Eight Democratic senators from industrial states are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate pollution blamed for global warming.
In a letter written by Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the lawmakers said the agency lacks the power to restrict greenhouse gases from stationary sources such as power plants, factories and mines. The lawmakers said Congress — not the EPA — should address an issue with big implications for thousands of U.S. jobs and businesses.
Opposition to EPA regulations by Democrats could pose a serious blow to the Obama administration's effort to restrict heat-trapping greenhouse gases. While the administration is still pushing for Congress to pass a comprehensive climate bill this year, officials have not ruled out controlling greenhouse gases through regulation.
The letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was signed by Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Carl Levin of Michigan and Max Baucus of Montana.
Last month, Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas signed onto a resolution by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would bar the EPA from issuing regulations to control greenhouse gases.
Murkowski said she welcomed the letter from her Democratic colleagues and noted that 41 senators from both parties support her resolution to halt EPA's actions.
Murkowski filed it in response to an EPA finding in December that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger human health. The EPA finding clears the way for rules that eventually could force the sale of more fuel-efficient vehicles and require plants to install costly new equipment or shift to other forms of energy.
Murkowski said her resolution remains the best opportunity for senators to weigh in before the EPA acts.
"It's a simple issue: Senators either support EPA imposing these regulations without input from Congress, or they don't," she said Monday.
In their letter, the eight Democratic senators say they do not object to EPA regulation of emissions from cars and light trucks, but do question its ability to do anything further under the Clean Air Act.
The letter asks Jackson to clarify the EPA's timetable and suspend any regulations for coal-fired utilities and other industrial facilities until Congress acts on climate and energy legislation.
In a letter late Monday, Jackson said regulation of greenhouse gas emissions will not begin before January at the earliest.
For the first half of 2011, only large polluters that already must apply for Clean Air Act permits will need to address greenhouse gas emissions, Jackson said.
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