Skeptical about the prospects of climate legislation in the Senate, energy companies and environmental groups have shifted their lobbying efforts toward U.S. EPA.
Energy businesses want to stop EPA from proceeding with its plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, a move expected to come in March. If the agency does decide to impose restrictions, industry wants them delayed until 2012 or later. Meanwhile, environmentalists are urging the agency to move as quickly as possible to regulate major emission sources.
Both sides hope they can have an impact, but lobbying EPA is different from lobbying Congress.
Companies that make campaign contributions to lawmakers cannot do the same with EPA employees. Some key arguments made to lawmakers, such as how legislation would affect certain states, workers or consumer groups, are far less likely to influence EPA. And the agency is limited in how much it can factor in cost as it decides on regulations.
"It's a different ball game entirely," said David Bookbinder, Sierra Club's chief climate counsel. "When you're dealing with Congress, it's a political institution where political considerations loom large in any decision."
"EPA is clear, it is setting its own policy objectives," Bookbinder said. "We have no influence on that."
EPA in March is expected to roll out the first-ever federal standards affecting greenhouse gas emissions from automobile tailpipes. This follows the agency's move in December declaring greenhouse gases a danger to public health. The tailpipe standards would automatically trigger requirements that stationary sources -- such as power plants -- install "best available control technology," or BACT, according to EPA. The agency has proposed a separate rule to shield smaller facilities from those requirements, the "tailoring rule," which is also expected to be in place by March.
A large segment of the energy business, in conversations with EPA workers and in comments filed on EPA's notice of its proposed tailoring rule, is arguing that regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act will create havoc.
Federal regulations will conflict with state rules, industry advocates said, with many states forced to target carbon emissions from smaller sources that would be affected by the federal rule. As well, there is concern that EPA might try to govern what kinds of power plants can be built, favoring cleaner fuel sources like natural gas over coal.
Companies have realized that EPA is serious about regulation, and not merely making what many thought six months ago was a political threat to push Congress to act on climate, analysts said.
"There was a widespread expectation going into 2009 that this would be the year of domestic climate legislation," said Sam Thernstrom, who worked at President George W. Bush's White House Council on Environmental Quality and is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "2009 didn't turn out that way."
"EPA is going to move forward," Thernstrom said. "Industry has woken up to that fact. Potentially regulated industries that stand to lose a lot of money here need to pay attention to the regulatory process right now."
Many of those industries are lobbying lawmakers and asking them to rein in EPA. They are expressing support for a proposed amendment from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) aimed at blocking U.S. EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.
Comment: The EPA's power just didn't happen in a vacuum; it grew as a result of legislators that catered to the whims of special interests rather than the interests of the citizens they represent.
Certainly there was a need to control the level of air pollution during the 70s and 80s, and while past legislation and regulation has had a great affect upon a corrected problem, nevertheless, we are watching an agency go beyond it's mandates once again because Congress, particularly the US Senate, caved into the whims of special interests and allowed for unelected bureaucrats to exceed what should be extremely limited authority in a exceedingly hubristic manner.
This will only be corrected when the corrupted power that is currently vested in 100 individuals is returned to the states.