March 4, 2010 / 8:46 PM / 10 years ago

US Sen. Rockefeller seeks EPA carbon rule delay

* Coal-state senator wants 2-year pause for EPA

* Environmentalists see bill bringing longer delays

* Republican Murkowski voices support for Rockefeller

(New throughout)

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) - A fight over U.S. President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives intensified on Thursday when an influential Democratic senator sought a two-year pause on regulations to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants and other smokestacks.

Legislation calling for the delay was introduced by Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia, where the coal industry anchors his small state’s economy, much like several others.

In offering the bill, Rockefeller said it would "safeguard jobs, the coal industry and the entire economy as we move toward clean-coal technology." It also would give Congress "the time it needs" to write climate control legislation, he said.

The Obama administration has long maintained that the Environmental Protection Agency would move independently to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming if Congress failed to produce its own climate legislation.

But the five-term senator has said Congress shouldn’t move too fast on the legislative front, noting that more time was needed to develop "clean coal" technologies which would attempt to capture and bury carbon from burning coal.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Rockefeller is positioned to have an impact on negotiations for a climate bill, which has been stalled in the Senate since last year and faces an uphill fight in this election year.

Rockefeller’s proposal would not stop EPA’s imminent moves to reduce carbon pollution from vehicles, however.

EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy said the agency was still reviewing the senator’s bill. But she added that unlike a Republican bill to stop EPA carbon rules, Rockefeller’s "does not attempt to overturn or deny the scientific fact that unchecked greenhouse gas pollution threatens the well-being of the American people" or threaten EPA car-emissions rules.

Rockefeller’s bill, if passed by Congress, would impose a two-year time-out on EPA regulations on stationary sources of pollution from the date of enactment, so at least through March, 2012.

TWO CAN TURN INTO FOUR

But some environmentalists saw longer delays.

Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the legislation would stop EPA from doing any more preparatory work on regulating smokestack carbon emissions.

"It’d be two years plus another 18 months to two years" lost in laying the groundwork, Mendelson said. "We don’t have four years to wait."

It was not clear how quickly Rockefeller’s bill would move in the Senate. Even before he introduced his bill, there was significant sentiment in the Senate for challenging EPA’s authority on climate change initiatives.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, from the oil-producing state of Alaska, along with at least 35 other senators, has legislation to permanently ban the EPA from regulating carbon. She has voiced conditional support for some sort of broad energy and environmental legislation.

"I’m hopeful that this bill will draw additional support and advance quickly," Murkowski said in a statement on Rockefeller’s bill. If not, she said her bill "is guaranteed consideration in the Senate."

Rockefeller said coal-producing state members in the House of Representatives would introduce the two-year delay in that chamber.

Democratic leaders in Congress and the Obama administration have been pushing for legislation this year to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels.

But with no guarantees a bill will be enacted, the EPA began moving on carbon emission controls early into Obama’s presidency and after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon, which the agency says presents a danger to human health. [ID:nN04144922]

Obama, most members of Congress and many business and environmental groups agree a legislative remedy would bring a better result.

While the House narrowly passed a carbon-capping bill last year, senators from midwestern and southern states heavily reliant on fossil fuels such as coal and oil have not been able to strike a deal with northeastern and western lawmakers who could see their wind, solar and other alternative power industries blossom.

With the Obama administration fighting falling poll numbers, a recent Reuters poll found key senators doubted a climate bill could pass in this election year. [ID:nN25107946]

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Jeff Mason, editing by Vicki Allen)




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