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Greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency may be in for a change due to an agreement reached by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R, Alaska) with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for a vote June 10 on her resolution (SJ Res 26) that would block the EPA's authority to regulate these emissions.

The resolution would overturn the EPA's December finding that greenhouse gases qualify as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. That decision triggered a requirement that the agency move to regulate greenhouse gases and has been used as leverage in the debate over climate change legislation.

While the EPA set out to regulate only mobile sources (motor vehicles), the overlapping triggers within the Clean Air Act will immediately extend the agency's regulatory reach to stationary sources as well as giving it authority to regulate all greenhouse gas emissions. Nationwide, the EPA has estimated that some six million buildings, facilities, farms, landfills and other establishments ultimately will be covered by these regulations. According to EPA, some 3.9 million single family homes would be regulated at the Clean Air Act's explicit statutory thresholds.

Through the "tailoring rule," EPA is seeking to raise the Clean Air Act's regulatory threshold for greenhouse gas emissions to at least 25,000 tons per year, a hundredfold increase from the statute's current triggers. As a federal agency, however, the EPA has no authority to make an arbitrary change to the plain language of the law. It is expected that the "tailoring rule" will be challenged in court.

It is far from certain that Sen. Murkowski can garner the 51 votes needed to adopt the resolution, but her spokesman said she would take it to the floor with or without the votes to succeed. Republicans hope to put Democrats in the difficult spot of voting for what could be characterized as big-government regulation that would further harm the economy.

Three Democrats have cosponsored Sen. Murkowski's resolution, and Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced separate legislation to delay EPA regulation for two years.

The Obama administration has said it would prefer that Congress pass climate change legislation, rather than the administration restricting emissions through regulation. However, the White House also has made it clear it will proceed to impose regulation if Congress does not act, and has held out that possibility as a way to spur Congress to move legislation. Even if Murkowski's resolution were to be adopted by the Senate, it would face a tougher time in the House and a certain presidential veto. Rejection of the resolution would allow the EPA to proceed with regulation.

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