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Close Senate Vote Seen On EPA Climate Powers

Date: 08-Jun-10
Country: US
Author: Richard Cowan

A vote in the U.S. Senate to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from going it alone in battling carbon dioxide emissions will fail this week without new last-minute support, according to congressional and private-sector sources.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican leading the effort against looming EPA regulation, has 40 co-sponsors for the bill, which is set for a vote on Thursday. Several other senators also are considering supporting her but 51 votes are needed for passage in the 100-member Senate.

"I think it's close," said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon. "It's just a couple votes away probably right now."

President Barack Obama has warned that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants blamed for global warming if Congress failed to enact its own legislation. Such a bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives a year ago but a similar effort is bogged down in the Senate.

Murkowski's bill would simply revoke EPA authority to set new global warming regulations and would not address what to do about the carbon dioxide emissions thought to be causing the environmental problem.

Some lobbyists representing businesses opposed to the EPA rules, which could go into effect early next year, predicted Murkowski's bill would end up with around 47 to 49 votes.

Last month, the EPA finalized regulations that would first hit electric power utilities, factories and oil refiners that emit 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. The EPA rules would require those plants to get pollution permits or prove they are using the latest technology to cut emissions when building facilities.

MORE OBSTACLES AHEAD

Even if the legislation blocking the EPA passes the Senate, it could face opposition in the House of Representatives and a near-certain Obama veto if both chambers approved it.

The fight in Congress over whether the EPA should regulate carbon emissions will be watched closely because the vote could be a barometer of congressional support for separate legislation that would reduce greenhouse gases.

Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center, called Thursday's vote a "critical one."

"The basic nature of the (Murkowski) resolution is that it overturns the EPA finding that CO2 and other heat-trapping gases endanger public health," Lashof said.

He and other environmentalists argue that the legislation also would stop the EPA from further controlling vehicle emissions, a major source of global warming pollutants.

Dillon said those charges were false and that the EPA could continue that work.

The Senate debate over carbon pollution from burning coal and oil comes as the United States is reeling from a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in U.S. history.

The spill has caused Obama to suspend some plans to expand offshore oil drilling and has given environmentalists new hope that sentiment for tackling climate change legislation will move in their direction.

At the same time, Republicans who want to use any comprehensive climate change bill to expand offshore oil drilling, recognize the political winds have shifted because of the BP oil spill and so oppose doing anything soon.

One Senate Republican leadership aide, who asked not to be identified, said the vote on the Murkowski legislation could hinge on whether some "wobbly" Democrats were overwhelmed during last week's recess by constituents back home complaining about big government.

The anti-EPA vote, the aide said, "could be an opportunity for them to show that they're not one of that crowd."

So far, three Democrats have joined Murkowski's effort, while all Republicans except three have voiced support.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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