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Republicans Attempt to Stifle Action on Climate Change

After first day in Congress, Republicans have outlined three bills aimed at limiting power of the Environmental Protection Agency

by Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

Republicans have wasted no time in using their new majority in Congress to try to block the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act on climate change.

In their first full day in the new Congress, Republicans outlined three different bills – encapsulating three different strategies – aimed at limiting the powers of the EPA. It also shut down a house committee that had tackled energy and climate issues.

The first, introduced by Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, would declare that greenhouse gas emissions are not subject to the Clean Air Act - even though supreme court ruled in 2007 that they are.

The second, introduced by Ted Poe of Texas, would block funding to any government agency associated with cap-and-trade.

The third, introduced by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, is relatively modest, seeking a two-year delay in EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

But that could make it the most likely to succeed. In the Senate, a Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, Jay Rockefeller, has been calling for a bill to delay EPA action on climate change.

The EPA began the process of regulating greenhouse gas emissions under new rules for major power plants and oil refineries that went into effect this month.

But as last November's mid-term elections made clear, environmental regulations have become a favourite target of the conservative Tea party movement.

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who will lead the energy and commerce committee, teamed up with Tim Phillips, who is seen as a driving force behind the Tea Party groups to call the EPA moves towards regulation a job killer and an unconstitutional power-grab.

Republicans have also shut down the select committee for energy independence and global warming, which was created by Nancy Pelosi in 2006. It had tackled issues from politicisation of climate science to the BP oil spill.

Meanwhile, Darrell Issa, who is head of the powerful new house committee on oversight and government reform, has been reaching out to oil company executives, business lobbyists, and conservative thinktanks asking which government regulations they find the most irksome. Most of the companies on Issa's list have been heavy contributors to the Republican party and several reportedly supported overturning environmental regulations.

In a sign of the battles to come, Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who leads the Senate environment committee said on Thursday she would use every power she had to block any action in the house to limit the authority of the EPA.

She told reporters she thought it was highly unlikely the moves to stifle the EPA would pass in the Senate – much less be signed into law by Barack Obama.

But some environmentalists have expressed concern that Obama could be forced to sacrifice the EPA's powers at some point if it helps him to pass legislation.

"There is a thunderous chorus from much of industry demanding that these regulations be blocked," Jonathan Lash, who heads the World Resources Institute thinktank, said Thursday in his annual forecast of the environmental stories that will dominate the news.

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