, for instance, can take a broader view in designing legislation, contemplating the economic effects of its actions on consumers and business.

“If Congress doesn’t act, then clearly there is a residual authority now granted by the Supreme Court of the United States to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases,” Markey said. “The only way to avoid that is to have Congress act.”

That should encourage business not to fight the proposed legislation, which Markey plans to begin committee hearings on next week.

“It becomes a real factor,” Markey said. “Industries across the country will just have to gauge for themselves how lucky they feel if they kill legislation in terms of how the EPA process will include them.”

Editing by Christian Wiessner