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While the two sides rarely see eye to eye, the energy industry and environmentalists can agree on at least one thing: The White Houses decision last week to regulate pollution alters the legislative prospects for a Senate climate change bill that could emerge early next year.
Im worried about Congress pulling the plug on the president, MoveOn.org campaign director Steven Biel said late last week.
Biel aired his concerns over the prospects of cap-and-trade legislation following a formal announcement by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on Dec. 7 that the federal government would begin regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
The EPAs announcement came as the curtains opened at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen. The U.N.s 15th annual climate conference ends Friday.
Biel commended the EPAs move but said he hopes the decision to regulate pollution will not sidetrack the legislative process, a parallel approach also supported by the EPA and President Barack Obama.
Monday was an important culmination of a process to finally acknowledge that global warming pollution is pollution under the law, Biel said. There are many more steps to go, and just as long as we can make sure Congress doesnt pull the plug on the president, were going to see some really good things happen.
Energy lobbyists agreed that the EPAs decision to regulate greenhouse gases could change the Congressional landscape and perhaps have a dramatic effect on some fence-sitting Senators. One energy lobbyist said that the White Houses intention with pursuing the regulatory route is to prod the legislative process.
But with double-digit unemployment plaguing the economy, the lobbyist said the private sector by early next year may already be giving lawmakers an earful about the additional costs of EPA regulation.
What is the administration going to do here come February, if were still where we are in terms of jobs and the economy? the lobbyist said. I dont know how were going to create a couple million jobs and try and hoist additional regulations on the manufacturing base of the country.
Were not really going to be ready in the spring for cap-and-trade, the lobbyist added.
Following the EPAs announcement, another energy lobbyist agreed that Senators who favor climate change legislation have a tough row to hoe in 2010. Still, the source called the EPAs regulatory approach imperfect. That may force the Senate to propose possible alternatives not contemplated in the House climate change bill, which narrowly passed 219-212 earlier this year.
Whats pretty clear is that cap-and-trade faces a struggle next year if not beyond. EPA has the ability to proceed with the regulatory authority now, [but] doing so obviously creates some pressure, a second energy lobbyist said. The Clean Air Act is such an imperfect way to do this.
One lawmaker apparently swayed by the EPAs recent announcement is Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who previously has been skeptical of cap-and-trade legislation. According to a press report last week, Pryor said the EPA is making him re-examine his possible support of a Senate cap-and-trade bill.
Ive always been reluctant on cap-and-trade, but [the EPA ruling] might put that in a different light, Pryor said in a conference call, according to the Arkansas News. Ill just have to look at that and really spend some time reflecting on that and talking to not just colleagues but talking to people who really understand this and see if that does change my view on cap-and-trade.
These are big decisions, decisions that affect our entire economy. Were probably better off having Congress look at this rather than the EPA, he added.