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Senate Plans June 10 Vote on Joint Resolution Invalidating EPA Findings on Greenhouse Gases

Rob Boisseau
Number 62 - June 09, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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On June 10 the Senate will consider Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) joint “resolution of disapproval” (S. J. Res. 26) that would invalidate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) findings on the danger and harmful effects of greenhouse gases.

Establishing the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for their impact on human health was a drawn out battle that eventually reached the Supreme Court in 2007.  In Commonwealth of Massachusetts, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the EPA under President George W. Bush erred in not regulating greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles as they are mandated to under the Clean Air Act.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens summarized the case, “In short, EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change. Its action was therefore “arbitrary, capricious, … or otherwise not in accordance with law.”’

Following the Court’s order, the EPA embarked on a multiyear review of the potential danger to human health posed by emissions from new vehicles.  In December 2009 the EPA issued separate “Endangerment” and “Cause or Contribute” findings:

“Endangerment Finding: The Administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases--carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)--in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.”

“Cause or Contribute Finding: The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare.”

Murkowski’s joint resolution would invalidate both scientific findings, effectively preventing the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.  It reads:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (published at 74 Fed. Reg. 66496 (December 15, 2009)), and such rule shall have no force or effect.” 

Congress was given the authority to review rules issued by federal agencies through the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA).  Although every Democrat on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works was united in opposition to the joint resolution, a provision of the CRA allows any 30 supporting Senators to discharge the legislation from a committee and place it on the calendar.  Interestingly, the CRA also prevents any kind of motion that would delay or amend the resolution of disapproval.

Murkowski’s joint resolution has 40 cosponsors, with 51 yeas needed for passage.  

If the Senate passes the joint resolution it will be brought directly to the House floor, circumventing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that would normally have jurisdiction.  The President’s signature—or two-thirds majorities of both chambers to override a veto—is ultimately required to invalidate the EPA rule.

A Statement of Administration Policy issued by the Office of Management and Budget cautions [emphasis in original]:

“If the President is presented with this Resolution of Disapproval, which would seriously disrupt EPA’s ability to address the threat of GHG pollution, as well as the multi-agency Federal GHG and fuel economy program, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the Resolution.”   

Rob Boisseau
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics