By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in both chambers of Congress introduced bills on Thursday that would permanently stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions blamed for warming the planet.
President Barack Obama would veto a bill that blocks the agency from tackling climate change, administration officials have said. Obama has pledged to the world the United States will cut greenhouse gases to about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Representative Fred Upton, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the bill, called the Energy Tax Prevention Act, in his chamber.
"The EPA is pursuing a dramatic shift in our nation's energy and environmental policy that would send shock waves through our economy," said Ed Whitfield, the chair of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, a co-sponsor of the measure.
Senator James Inhofe, a climate skeptic who is writing a book on global warming called "The Hoax," introduced a version of the legislation in the upper chamber.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases under federal law. The EPA then declared the emissions endanger public health, which paved the way for its regulation of gases from smokestacks and vehicles, which began in January.
The legislation, draft copies of which Upton and Inhofe released early this month, will likely first go to a vote in the Republican-controlled House. If it passes, Republicans hope it will gain momentum in the Senate and pick up Democrats from industrial states who face tough elections next year.
Some Democrats may find it hard to vote against a bill that aims to stop regulations some businesses say will shut factories and hurt jobs.
Senator Joe Manchin from coal-rich West Virginia, who ran a television campaign ad last year in which he shot a copy of a climate bill with a rifle, signed on to the Senate bill.
Democrats Collin Peterson and Dan Boren signed onto the House bill.
But many other Democrats reacted strongly against the measure. "It exempts the nation's largest polluters from regulation at the expense of public health and energy security," said Representative Henry Waxman, a co-sponsor of a climate bill that passed in the House in 2009.
EPA GIVES INVESTMENT CERTAINTY
Analysts have said the legislation could face a tough battle because a permanent blockage of EPA regulations is too harsh to get the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate.
Analysts have said there is a better chance for passage of a bill pushed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, which would delay EPA from taking action for two years.
But some big power companies, such as New Jersey-based NRG Energy Inc, have said they want the EPA to continue regulating as it would give them more certainty in investing in future power plants.
The EPA in January began requiring big industries to hold permits for emitting greenhouse gases, the first step in regulating the pollution. The agency plans to propose performance standards on power plants in July and oil refiners in December that would limit their emissions.
Environmentalists decried the introduction of the legislation. "These two bills are yet more Dirty Air Acts intended to give the nation's biggest polluters a way out of limits to their carbon dioxide pollution that's likely to exacerbate asthma and lung diseases by worsening smog, and increase deadly heat waves and extreme weather conditions," said Earthjustice legislative representative Sarah Saylor.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio, Gary Hill)