Congress v. EPA

Posted June 11, 2010, at 10:51 p.m.

Now that the Senate has rejected a resolution that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, it is up to Congress to pass legislation that reduces these emissions, lessens the country’s dependence on oil from volatile regimes and spurs investment in the next generation of energy technology.

Congress can do this in a smarter way than the EPA, which by its charter is more focused on environmental concerns rather than economic ones.

On Thursday, the Senate considered a resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, that would have stripped the EPA of the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. It would have done so by voiding the agency’s finding that these emissions pose a threat to human health and, therefore, must be regulated.

Based on this finding, the agency was moving ahead with rules to begin to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. One such rule said that burning biomass was not carbon neutral, which would have pushed several Maine mills and other facilities into a new regulatory regime.

As Sen. Susan Collins said on the Senate floor Thursday, there are problems with having the EPA develop its own rules to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But, the EPA was acting — with a strong push from the U.S. Supreme Court — because Congress has failed to do so. If the EPA was forbidden from acting and Congress continued to reject climate change bills, that would leave no entity at the federal level dealing with what the Pentagon has called the nation’s largest security threat.

Now is time for lawmakers to rectify this.

“Let me be clear: global climate change and the development of alternatives to fossil fuels are significant environmental and economic challenges facing our country. The scientific evidence demonstrates the human contribution to climate change, and we must act to mitigate that impact,” Sen. Collins said in support of the Murkowski resolution.

“But, we must proceed with care and not allow the federal EPA to charge ahead on a problem that affects every aspect of our already fragile economy. Congress, not the EPA, should decide how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” she added.

Sen. Olympia Snowe also voted for the resolution. “It is Congress — and not unelected bureaucrats — that should be responsible for developing environmental policies that integrate our nation’s economic well-being as an urgent priority along with the reduction of carbon emissions, and I do not accept that these are mutually exclusive goals,” she said in a statement.

With the defeat of the Murkowski resolution, Congress must write strong climate change legislation so that the EPA is no longer acting on its own.

Sens. Collins and Snowe have long been at the forefront of that work and will continue to be.

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