Republicans poised to take power in Congress are planning a rapid attack against a climate change initiative the Obama administration wants to launch on Jan. 2, according to members of the Senate and House .
Their resolve could harden further after President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency announces a second layer of regulation, possibly as early as Thursday, ratcheting up Washington's fight against global warming.
"I think we ought to start with a two-year pause" in upcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, said Representative Mike Simpson, the Republican who is expected to head a House panel that controls EPA's budget.
One year ago, environmentalists were hopeful of winning comprehensive legislation in Congress to force reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
That effort crashed, however, prompting the White House to go ahead with a back-up plan: EPA rules forcing electric utilities, refineries and large factories to get permits for the carbon dioxide they emit. They also would be required to use the most advanced "clean" technology when expanding or building new facilities.
Now, with Republicans taking control of the House on Jan. 5 and expanding their seats in the Democratic-controlled Senate following election wins, they are aiming to scuttle the EPA regulations, which they say would raise consumer prices for energy and put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage.
"I think we're going to have a very amiable and frankly enjoyable time addressing these things," said a confident Republican Senator James Inhofe, a leading critic of steps to address global warming, which he has dismissed as a hoax.
Opponents of EPA regulation are about to have another reason for ratcheting up their legislative efforts.
Reuters has learned that the Obama administration will announce as early as Thursday a deal with industry that paves the way for proposing federal rules next year that limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries, a source familiar with the matter said.
Those rules would work in conjunction with the regulations that are due to go into effect on Jan. 2.
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said the EPA's timetable announcement shows the agency "will carry out its legal responsibilities to deal with the problem of climate change absent congressional action."
REPUBLICAN SEES BETTER CHANCES
Representative Simpson, in an interview with Reuters, said Tuesday that the first opportunity to tackle EPA will be on a partial-year spending bill the new Congress will have to pass early in 2011 to avoid government shut-downs after March 4.
The Idaho congressman noted that previously a two-year suspension of EPA rules for smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide failed in a House panel on a tie vote.
"I suspect it would have a much better chance in this coming Congress," Simpson said.
In late 2009, Obama promised world leaders the United States would do its part to bring down carbon emissions that have made it the second largest polluter on Earth.
Environmentalists are hoping that with Democrats continuing to control the U.S. Senate and White House, some meaningful steps are still possible.
They also contest Republican claims that the EPA regulations would ruin U.S. companies and the fragile economy.
"What EPA is doing is putting out guidance that is going to help...business find ways to be more (energy) efficient. There's no regulatory hammer there," said Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that oversees climate change policy, warned that Obama could face a stiffer challenge next year in the Senate than many anticipate.
He noted that several Democratic senators from coal-producing and coal-consuming states are up for re-election in two years and they might cooperate with Republicans working to kill the EPA regulations.
"Those Democrats who are up for reelection in 2012, they can't continue to walk the plank with Obama," Inhofe said.
He also said that environmentalists should not assume that Obama would simply veto legislation handcuffing EPA. He noted that after the November congressional elections, Obama moved more toward the political center by collaborating with Republicans on a major tax-cut bill.
More likely than signing a Republican bill into law, Obama could ease up on the timing or other details of the EPA carbon regulations, according to some specialists keeping an eye on the issue.
But for now at least, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson appears to be standing firm on the regulations that with the new year would begin a new era of Clean Air Act regulation.
"My position hasn't changed. Common sense regulation can provide regulatory certainty," Jackson told Reuters during a brief interview when she visited Capitol Hill Tuesday. (Additional reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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